December 22, 2006

Movie Review: Eragon

Take two parts Star Wars, two parts Lord of the Rings, one part Dragonheart, and a dash of Harry Potter, mix well, servers as many as will pay. That seems to have been the formula for the genesis of Eragon, the latest attempt to create a fantasy film franchise based on a popular novel. Sadly, it doesn't have enough verve and vigor to inspire much passion. Eragon is, essentially, a 95 minute trailer for the second film. By the time the end rolls around, it doesn't feel like we got anywhere, it is just beginning to pick up steam and it's over.

Before you ask, no, I have not read the novel, and no, I have no real intention of ever doing so. It isn't that I don't read or anything like that, I just don't care for fantasy novels. Films are a different beast. I do give much credit to author Christopher Paolini, who wrote the novel, the first of a trilogy, when he was 15 or 16, and published at 17.

If you have seen Star Wars or Lord of the Rings you are going to see a lot of similarities here. The farm boy is the "chosen one" believed to be able to lead a rebellion against a corrupt and evil king and his dark minions. There is the wise man who knows just what lessons he needs to learn to put him on the right track, there are the hordes of bad guys hot on their trail, the boy must overcome his own self confidence to realize his destiny, I had the distinct feeling I had seen all of this before and better.

The narrative sputters along, consisting of mostly exposition and very little motion. There is background of who the dragon riders are and their connections to their dragons, a quick recap of how the king came to be in power, and a bit on the rebellion. The whole project is held back by a poor script that failes to develop any meaningful relationships between any of the characters. I found myself not really caring what happened to them, there was no emotion behind their actions, so why should I feel anything for them?

The dialogue is clunky, and many of the lines a kind of hard to wrap a tongue around to deliver believably. Jeremy Irons and John Malkovich do an admirable effort of making their roles interesting, but it looked like they knew they were in a poor movie and were just having a little fun with it, Malkovich in particular.

Eragon chronicles Eragon's discovery of the egg, subsequent dragon hatching, and their journey to find the Varden (a rebel group opposing the evil king). Their journey is a dangerous one as King Galbatroix (wrap your tongue around that and make it sound believable) sends his right hand man, Durza, and his henchman off to bring back the head of the rider. It is the first chapter of the Hero's Journey.

When the film ended, with its tease of a second film, I couldn't help but think "That's it?" It was like this was only moving the pieces around the board rather than putting them into any real action. The story is over before it begins, and I didn't care.

What Eragon lacks in story and characters, it attempts to make up for in special effects and set design. The dragon effects look very good and are easily the centerpiece of the movie. The movement slook natural and the digital creation blends nicely with the live action. Overall, the movie does have a good look to it, with some good costume designs and location shooting. That is, except for the big sweeping pans over the mountains which brought about memories of Lord of the Rings, while being infinitely more dull looking.

Stefen Fangmeier (what a name for a fantasy film director) made his directorial debut here, after working as a visual effects supervisor on such films as Lemony Snicket's A Series of Unfortunate Events, Master & Commander: The Far Side of the World, and Dreamcatcher, having begun his career working on T2. Judging by those films, and the effects work here, it would seem he is much better suited to special effects. The script was written by Peter Buchman, and feels like a chopped up mess. Clunky lines and a sever lack of character development hamper everything. His only credit prior to this is Jurassic Park III, which was a big step up from this.

Bottomline. The movie feels incomplete, sections of story are mysteriously missing and the flow feels off. I had hoped to like the film but it has a been there, done that feel. It is a half baked retread of what has come before. The effects and sets are good, but not enough to save it.

Not Recommended.


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