Monday, April 14, 2014

Review: "Eragon" Lacks Fire (Happy B'day, Robert Carlyle)

TRASH IN MY EYE No. 258 (of 2006) by Leroy Douresseaux

Eragon (2006)
Running time:  104 minutes (1 hour, 44 minutes)
MPAA – PG for fantasy violence, intense battle sequences, and some frightening images
DIRECTOR:  Stefan Fangmeier
WRITER:  Peter Buchman (based upon the novel by Christopher Paolini)
PRODUCERS:  John Davis, Adam Goodman, and Wyck Godfrey
CINEMATOGRAPHER:  Hugh Johnson (D.o.P.)
EDITORS:  Roger Barton, Masahiro Hirakubo, and Chris Lebenzon
COMPOSER:  Patrick Doyle


Starring:  Ed Speleers, Jeremy Irons, Sienna Guillory, Robert Carlyle, Djimon Hounsou, Garrett Hedlund, Rachel Weisz (voice) and John Malkovich, Alun Armstrong, Chris Egan, Gary Lewis, Richard Rifkin, Steve Speirs, Joss Stone, and Caroline Chikezie

The subject of this movie review is Eragon, a 2006 action-fantasy film.  It is based on the 2002 novel, Eragon, by Christopher Paolini.  Eragon the film follows a farm boy whose discovery of a dragon’s egg leads him on a predestined journey to defend his homeland from an evil king.

When he was a teenager, Christopher Paolini wrote the novel Eragon, which went from being privately published by his parents to being a worldwide bestseller published by Alfred A. Knopf.  Now, a film adaptation arrives with hopes of capturing much of the audience that devoured The Lord of the Rings film trilogy and Disney/Walden Media’s 2005 The Chronicles of Narnia movie adaptation.

Once upon a time in the land of AlagaĆ«sia, Dragon Riders brought peace and prosperity, and the Dragons gave their Riders magical powers.  They were unbeaten until one of their own, a Rider named Galbatorix (John Malkovich), rebelled against the other Riders and destroyed them so that he could have all the power for himself.  Now, King Galbatorix rules AlagaĆ«sia, and no one can stop him.

There is, however, another dragon egg, and it is in the possession of Arya (Sienna Guillory).  Using a spell and a prayer, her magic sends the egg where a young farm boy named Eragon (Ed Speleers) finds it.  Unsure of what this shiny stone is, Eragon watches as the egg hatches and out pops a dragon he names Saphira (voice of Rachel Weisz).  With the help of a mentor named Brom (Jeremy Irons), Eragon begins the journey to become one with Saphira as she grows more mature and passes more magical power onto him.  Eragon will need it to defeat a Shade (sorcerer) named Durza (Robert Carlyle), a minion of Galbatorix’s.  Eragon joins with the rebel group, the Varden and their leader, Ajihad (Djimon Hounsou), for a coming battle against Galbatorix’s forces.  Will Eragon and Saphira have bonded together enough to match the dark magic of Durza when it counts most?

On a recent talk show appearance near the time the film, Eragon, was released, the host asked Christopher Paolini point black if the young author liked the film adaptation of his best-selling and acclaimed children’s book.  Paolini dodged the question twice saying that he was thrilled to see his characters and hear dialogue he wrote on screen.  It only takes a few minutes into this movie to understand the young author’s misgivings.

Eragon has a mediocre script, no one, from the director to the cast, rises above it.  The movie only comes to life when Eragon and Saphira together or Saphira alone are on screen.  Director Stefan Fangmeier spent over 20 years working in companies that provided visual effects and computer effects for films, so his affinity with this film seems completely directed at the biggest computer effect in Eragon, the dragon Saphira.  The rest of the time, Eragon is just as awkward and clumsy as a run of the mill Sci-Fi Channel fantasy flick.

Eragon has the same quality acting as that of a middling TV movie, but with movie star names.  Jeremy Irons, who has spent a small part of the decade and a half since winning an Oscar, slumming as a serious-thespian-for-hire in various popcorn movies (Die Hard with a Vengeance) and costume drama/action movies (Kingdom of Heaven).  There is no doubt that Christopher Paolini created the character Irons plays, Brom, to be Eragon’s Obi-Wan Kenobi, but for all the effort Irons gives, Brom is more Yogi Bear than Obi-Wan.

Ed Speleers looks the part of Eragon – a boy determined to take on a task bigger and older than he is, but getting the look right is as far as Speleers goes.  His performance ranges for flat to just flat-out overacting.  Rachel Weisz’s voice performance as Saphira is weak and isn’t befitting of an actress of her skill.  Besides, she sounds more like Minnie Driver than herself.

By using two of Hollywood’s most honored visual effects houses, WETA Digital (The Lord of the Rings, King Kong) and Industrial Light and Magic (the Star Wars franchise and Jurassic Park), the producers of this film hoped to reach their stated goal of creating a photo-real dragon in Saphira.  She’s not quite that.  The CGI and computer rendering created a fantastical creature in Saphira, a computer generated beast with marvelous simulated skin texture.  The dragon looks as if she had really been there on location with the live actors during principal photography.

It’s clear that the works of J.R.R. Tolkien and George Lucas played a big part in the creation of Paolini’s original novel, yet the film comes across as a weak-kneed knock off Tolkien with a few tattered borrowings from Lucas.  If not for the CGI dragon and the climatic battle scene (created by WETA), Eragon would be one of the saddest fantasy movies in recent memory.  Only the stunningly beautiful locales where it was filmed (Hungary and Slovakia), some lavish costumes, and a sweet blend of action, fantasy and CGI make Eragon worth watching… at home.

5 of 10

Thursday, December 28, 2006

Update:  Monday, April 14, 2014

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