Reviewed by Colin Jacobson (May 5, 2020)
After The Lord of the Rings made cinemas safe for fantasy epics, we got more flicks in that genre. Enter 2006ís Eragon, a film based on the first entry in Christopher Paoliniís Inheritance trilogy of novels.
And that was where the prospective film franchise finished. Whereas each Rings movie made more than $300 million in the US, Eragon topped out at $74 million, not exactly the kind of numbers that inspire suits to greenlight more expensive efforts like this.
A prologue tells us that dragon-riders once ruled and defended the land of Alagaesia. However, the eventually become obsessed with power, and a rider named Galbatorix (John Malkovich) tried to kill all the other men and dragons in a big fight. He apparently eliminated all opposition and led the land with an iron hand.
Freedom fighters called the Varden want to remove Galbatorix from power, and a babe named Arya (Sienna Guillory) steals a precious stone of his. When his forces come upon her, she uses a spell to transport the stone elsewhere.
It ends up in the possession of a young farm boy named Eragon (Ed Speleers). Before long, he discovers itís not a stone, but itís an egg that hatches a baby dragon.
Galbatorix worries that if the Varden learn of this event, itíll inspire hope, so he dispatches his minions to kill Eragon before he matures. A ďshadeĒ named Durza (Robert Carlyle) leads these baddies.
It doesnít take long for the dragon to grow up, though, and she soon telepathically tells Eragon that her name is Saphira (voiced by Rachel Weisz) and he needs to serves as her rider. Village bum Brom (Jeremy Irons) foresaw these events, and he acts as Eragonís mentor. The movie follows his reluctant training and eventual battles.
Eragon represented Stefen Fangmeierís first effort as director. In the past, he worked as visual effects supervisor on a mix of big projects like Lemony Snicketís A Series of Unfortunate Events and Signs.
I suppose his promotion makes some sense given the heavy emphasis on effects in Eragon, but from a story-telling point of view, it becomes tough to detect Fangmeierís credentials.
Have any other folks with an exclusive visual effects background become successful directors? Not many.
Cinematographers often make the leap, and writers can jump as well, but I canít think of many effects guys who succeeded as directors. Joe Johnston heads that list, and after himÖ well, itís a short list.
At best, Fangmeier provides serviceable direction. At worst, he seems stiff and wooden.
Character delineation remains negligible at best, and the story plods at a stilted pace. Thereís no smoothness or clarity to what we see. Instead, the film just bumbles along as it follows some fairly inevitable paths.
Granted, it might be unfair to blame Fangmeier for all these problems, as the source material may cause many of them. To be sure, Eragon offers an almost ludicrously derivative piece of work. Going in, I knew that many viewed it as a blatant rip-off of the Lord of the Rings series, and I can clearly see that influence here.
Tolkien doesnít provide the sole inspiration behind Eragon, though. Indeed, youíll find many influences at work here, with a strong emphasis on Star Wars.
I might even think thereís more Lucas than Tolkien behind Eragon, as a number of strong parallels appear. We can also easily find a little Dragonheart as well as some other pieces.
Whatever the case, all of these factors strip Eragon of any potential to become its own movie. It takes a little of this and a little of that to make a lot of nothing. The end result comes across as terribly generic and never manages to form its own identity.
Truly, Eragon feels like fantasy by committee. It takes a melange of different elements but lacks inspiration and originality.
It also fails to thrill or excite. While perfectly watchable, the result is a flat, bland tale with little to make it stand out from the crowd.
I canít say I feel too sad we didnít get to watch more adventures of Eragon and his pals. The first chapter remains pretty forgettable.