Movie reviews – “City of Ember” and “Inkheart”

My webpage is dangerously close to becoming a food blog, so to avoid that slippery slope here are two reviews of movies I’ve seen recently. My parents got Dan and me a Netflix subscription for Christmas and, after a few months of serious underutilization, we have been getting more than our money’s worth out of it ever since. Dan has been out of town quite a bit recently so I took the opportunity to get copies of two movies that I really wanted to see, but missed when they were in theaters. They are both based on books that I read and loved long before they were optioned for the big screen, and even though I was half expecting Hollywood to completely butcher these fantastic stories in the transition, I had to see the movies for myself to find out for sure.

“City of Ember”
If you haven’t read this wonderful book by Jeanne DuPrau you should definitely add it to your library/Amazon/used book store list. (Or download it on your electronic book reader – gotta love instant literary gratification!) I can’t remember where I first heard about this book, but it didn’t take long for me to realize that the four-book Ember series is an island of originality in a never-ending sea of cookie-cutter fiction. You have to go to the kids section of the book store to pick up a copy of “The City of Ember,” which might make some older readers think twice about reading it, but the story definitely takes on subjects and situations far beyond the 9-12 recommended age level. The main characters happen to be kids, but they live in a crumbling society and have to shoulder the burden of saving the world as they know it. And even after they save it, things aren’t all sunshine and butterflies like in a lot of children’s books. Their new life turns out to be much harder than their old one, but that part of the story is chronicled in the follow up books “The People of Sparks” and “The Diamond of Darkhold.” It really is an amazing series. But when the movie was released in October 2008, outside of the traditional summer blockbuster months and holiday movie season, I didn’t have high hopes for it. That’s probably why I didn’t see it in the theater, and in hindsight it’s a good thing I didn’t spend the money. While I enjoyed the movie because it depicted a story that I love, the best part about it were the elaborate sets and costumes. They gave the impression of a civilization that has been hanging by a thread for a long time, just as the book describes in such detail. The ending is oversimplified in the movie, of course, but it still gives the viewers an inkling of the huge obstacles the residents of Ember have ahead them. It’s by no means a simple story with a definite beginning or end, which is why there are both prequel and sequel books in the series. So I guess it won’t be a surprising conclusion after all that pontificating, but my recommendation is to skip the movie and read the book instead.

“Inkheart”
This is another series (a trilogy actually) that I thoroughly enjoyed, although I have to admit that I haven’t finished reading the third book yet. When you work full time it’s hard to set aside more than a few minutes each day for reading, but I won’t risk a diatribe by following that digression any further. Cornelia Funke is a great German author that I discovered when Amazon recommended “The Thief Lord” to me many years ago. That particular book didn’t turn out to be my cup of tea, but her next offering was “Inkheart” which absolutely blew me away. The main character is a girl who loves books – sound like anyone you know? She’s so much like me (at a younger age, of course) that I could relate to her like few fictional characters that I’ve encountered. With most of my favorite books, I create my own character in order to experience the story in a more firsthand way, but with “Inkheart” that wasn’t necessary. It was like I was already there, which made the book seem very personal. It touched me like few books have. You might think my attachment would inevitably spell disaster for any movie that even attempted to put this beloved story on the big screen, but I can’t say that it was all that bad. I love Brendan Frasier and Andy Serkis (of Gollum fame) and they were both excellent in their roles. And Helen Mirren was fantastic as the main character’s great-aunt who has a library that would make any bookworm green with envy. My biggest complaint about the movie was the happy ending that the writers and producers manufactured to tie up all of the loose ends. Obviously, since there are two sequel books, the story isn’t over after “Inkheart” so the movie’s ending seemed trite. And not to give anything away, but when the name of the third book is “Inkdeath” it’s not hard to imagine that there aren’t very many happy endings amongst the characters. The Inkheart trilogy is pretty dark, but that’s one of the qualities that makes it great. But getting back to the movie, I really liked it, despite the ending. The characters were almost exactly like how I pictured them in my mind when I first read the book – a quality that is guaranteed to keep a movie off my hit list. I would still recommend the book over the movie, but I would also recommend watching the movie if it’s on television. It’s still a great story, even in motion picture form.