As author Christopher Paolini was only 15 when he published his first novel, he could be forgiven for leaning pretty heavily on Tolkien, Star Wars and other sources. But director Stefen Fangmeier should have known better than to cut out around fifty per cent of the book and just leave those bits that most resemble other movies.
The moment the youthful Eragon, with his fair hair and blue eyes, looks back on the burning homestead, we think ``Luke Skywalker", and it's hard to shake the likeness when Eragon goes hurtling through the valleys on the dragon Saphira. In fact, that bit looks suspiciously like the Star Wars video game.
In its own right, Eragon is an enjoyable movie. The title refers to the boy Eragon, who comes into possession of a dragon's egg that hatches into the most adorable baby dragon imaginable. Throughout, the creation of Saphira is a pleasure, and with the charming Rachel Weisz providing the vocal talent, is actually a more alive character than most of the humans.
Fangmeier creates a nice medieval atmosphere in the village. Among the inhabitants is a mysterious character called Brom, played by Jeremy Irons, in a gallant imitation of Viggo Mortensen in Lord of the Rings. We know Brom won't last long, because he also takes the mentor role to the young hero and if you know your fantasy, you know mentors get picked off at some point.
After orclike creatures kill the boy's uncle (initiating the Star Wars scene) we're off on the usual adventure into the mountains. The boy Eragon is now a dragon rider, and on a mission to overthrow the evil king Galbatorix, played by John Malkovich with nothing much to do except look menacing.
The real villain of the piece is Durza the Shade, charged by Galbatorix to kill the dragon rider. It seems, when a rider dies, his dragon does also. So Durza is saved the complication of killing both of them.
Robert Carlyle takes the role of Durza with obvious relish, but the evil magician is nowhere as scary as the nasty Begbie, Carlyle's earlier role in Trainspotting.
Edward Speleers, in the title role, looks very much like Mark Hamill, and has about as much screen presence, which makes him right for the role of a young hero starting out on a quest. What else he can come up with remains to be seen.
Sienna Guillory seems miscast as the elf princess Arya. She looks older than the hero and not fey enough - but then maybe Liv Tyler's Arwen has raised the bar too high. Djimon Hounsou's rebel leader is not as memorable as his role as the African captive in Gladiator, but he is always a pleasure to watch.
With flashes of light everywhere, and mud turning into orcs, it's not surprising to find Industrial Light and Magic, and the WETA workshop in New Zealand, responsible for the special effects. Maybe that's why the battle at the end looks so much like the Uruk Hai marching on Helm's Deep.
Fangmeier, previously visual effects director on A Series of Unfortunate Events and Master and Commander, worked hard to make a movie in the tradition of Lord of the Rings and Star Wars. It's a pity he didn't rely more on tradition, and less on just copying.
I paid to see this movie with my own funds.
Eragon (Widescreen Edition)
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