Published in 2002 by then-nineteen-year-old Christopher Paolini, Eragon is the first in a trilogy of fantasy novels about a young orphan who leads a rebellion against a despotic tyrant. The book, a mix of Stars Wars, The Lord of the Rings, and several other fantasies, has been adapted into a solid if unspectacular film aimed squarely at adolescents. As the sole sword-and-sorcery release this holiday season, Eragon corners a market that Fox, clearly banking on another Harry Potter, hopes is still robust.
The story takes place in mythical Alagaësia, peaceful until Galbatroix (John Malkovich) killed its guardian dragon riders and became its self-appointed ruler. Now rebels hide in mountain strongholds while soldiers pillage the land. Eragon (Ed Speleers), an orphan living on his uncle’s farm, finds a dragon egg that hatches into Saphira (voiced by Rachel Weisz). Forced to flee from Galbatroix’s demons, they are accompanied by Brom (Jeremy Irons), a former dragon rider whose own beast was killed.
Brom wants to join rebel leader Ajihad (Djimon Hounsou), but the headstrong Eragon is determined to free Arya (Sienna Guillory), a princess being held captive by Durza (Robert Carlyle), an evil wizard. Murtagh (Garrett Hedlund), son of a disgraced dragon rider, is the next to join their group. Confrontations escalate until Eragon and Saphira are in a pitched aerial battle with Durza and his “dark magic” beast while a war between rebels and “Urgals” rages below.
Making his film debut, Ed Speleers carries himself well, despite an unfortunate resemblance in some shots to TV’s Dennis the Menace. Considerably better is Sienna Guillory as a spirited Arya, although she seems far too mature to show any interest in Eragon. The real acting duties fall to Jeremy Irons, bringing a degree of gravity to a role that seems suspiciously close to Obi Wan Kenobi. Confined to prowling a single dark set, a snarling John Malkovich has almost nothing to do except hope for a sequel.
But, face it, the core audience won’t be going to this film for its acting. The special effects in Eragon are good enough not to call attention themselves; the action, hampered by the film’s PG rating, is only adequate. First-time director Stefan Fangmeier’s background is in computers and digital effects, an increasingly relevant career path for feature films. He does a good job overseeing the look and pacing of the film, but often seems to neglect more humdrum details like plotting and dialogue. For older viewers at least, the film’s biggest flaw is the sense that nothing in the story–the war, the dragon, the demons, the spells, Eragon’s crush on Arya–makes any difference one way or the other.
The closing shot holds the promise of a sequel based on Eldest, the next volume in the trilogy (the third has yet to be published). Die-hard fans can already play the video game, which was released last month.
Cast: Ed Speleers, Jeremy Irons, Sienna Guillory, Robert Carlyle, Djimon Hounsou, Garrett Hedlund, Joss Stone, Rachel Weisz, John Malkovich, Alun Armstrong, Chris Egan, Gary Lewis, Steve Speirs, Caroline Chikezie.
Crew: Directed by Stefen Fangmeier. Screenplay by Peter Buchman. Based on the novel by Christopher Paolini. Produced by John Davis, Wyck Godfrey. Executive producers: Gil Netter, Chris Symes. Director of photography: Hugh Johnson. Production designer: Wolf Kroeger. Film editor: Roger Barton. Costume designer: Kym Barrett. Visual effects supervisors: Samir Hoon, Michael McAlister. Music composed by Patrick Doyle. Co-producers: Roger Barton, Adam Goodman. A Fox 2000 Pictures presentation, in association with Ingenious Film Partners, of a David Entertainment Company production.
20th Century Fox/Color/2.35/Dolby, DTS/103 Mins./Rated PG