'Eragon' a pale imitation of 'Rings'
A sword-and-sorcery saga that desperately wants to be another "Lord of the Rings," "Eragon" succeeds in being only the palest of imitations. It lacks scope, grandeur, humanity and style. What it does have is a teen-heartthrob hero who somehow manages to keep his hair ever-so-properly tousled, regardless of who he is fighting, some passable special effects and a handful of big-name stars on hand to collect a paycheck, and little else.
Oh yes, and that adorable baby dragon. "Eragon" is the story of a boy and his dragon, and of the war for freedom they help lead. When that flying beast first climbs her way out of its egg, it's as cute as can be. But if that's the most resonant image to come out of a sword-and-sorcery saga, somebody's not doing something right.
The blame, one suspects, can easily be spread about. First-time director Stefen Fangmeier, a respected special-effects wizard, has no idea how to handle flesh-and-blood characters. As a teenager, author Christopher Paolini started his Inheritance trilogy with this story; he is clearly a big fan of "Rings" and "Star Wars" but apparently lacked the experience necessary to synthesize the two storylines into something new. And the budget apparently was too small to provide the teeming extras a film like this needs for its battle scenes. In fact, outside the dragon itself (which, as an adult, is voiced by Rachel Weisz), little about this film seems fully realized, in terms of story or budget.
Brit actor Edward Speleers, who reportedly was playing Hamlet on stage when he was picked for this film, plays the title character (and is it simply chance that his name is so similar to the name of the king, Aragorn, from "Lord of the Rings"?). Beginning the film as a poor farm boy with admirable survival skills, Eragon soon finds himself in possession of a large blue cylinder that sure stands out in these otherwise drab surroundings. Unbeknownst to him, it's a dragon egg -- apparently the last dragon egg -- and it has come to him by what seems chance.
Ah, but nothing happens by chance in these films, right? Fate or magic or birthright or clunky screenwriting always comes into play. Hard to determine which is responsible here; suffice it to say that young Eragon seems destined to become a dragon rider and play a key role in ridding his home -- apparently not Earth, but we're never told for sure -- of the evil despot ruling it.
That would be King Galbatorix, played in full sneer by John Malkovich, who otherwise is strictly window dressing. The real bad guy is the wizard Durza (Robert Carlyle), who does two things as the film progresses: become clumsier and clumsier in wielding his magic (if this guy could only aim better, the movie would last about 30 minutes) and grow uglier and uglier, thanks to a complexion problem that, I guess, somehow symbolizes the corrupting power of evil.
Adding to the mix here is Arya (Sienna Guillory), a stout-hearted redhead who had possessed the dragon egg and, when threatened by Durza and his increasingly bad complexion, tossed it via magic into some sort of vortex. It, of course, pops up in a crummy village, where Eragon finds it. Fortunately, Eragon also finds Brom (Jeremy Irons), a former dragon rider himself who becomes the boy's mentor. (In "Star Wars" terms, for those who haven't yet caught on, Eragon [equals] Luke Skywalker, Brom [equals] Obi-Wan Kenobi and Arya [equals] Princess Leia. If King Galbatorix turns out to be Eragon's father, George Lucas should sue.)
The filmmakers try hard to give "Eragon" heft but rarely succeed. Stuck with a limited cast, director Fangmeier is unable to stage the epic contests such a story requires; his battle scenes look like the same bunch of people, shot over and over again in different positions. Cinematographer Hugh Johnson tries to give the film a visual sweep reminiscent of Rings but simply can't re-create the sense of majesty.
As for the actors, Carlyle's Durza seems more a curiosity than a menace, while Irons' Brom proves little help, other than to spout bits of dime-store philosophy that don't do anyone any good.
And as impressive as Saphira the dragon is -- the film's best moments come when she and her rider are airborne -- having she and Eragon communicate telepathically is a major miscalculation. It leaves dragon and rider just staring soulfully at each other for long periods, as their thoughts play on the soundtrack. Which, come to think of it, replicates the experience of watching this film: One stares at it blankly, while visions of other, better movies play out in memory.