Starring: Edward Speleers, Jeremy Irons, Sienna Guillory, Djimon Hounsou, John Malkovich, Robert Carlyle, Rachel Weisz
Director: Stefan Fangmeier
It’s not surprising that a rival studio to New Line thought that the market would support another “Lord of the Rings”-style medieval adventure, but surely someone, somewhere along the way, took a look at the structure of “Eragon,” the best-selling novel by then–teenager Christopher Paolini, and thought, “Isn’t this just ‘Lord of the Rings’ crossed with ‘Star Wars’?” And, of course, that’s exactly what “Eragon” is. Even the name is only a few letters removed from Aragorn, son of Arathorn, a.k.a. Strider, a.k.a. Viggo freaking Mortenson. And if this movie is missing anything – and it isn’t just missing anything, it’s missing lots of things – it is a cast that boasts anyone remotely as cool as Viggo Mortenson. No, instead we get John Malkovich, who used to be cool but is now the only person in Alagaesia that speaks in an American accent, even though everyone else around him is clearly British.
Malkovich is King Galbatorix, a Saruman-like ruler of Alagaesia who is on the hunt for the elf Arya (Sienna Guillory), who has stolen Galbatorix’s special stone. Arya teleports the stone to an undisclosed location upon capture, where a farm boy named Eragon (Edward Speleers) stumbles upon it. He tries to sell and barter the stone to no avail, and only after he’s stuck with the stone does he realize that it’s not a stone but an egg, and from that egg springs a dragon named Saphira (voiced by Rachel Weisz), who has chosen Eragon as her Dragon Rider. As soon as Saphira has hatched, Galbatorix stages a manhunt for Eragon, using a black-magic Shade named Durza (Robert Carlyle) to do his dirty work. Eragon has trouble coming to grips with his destiny, but Brom (Jeremy Irons), who had been considered the village idiot, shepherds Eragon through this difficult time, and reveals a wealth of knowledge far greater than your typical village idiot.
My plot-description paragraphs are usually two-thirds the size of this one, and I didn’t even dig into the parallels to “Lord of the Rings” and “Star Wars.” Eragon lives with his uncle and cousin, after his mother suddenly fled in order to keep Eragon’s true identity a secret. Eragon’s uncle is killed by Ra’zac (bug-infested ring wraiths). Irons is Obi-Wan Kenobi, while Guillory is the movie’s Cate Blanchett, both in terms of her looks (they could pass for sisters) and her role (they’re both elves). There’s a Helm’s Deep-style battle, where the rebels fight an army of Orcs (they’re called Urgals here). Lastly there’s Durza, the Shade who’s gone to the Dark Side for his power. Okay, so there is no father-son connection between him and Eragon (that I know of, anyway), but you get the idea. This entire story is a photocopy.
And what could add insult to injury better than a first-time director? Stefen Fangmeier has an impressive résumé as an effects supervisor, but his directorial debut included one scene that made me laugh out loud and another made me nauseous. There is a scene where Eragon begins running from the village to his farm in the dead of night, and arrives at the farm, still running at a dead sprint, at dawn. This all takes place in about 10 seconds of “movie time,” and the end results are hilarious. On the other end of the spectrum is the “breathtaking vista” shot, where Fangmeier attempts a Peter Jackson-esque panoramic shot, but since everything is in focus – including the mountains in the backdrop – the entire scene seems to be moving, which is a telltale sign that it’s fake. The screenwriters share some blame as well; the dialogue has all been retrofitted with contemporary speak. This is not to say that Eragon says things like, “What up, dawg?,” but he does say “Let’s finish this!” at one point. Hoo boy.
If you want to show your kids a medieval fantasy but consider the “Lord of the Rings” movies too violent, don’t take them to see “Eragon”: rent “The Princess Bride,” Rob Reiner’s 1988 classic, instead. It is funnier, sweeter, and it’s far cleverer than anything you’ll find in “Eragon.” And to think they set the movie up for a sequel. Pray it never comes.
You could imagine that a film like “Eragon” would be rich with bonus material, and the two-disc special edition release doesn’t disappoint. The first disc only features the film and a rather boring audio commentary with Stefen Fangmeier (it’s the equivalent of a cinematic play-by-play for a blind person), but disc two is positively loaded with so many special features that they actually begin to overlap one another. The 51-minute making-of featurette, “Inside the Inheritance Trilogy,” is perhaps the most appealing of the group and covers everything from adapting Christopher Paolini’s novel to casting the film, while the visual effects featurette, “The Secrets of Alagaesi,” offers an inside look at the creation of 20 of the film’s effects-laden scenes. Also included in the set is a massive collection of concept art (“The Inhabitants of Alagaesia,” “Vision of Eragon”), storyboards, extended/deleted scenes, a featurette on the making of the video game (“Become the Dragon Rider”), a short interview with Paolini on his second novel, “Eldest,” as well its first two chapters available to read.