Eragon (2006) / Fantasy-Adventure

MPAA Rated: PG for violence and some frightening images
Running Time: 104 min.

Cast: Edward Speleers, Jeremy Irons, Sienna Guillory, John Malkovich, Robert Carlysle, Garrett Hedlund, Djimon Hounsou, Rachel Weisz (voice), Joss Stone
Director: Stefen Fangmeier

Screenplay: Peter Buchman (based on the novel by Christopher Paolini)
Review published December 22, 2006

Based on the bestselling first novel in the "Inheritance Trilogy" by Christopher Paolini, the film version of Eragon feels like a production trying to emulate two other famous trilogies, Lord of the Rings and the original Star Wars films. Emulating blockbuster productions is a bit of a double-edged sword, as it will attract a sizable audience which likes those kinds of films, but at the same time, they are also so well-known and oft-watched, if you aren't going to bring anything new to the story, you are likely to be greeted by scorn and derision, even among fantasy fans.  Paolini wrote "Eragon" at the age of fifteen, which might explain some of the knowing homage to the works of others that must have surely formed his ideas on how to tell a story.

In this film, Luke Skywalker Eragon (Speleers) is a young farmboy who lives with his uncle Owen Garrow (Armstrong, Van Helsing) in the land of Alagaesia, which is currently under the cruel rule of Darth Vader King Galbatorix (Malkovich, Art School Confidential), not long after a bloody war which saw the destruction of an elite, magical army of warriors known as the Jedi Dragon Riders.  While hunting, Eragon stumbles across a blue stone that Galbatorix is desperately seeking, which turns out to be a dragon's egg that hatches shortly after, who dubs herself "Saphira".  The dragon emerges and immediately bonds with Eragon, forming a union that cannot be broken except by death.  With the help of a former Jedi Dragon Rider known as Obi-Wan Brom (Irons, Casanova), as well as captured Princess Leia Arya (Guillory, The Time Machine), Eragon soon learns how to become a true warrior, learning the ways of the ancients, especially in harnessing the Force magic to become the Rebellion's the Varden's "only hope" to put an end to the tyranny of the Empire King Galbatorix.

Unlike George Lucas' Star Wars and Peter Jackson's Lord of the Rings, this cinematic version of Mad Libs does so very little but cram as many plotlines, character archetypes, and borderline-plagiaristic effects and cinematography from the mega-blockbusters that came before.  The thinking here must have been that if they closely adhere to proven formulas, the audience for those films will naturally return.  They figured wrong, as first-time director Fangmeier lacks genuine inspiration, proceeding forward in his story without much in terms of natural exposition, with the exception of a short intro which drops us in the middle of the story (also like Star Wars).  From then on, the film is little more than a chase film, boring us with a Lord of the Rings-type series of near-captures in order to get us to our final destination -- oops!  The film is actually a set-up for the remainder of the trilogy, so it has no traditional ending. 

Unlike The Fellowship of the Ring, which is also a film that doesn't have closure at the end of it, Eragon shows a certain hubris in this regard, as it isn't an established literary masterwork eagerly anticipated by millions.  At best, it rides on the coattails of other works of fantasy that have enjoyed box office success, trying to sneak in to steal a piece of the pie without invitation, and expects us to have the same love for Eragon as we do for Luke Skywalker, Frodo, or Harry Potter.  The problem is that this project never establishes its own style or unique mythos, feeling every bit the commercial venture trying to piggyback itself on the labor of others in re-establishing Fantasy as the predominant genre of choice for major motion picture releases.

With cookie-cutter characters and a formula story, the only aspect of Eragon that merits some praise is the look of it.  The special effects are quite good, if nothing earth-shattering, and the cinematography, sets, and costume designs are competently handled throughout.  With even a halfway compelling story, this could have actually made some modest returns, enough to have those who have seen it yearning for the second chapter to flesh out many of the scantly-developed plot threads.  Sadly, the only thing most viewers will yearn for is a hasty conclusion, which thankfully comes at under two hours (I suspect, based on how "gutted" the film feels, it was intended to be quite a bit longer).   By "conclusion", I mean that the credits roll, of course.

Eragon might have a big budget for effects, but underneath, it's strictly amateur hour at the movies.  Even famous actors like Jeremy Irons, Rachel Weisz (who provides the "voice" of Saphira), and a heavily-underutilized John Malkovich can't bring life to their anemic dialogue and poorly-defined characters.  Outside of the technical aspects, this is a failure on every possible level, and a real yawner when it comes to what should have been a fantasy-war film of epic proportions. 

Epic fantasies need to take us away to another time and place, not withdraw into our own thoughts.  In terms of escapist entertainment, but the only escape I yearned for during Eragon is the alluring sight of the "Exit" sign on either side of the movie theater screen.

Qwipster's rating

©2006 Vince Leo