A young farm boy with a destiny unknown [CHECK]. A land under the heel of an evil dictator [CHECK]. An ancient order with mystical powers betrayed from within [CHECK]. A hidden people holding against said evil dictator [CHECK]. A princess rushing to get a great Mcguffin to the resistance is captured just as she manages to get it away [CHECK]. A former member of said mystical order ready to mentor the young farm boy when the Mcguffin falls into his hands [CHECK].
With such a setup, you would think that I had gone to see Star Wars. And you know what, I wish that I had, because what I was seeing was Eragon, the latest Hollywood fantasy blockbuster. Based on the highly successful book penned by the then 14 year old Christopher Paolini, this is the first part of a typical fantasy trilogy. It tells the story of Eragon (Ed Speleers), the young farmboy into whose hands the Mcguffin falls, a dragon egg that is the last, best hope for the freedom of good people everywhere.
Dictator King Galbatorix (John Malkovich) of course wants the egg back, because once hatched the new dragon will bond with its dragon rider to be, and thus mark the return of the Order that Galbatorix betrayed. So he sets not only his soldiery in search of our young hero, but also his sorcererous and demonic lieutenant, Durza (Robert Carlyle). Fortunately for Eragon, his mentor, Brom (Jeremy Irons), was also a Dragon Rider, and can take the boy through the steps of bonding with, and riding his dragon, Saphira (voiced by Rachel Weisz). Thus we have everything for an epic tale of adventure, heroism, and a story well told.
Or maybe not.
The truth is, Eragon might be a great book, but as a film it is the dumbest thing you will have seen on the big screen all year. Be thankful then, that the film was released in December with mere weeks of 2006 left.
The idiocy starts with the feeling that you have seen all of the film before. In a sense you have. The parallels with Star Wars are not so much subtle allusions, more pointers so heavy handed that you feel the scriptwriter and director are taking turns beating you over the head with George Lucas' personal script. The obvious thing is that the screenwriter has been reading Joseph Campbell's Hero of 1000 Faces, but that is clearly too clever and intellectual for all involved.
And when you get bored with Star Wars, the pointers toddle off to Middle Earth and Lord of the Rings, or rather, run up, embrace it, and kiss it soundly on both cheeks. This shows worst in the Rivendell analogue; the terrible injury that makes getting there right now so important, and the interminable travel scenes that track over endless landscapes that look so much like Vancouver you half expect the members of Stargate SG-1 to wander into shot. Hmm . . . I wonder if it would have been a better film if they had?
The palm to face action continues with the performances, which are incredulously mediocre to a man and dragon both. Ed Speleers as our hero is emotive as a two-by-four, but lacks the impact; popstress Joss Stone's surname sums up her cameo perfectly; and John Malkovich should have posed for a cardboard cut-out for all of the impact his King Galbatorix has on the film.
Surprisingly the actor who comes out well in the film is Jeremy Irons, who as Eragon's mentor Brom, brings a modicum of emotion to his role. Anyone else in the film, for example, Alun Armstrong, is so poorly served by the script that he should take the money and laugh. In particular, the roles of Murtagh (Garrett Hedlund) and Ajihad (Djimon Hounsou) seem superfluous, and is it me, but are these names just odd?
So having got to the script, it would be really nice to have something nice to say about both it and the scriptwriter. But not wanting to stretch either my credulity or yours, let us at least be kind to the scriptwriter. Mister Peter Buchman, I salute you as a graduate of the Signposts for the Blind School of Scriptwriting with Honours in making the obvious even more obvious.
And if you thought all that exposition clumsy and trite, I have yet to get to examples of either the film's script or plotting. For example, when the hero rushes to rescue the princess from within the villain's castle lair, he does so astride Saphira. Remembering that Saphira is a dragon and can thus fly, Eragon manages to get into the castle, release the princess, and put himself in danger, but rather than get himself out of this danger, his mentor has somehow managed to ride across country on horseback in time to throw himself in front the danger and thus sacrifice himself to save our hero's life. Wow! What was he riding, Sea Biscuit?
As to the dialogue, our favourite line occurs when Brom and Eragon arrive at village, and handing him some money, Brom tells Eragon, "Here, buy some bread . . . And don't talk to anyone!" Which had us wondering how he was going to ask for the bread? In mime? Or in the "International Language of Modern Dance"?
Having got this far, I have yet to mention the director, Stefan Fangmeier. This is his first feature film and it shows, but with so many nails already driven into this coffin, he is merely the hammer.
All this and is there anything decent about Eragon? Surprisingly, yes. Jeremy Irons as Brom turns in a decent performance, and it is his best role where dragons are concerned. Finally, he can put the memory of Dungeons & Dragons The Movie behind him.
And so to the conclusion wherein I try and say something constructive about the film, a task a lot easier than you would think. First, if you have thoughts about seeing this film, then I can only suggest that your local multiplex is certainly showing something else. Second, if your children badger you to see this film, then tell them that as their parents, elders, and betters that you definitely know better. If they persist, read them the book. The pictures certainly have to be better.
Third, and finally, in a time when we are given the delights of films such as Pan's Labyrinth and Hollywood is arguing about will make the sequel to greatest and most successful fantasy trilogy to date, you have to wonder if Hollywood is capable of producing genre movies, particularly fantasy. Eragon is proof perhaps that it cannot.