Thursday, March 19, 2009

Can't Start A Fire

Eragon (2006)

"May The Dragon Be With You."

Here’s the story of Eragon: Young farm boy Luke Skywalker, sorry Eragon, is raised by his Uncle Owen, sorry Garrow. After his uncle is killed by Darth Vader’s, sorry Durza’s, stormtroopers, sorry Ra’zacs, he meets up with old Ben Kenobi, sorry Brom, who once was a Jedi Knight, sorry, Dragon Rider, who trains Eragon as he takes him to the Rebellion, sorry the Varden, who are fighting the evil Emperor Palpatine, sorry King Galbatorix. The Jedi Knights, sorry Dragon Riders, wield the power of the Force, sorry Magic.

As you can see, this is one sorry movie. Eragon is based on the book of the same name, famously, or rather infamously, written by Christopher Paolini when he was just 16 years old. The book was originally self-published by Paolini’s parents, but then it was picked up by a major publisher and became a surprise best seller, perhaps because dumb kids like to read too. I’ll give some credit to Paolini: a lot of thought was put into Eragon - mostly in coming up with new names for people, places and things that he read about in all the major fantasy novels, like Lord of the Rings and Anne McCaffrey’s Dragon Riders of Pern series, and movies like Star Wars. He must have burned out the search and replace feature on several word processor programs.

The movie appears to follow the source novel very closely. That’s why I was bored to death. All this has been done before and been done better. This story follows the heroic fantasy template so closely you can see the template edges on screen.

No one in the cast stands out. John Malkovich plays the evil King Galbatorix as if he’s irritated that he was just woken up from a nice nap. Ed Speleers as Eragon is a good looking young man, but that's all he brings to the role. (Say what you will about Mark Hamill’s somewhat whiny performance as Luke Skywalker in the original Star Wars, but at least he had energy and enthusiasm.) Jeremy Irons was a great actor in the 1980’s. Here, as Brom the mentor, he just collects a paycheck. Robert Carlysle looks to have had the most fun as Durza, probably because he got to chew the scenary while wearing greasy-looking, gnarly teeth and sporting funky latex makeup scars on his face.

The film’s production design looks like most of these fantasy films do, with its pseudo-ancient English look of cloaks, swords and chain-mail, and castles, etc. Absolutely nothing new or cool on that front. The mountainous scenery was apparently shot in Hungary and it is pretty to look at, and not as overshot as New Zealand after the LOTR trilogy and two Narnia films (not to mention the Hercules and Xena tv series).

A special mention has to be made of the names concocted for this mess. Galbatorix? Murtagh? Urgals? Alagaesia? None of the names ring "true" - they just sound silly and amateurish.

The film was directed by former ILM visual effects supervisor Stefan Fangmeir, with visual effects handled by ILM and Weta (Peter Jackson’s company that did LOTR). That means all the scenes with Saphira the dragon are top notch – she looks real enough. But the action scenes are the usual loopy, hyperkinetic mess found in most movies today. Very few people can conceive and direct really thrilling, and memorable, action sequences: Steven Spielberg, James Cameron and Martin Campbell are among them.

These types of stories are the backbone of fantasy fiction, they’re told over and over again. There’s nothing wrong with that, but they have to be retold with some new angle, either one of story or of character. The “new angle” with Eragon is simply that the author was a 16 year old boy who copied his favorite stories.

And that is not a reason to buy a book or watch a movie.


  1. OK, now, Jeremy is still a great actor... it's the pictures that got small! ;-)

  2. Oh, Mr. Irons still has the capability to do good work, but to go from interesting films like Dead Ringers, Reversal of Fortune and The Lion King to recent fare such as Eragon and The Pink Panter 2 is sad. And I doubt he read the book Eragon before doing the movie. If he had, he would have known not to do it! :)