Starring: Edward Speleers, Jeremy Irons, John Malkovich, Sienna Guillory, Djimon Hounsou
Director: Stefen Fangmeier
Writer(s): Peter Buchman
Listings: London | Rest of UK and Ireland
Many years ago, the Dragon Riders reigned supreme over the kingdom of Alagaesia. Blessed with the power of ten men, these fearsome warriors took to the skies on their dragons, ensuring peace for everyone in the realmÂ… until warrior Galbatorix used his gift against the other riders and seized power, plunging Alagaesia into darkness. Many years later, young farm boy Eragon discovers a dragon egg in the forest. Little does Eragon realise he is destined to fulfil a prophecy to revitalise the Dragon Riders and defeat Galbatorix and his henchmen.
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Here's the setup: a young man raised by his uncle in the middle of nowhere finds a small object which brings him into contact with a long-dead order of powerful knights. A older local man, long thought to be a crazy hermit, turns out to be the last remaining knight and begins teaching the young man how to use his newfound abilities. Figuring heavily into all of this is the woman who sends the young man a message asking to be rescued. There are also two zany robots...
OK, the last part was made up. Everything else, however, was not. Eragon is, for all intents and purposes, Star Wars set in the Middle Ages. Every part of this story has been told before, but that's not necessarily a bad thing. As Arturo Perez-Reverte once wrote, "Audiences turn to these stories full of archetypes to enjoy, whether consciously or unconsciously, the device of repeated story lines with small variations … The plot devices, the variations and repetition, are so old that they're actually mentioned in Aristotle's Poetics."
So the question is, does Eragon rise above the usual fare and deliver on its myth-and-sorcery equation? Answer: kind of.
It's clear from early on that this isn't a complex film. It's all about watching Eragon (newcomer Ed Speleers) find dragon, hatch dragon, ride dragon. There are some pretty impressive images of the dragon in flight, but all too often the camera follows just a bit too close behind it. With the scenery whipping by at a breakneck pace, it's hard to really appreciate all the work that went into animating this huge creature.
As far as special effects go, they spared no expense. The creative teams behind both Star Wars (Industrial Light & Magic) and the Lord of the Rings (WETA Digital) were brought together for this thing. The extremely young cast, along with veteran talent, in the form of Jeremy Irons and Robert Carlyle, gets to muck around with swords and magic. Carlyle in particular looks like he was having fun made up as the evil sorcerer Durza.
Watched specifically to please the kids and show off lots of Lord-of-the-Rings-style sweeping vistas and lost cities, Eragon is an easy, if hammy, hour and a half. Some of the creature design, most especially the care given to the dragon, is remarkable, though the film is clearly more Harry Potter than Lord of the Rings. This is the slightly quaint kids' version of Middle Earth. If you can forgive a few asinine lines and forget to look for depth beneath the glitter, the film can be a lot of fun.
That said, someone really should tell casting directors that John Malkovich doesn't make a good villain. It's Con Air all over again: he just doesn't have any menace to him. Besides, by this point in his career he's just too recognisable as Malkovich. It's like watching a literature professor in need of a shave saying things like, "As long as I am King, disloyalty will be punishable by death".
Written by the home-schooled Christopher Paolini while living with his family in the mountains of Paradise Valley, Montana, Eragon seems, in a way, therapeutic. One of the best parts of the movie is the kid's-fantasy-come-to-life aspect of the incredibly close dragon/rider relationship. The film, then, is focused on the best friend any young adult could imagine. It's someone who intimately understands you and, besides, it can totally fly and breathe fire. If you take your kids to see this film, don't be surprised if they love it and latch onto this "imaginary friend" aspect in a big way.
- Nicholas Carter
Intended as the first instalment of a trilogy based on the novels by Christopher Paolini, Eragon is an old-fashioned sword and sorcery epic that cowers in the shadow of Peter Jackson's Lord Of The Rings films...
Comparisons between the two series are inevitable given their narrative and creative similarities: a titanic battle between good an evil in which the fate of the entire kingdom rests of the shoulders of an unsuspecting hero; a menagerie of dragons, elves, warlocks and other fantastical creatures; massive battle scenes laden with visual effects courtesy of WETA Digital.
Unfortunately, Stefen Fangmeier's modest effort looks rather cheap and cheerful, lacking the grandeur, spectacle and intense emotion that characterised the odyssey through Middle Earth. At times, Eragon seems to be using the Tolkien films as its template, with myriad aerial shots of the adventurers on horseback, galloping across the mountainous realm to Patrick Doyle's rousing orchestral score.
A soporific voiceover from Jeremy Irons sets the scene. Many years ago, the Dragon Riders reigned supreme over the kingdom of Alagaesia. Blessed with the power of ten men, these fearsome warriors took to the skies on their dragons, ensuring peace for everyone in the realm... until warrior Galbatorix (John Malkovich) used his gift against the other riders and seized power, plunging Alagaesia into darkness.
While rebel forces, the Varden, fled to the Beor Mountains to escape Galbatorix and his evil sorceror, Durza (Robert Carlyle), the people of the land succumbed to the new king's might, dreaming of a day when dragons would return. So it comes to pass that young farm boy Eragon (Edward Speleers) from the village of Carvahall chances upon a gleaming sapphire egg in the forest, which has been hidden by the beautiful warrior Arya (Sienna Guillory).
The egg hatches and Eragon forges an unbreakable bond with a baby dragon called Saphira (voiced by Rachel Weisz), who matures quickly into a powerful beast. The boy seeks counsel from resident sage Brom (Jeremy Irons) and the two heroes and Saphira embark on a perilous quest to restore harmony to Alagaesia. In the process, they cross paths with the Varden leader Ajihad (Djimon Hounsou), the mysterious Murtagh (Garrett Hedlund) and Galbatorix's hideously disfigured troops, the Urgals.
As the boy and his mentor edge closer to a showdown at the Varden stronghold of Farthen Dur, Brom warns Eragon of rash decisions. "A rider lives if his dragon dies," confides the wise man, "but if a rider dies... so does his dragon." The initial five minutes of Eragon do not bode well, introducing Malkovich's pantomime villain with the camp opening gambit: "I suffer without my stone. Do not prolong my suffering!"
Peter Buchman's screenplay is an embarrassment of such dubious riches, littered with appalling and unintentionally hilarious dialogue like when Eragon questions his mentor's wise words, "How do you know all this?" and Brom responds, "Because I've been about a bit."
Speleers has the classic pretty boy looks - a gratuitous topless scene confirms his status as teenage poster boy of the week - but his acting isn't wholly convincing, some of which can be blamed on the lack lustre material. Malkovich and Carlyle trade sneers while Guillory squeezes herself into a series of figure hugging bodices, which draw attention away from her expressionless face.
Action sequences are competently directed and the computer effects are seamlessly integrated with the live action but the editing renders some scenes a blur and Fangmeier's penchant for long shots of the battle at Farthen Dur lessens the impact.
A tantalising final shot neatly sets up the second film, Eldest, but with the reported USD100 million budget of this first film, which is unlikely to be recouped at the box office, Eragon's journey may very well end here. "The time of dragon riders will come again," says Brom confidently. Doubtful.
- Sophie Abell
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