Went to see Inkheart and Coraline this weekend with the GF, and thought it might be constructive to do a parallel review of them, because to my mind they have at least a few things in common. Also note that there may be spoilers, depending on how you view things, below the fold here.
For starters, I haven’t read the novels either was derived from. This is a lacuna I intend to change, but it’s significant because I have a feeling that Inkheart, in particular, suffered a little from my not having read the book.
The only truly decent transcription of fantasy to screen I’ve ever seen is, of course, Pete Jackson’s LotR trilogy — and even with his six hours’ screen time to play with, he still had to release extended, enhanced versions on DVD. If you actually want to watch the special editions of that film set in one go, be prepared for a 9 to 10 hour time investment.
Inkheart felt a bit thin in places, a bit rushed. I had the feeling many of the characters were more sketches than the fully-drawn identities Cornelia Funke likely created. The novel is relatively long, which is surely one reason. But the plot requires us to first become familiar with the concept of “silvertongues”, and then to become at least partially immersed in a narrative within the narrative, the eponymous Inkheart. That’s a lot of development and background we’re not really able to see or become involved in, at least not in the two-hour runtime of the movie.
And, well, some of the lack of depth might have come from Brendan Fraser’s performance. Helen Mirren had much less screen time, but I got her character almost immediately. Either she was handed a role that was a transparent caricature and downplayed it to make it subtle, or she was handed a role that was thin and expanded it to make it genuine. Either way, Mirren is a hell of an actress, whereas Fraser’s father figure felt a bit flat to me.
It didn’t help that we never really saw the background of his relationship with his wife or daughter. These, like many other elements of the story, were merely outlines onscreen, outlines which I feel were probably much more deeply rendered in the novel. Often, too often, it seems we’re presented not with a movie but with a synopsis. That’s what happens, though, in trying to transcribe a really long work into screen.
Probably the weakest aspect of Inkheart, though, was the similarity it bore in my mind to another fantasy novel by another German storyteller. Michael Ende wrote The Neverending Story in 1979, and it like Inkheart dealt with the permeable line between the real world and a fantasy land. It, like Inkheart, included vague references to a ghastly menace (Ende’s Nothing versus Funke’s Shadow) that was a mortal threat. There aren’t any other gross similarities that I can think of, but that’s sufficient to make Inkheart, at least to my mind, seem partially derivative.
Contrast this with Coraline. Reviews on the movie were generally good, though they seemed to have two main complaints in common: The third act felt hurried; and the imagery might be too creepy or weird for young kids. I do not agree with either assessment.
The quest, once Coraline’s been presented with it, doesn’t need — didn’t need — to be overblown and long-winded. She simply got to see for herself the illusions behind the world she was in, and I appreciated that it wasn’t a drawn-out process, cudgeling the point home with histrionic bludgeons of the sledgehammer. To me the pacing was about right; for me what dragged was the initial discoveries she made in the world behind the wallpaper, the gee-whiz-ain’t-it-great part of the film. That could have been a bit more brief.
As for the spooky factor: Yes, the idea of having a magical clone “mother” who seems obsessed with stitching and luring via food, one who wants to sew buttons in place of your eyes, is a nicely spooky one. It is not, however, insanely terrifying. It just gives a nice shiver. The presentation in the film was not at all over the top. I certainly found myself sympathetic with Coraline’s plight, but at no point did I see anything that (I believe) would have been alarming to young children.
This is due in part to the masterful creation and animation of the stop-motion figures. They’re caricatures, and they’re outrageous in the same sort of way as the dolls were from Nightmare Before Christmas. And just as that film didn’t present anything genuinely nightmarish, I don’t think Coraline will present an insurmountable barrier even to pre-tweens. It’s more like the visual and narrative equivalent of a roller-coaster: There are thrills, but it’s always with just enough of an amused glint that you know things will, somehow, work out well in the end.
[Potential spoiler follows]
What I found most fascinating about the story was the way Other Mother transformed, her true nature coming out at last. I’ve had a few serendipitous events in my writing over the years, just enough to make me want to ask Gaiman whether he always knew she would be a spider in the end, or if that aspect of her nature revealed itself to him partway through the story, allowing him to revise some areas, and to — so to speak — stitch the narrative into a beautifully-consistent whole.
Personally, I hope it was a serendipitous revelation. It’s ever so much more fun that way.
However, as with Inkheart, Coraline seemed to suffer from being just a bit too thin onscreen. Again, I can’t really judge without having read the book, but the fact that I have to wonder at all what was missing in the translation — and it feels like something was — suggests a less-than-transparent adaptation.
That said, I enjoyed both films, though I have the feeling that once I’ve read the novels, I’ll feel more cheated by the conversion of Inkheart to screen than Coraline. In any case, I wouldn’t have qualms about taking kids to either film.
No related posts.
Related posts brought to you by Yet Another Related Posts Plugin.