Eragon is based on a best-selling book by Christopher Paolini, who wrote it when he was only 15 years old. I have not read the book, but if the movie version is any indication, Paolini read way too many fantasy novels and regurgitated everything he read back onto the page. I’ve never been a huge fan of the sword and sorcery genre, and Eragon exemplifies everything I dislike about it.
The movie begins with one of those voiceover narrations that always seem to get my back up right away. A serious-sounding voice provides us with tons of back story about such-and-such a group being in conflict with another such-and-such a group. The narration throws a lot of mythology at us, as well as the usual bunch of weird people and place names (Alagaesia, Galbatorix, the Varden rebels, etc.). The made-up jargon is so dense that Eragon’s press kit actually contains a glossary, but that was of no use while I was sitting in the theater trying to comprehend all this nonsense. My theory: if you have to spend that much time explaining the background and origins before launching into the actual story, then you’re probably not telling a very good story. I shouldn’t be made to feel like I’m coming in at the middle.
In this case, Alagaesia is the land where the tale takes place. It was a peaceful land, guarded by magical Dragon Riders. (If you guessed that they rode dragons, give yourself a pat on the back.) A traitor named Galbatorix betrayed everyone, stealing all the power for himself and becoming king. The character is played by John Malkovich. I wish that I could push aside a filing cabinet somewhere and crawl through a secret passageway into Malkovich’s brain for 15 minutes, just so I could learn what the hell he was thinking when he signed on for this movie. But I digress.
Newcomer Ed Speleers plays Eragon, the Generic Unwilling Hero who discovers a dragon egg. When it hatches, he names his new blue pet Saphira. (Oscar winner Rachel Weisz does the voice of the dragon, who does not actually speak but communicates via mind reading.) Eragon knows not what he possesses, but a Generic Wizened Mentor, Brom (Jeremy Irons), dutifully informs him of the destruction of the Dragon Riders. If Eragon can learn to ride Saphira (gosh, that sounds dirty), he can possibly defeat Galbatorix and end the king’s rule.
What’s a journey without some help? Eragon gets it in the form of a Generic Female Warrior, Arya (Sienna Guillory) and a Generic Rogue Fighter, Murtagh (Garrett Hedlund). All together, they set out to stop the Generic Evil Ruler, but first they must defeat his Generic Evil Right-Hand Man, Durza (Robert Carlyle). My best friend wisely pointed out that this plot is a complete rip-off of Star Wars Eragon is Luke Skywalker, Arya is Princess Leia, Murtagh is Han Solo, Brom is Obi-Wan, Durza is a Stormtrooper, and Galbatorix is Darth Vader. That only leaves Saphira, who essentially takes the place of the Force. Or maybe she’s Yoda, depending on how you look at it.
I’m sure that I don’t need to say any more about the story. You can no doubt predict everything that will happen. What irritated me was that Eragon doesn’t have a shred of originality. Everything plays out in familiar fashion, with no new twists or ideas added. There is an internet phenomenon known as “fan fiction.” This is when fans of some property (like, say, Star Wars) write their own stories using the established characters and post them on the internet. The problem is that most of these people have a lot more passion than writing talent. Eragon plays like the movie equivalent of really bad fan fiction.
Sometimes a movie like this can be partially redeemed through mind-blowing special effects, but that is not the case this time. Apparently, the CGI technology to create dragons hasn’t really improved since 1996’s Dragonheart.
Quite frankly, this film was painful to sit through. I was bored from start to finish. Irons, Malkovich, and Carlyle are all talented actors, but they have nothing substantive to work with. The lesser-known cast members are uniformly dull. The action scenes are clumsily handled, the dialogue is lame, and the ending is anti-climactic. Without giving anything away, the movie leaves the door wide open for a sequel. Ugh.
Interestingly, many of the sword and sorcery elements I’ve described above can also be found in Peter Jackson’s Lord of the Rings trilogy – a series that I, like everyone and his brother, consider a masterpiece. The differences are that Jackson had better source material to work with and he is a brilliant filmmaker, capable of finding great substance in the genre. Eragon was directed by former special effects artist Stefan Fangmeier, whose last name is more interesting than anything in the movie. Jackson’s movies were gloriously alive; Fangmeier’s is dead on arrival. I have a hunch that it won’t be around in theaters for very long. I’m reminded of the old saying: “here today, Eragon tomorrow.”
( out of four)
Eragon is rated PG for fantasy violence, intense battle sequences and some frightening images. The running time is 1 hour and 42 minutes.
To learn more about this film, check out AskMen.com: Eragon
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