At The Picture Show
Dragon Wars: The Fellowship of the Jedi
'Eragon' is an uninspired mishmash of other, better movies
20th Century Fox
Director: Stefen Fangmeier
Screenplay: Peter Buchman, based on the novel by Christopher Paolini
Starring: Edward Speelers, Jeremy Irons, Sienna Guillory, Robert Carlyle,
Djimon Hounsou, John Malkovich and the voice of Rachel Weisz
Rated PG-13 / 1 hour, 44 minutes
Opened Dec. 15, 2006
(out of four)
I have no idea why John Malkovich hates dragons. Or, rather, why his character,
King Galbatorix, hates dragons. It's easy to get confused because there's virtually
no way to tell where Malkovich ends and Galbatorix begins. The term "character
development" seems to be a foreign object to the people responsible for Eragon.
I know that Malkovich is playing a king of somewhere, but I don't know of what
. . . or why . . . or what he does to pass the time. Or what exactly anyone, good or
bad, is fighting for or against, except perhaps for the right to use swords, spells,
magic and British accents.
Oh, and computer-generated dragons.
For the many who have read the first book of the
soon-to-be trilogy upon which this movie is based, the details of the plot (or, more
specifically, the significance or meaning of such details) won't be hard to figure
out, so in that respect the movie will run along smoothly. On the other hand, I
would find it hard to believe that die-hard fans of the book would be satisfied with
such weak storytelling, regardless of whether or not it stays faithful to the book or
I can't speak to the quality of the novel Eragon or the Inheritance trilogy as a
whole, but the version of the story that has been put on screen is about as half-baked as you could possibly get for $100 million. If you look just at the
ingredients alone, Eragon is virtually indistinguishable from recent epics like the
Lord of the Rings saga and last year's first installment of The Chronicles of
Narnia. That's obviously part of the problem in and of itself (Eragon gives whole
new meaning to the term "derivative"), but maybe if the right people were working
on it, something could have been salvaged.
There's no use trying to separate Eragon from its predecessors, as there is
absolutely no effort on the part of the filmmakers to establish anything new or
original, either in the material itself or in their approach to it. They want their
movie to be the same as those other films, and they want us to think Eragon is just
as good, just because the ingredients are the same.
Oh, and I forgot to mention Star Wars just because it doesn't fit in with the
modern-fantasy-epic motif, but there's a lot of George Lucas in Eragon as well.
Just like there used to be Jedi long ago, and just as there will be again, in the world
of Eragon there was once a time when Dragon Riders kept peace in the land of
Alagaesia, until somehow Galbatorix and others betrayed them and dragons
became extinct. But then there was young Eragon (read: Luke Skywalker), a 15-year-old boy who lives outside a small village with his uncle and cousin and who
finds (thanks to Arya, the magical . . . um . . . fairy? elf? Explanations would be
awesome . . .) his destiny in what looks like an oversized Viagra pill, but which
actually turns out to be a dragon's egg.
Inside this egg is Saphira (voiced by Rachel Weisz),
the dragon who will become Eragon's faithful companion in his aimless struggle
to find the Varden (read: Rebel Alliance) and strike back against Galbatorix (read:
Emperor Palpatine). I even think the term "the empire" is bandied about.
And just to be safe and make sure they had all the plot points covered, Eragon
returns home one day to find his uncle and family killed and the farm burned, and
on his way to saving the world must first rescue the imprisoned Arya from the
hands of Durza (Robert Carlyle), a "shade" and right-hand man of Galbatorix.
But enough. Trying to point out all sources of Eragon's bland derivativeness is
just as fruitless as trying to unmask all of Tarantino's more creative
derivativeness; when it comes down to it, that's really not the point. The point is,
is this story, however derivative, well-told? Are the characters interesting, is the
writing clever, do the visuals create a world we can sink our teeth into? And it's
still no on all counts.
You couldn't find a less compelling lead character than Eragon himself (played by
newcomer Edward Speelers, whose acting style is not unlike Orlando Bloom's,
only without that annoying look on his face). The lands of Alagaesia are by-the-numbers Middle Earth lite. And everything that happens in and around it all is as
ham-fisted as it gets.
Maybe this is what happens when you hire a
special-effects technician with no directorial experience to helm a movie of this
scale. And still, the special effects in Eragon aren't even very good (as you might
be able to gather from the trailers).
But on the plus side, with Dungeons and Dragons on Jeremy Irons' resume, this
isn't even the worst dragon movie he's ever had the misfortune of starring in. At
least there's that.
Read more by Chris Bellamy