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Eragon (2006)
Director: Stefen Fangmeier

review by Steven Hampton

A shallow, creatively barren, and cynically derivative fantasy adventure embarks on a potential blockbuster franchise quest, uniting Star Wars and Lord Of The Rings (as never before!) in a monstrously unoriginal and shameless recycling exercise. As a result, ex-ILM techies' supervisor and former second unit guy Stefen Fangmeier's directorial debut is clearly destined for a special achievement honour in the field of genre mediocrity.

A young nobody (the Luke Skywalker analogue) finds a blue egg that hatches into a baby dragon. Soon enough, he meets up with his rascally mentor (Obi-Wan Kenobi, in all but name), rescues a noble princess (amusing parallels with 'Leia', as heroine Arya has a laying down job in most early scenes) from the clutches of the proverbial 'sinister wizard' (Robert Carlyle essays his crushingly familiar panto villain shtick), and then he goes on to join the secret commie resistance in their mountain hideout, and effortlessly becomes the leader of a militarily outnumbered, stubbornly defiant rebel army, etc. Blah. Yawn. Shrug.

Although I know very little about the main storylines of Anne McCaffrey's series of SF-fantasy books, it appears that both Christopher Paolini's source novel and Peter Buchman's screenplay for Eragon borrows heavily from the lore of 'Pern', quoting much and often from the various tropes and plots of Tolkien's epics and the blandly concocted archetypes marshalled into commercialism by George Lucas' Jedi versus Sith space opera. Witless yet exacting visual effects are thoroughly saturated, here, with dizzyingly hyperactive virtual camerawork while battle sequences embellished with critter varnish grotesquery have, long since, acquired the position of normalcy in such cinematic fare, instead of being displayed as something unusual. The tragic upshot of all this narrative referencing, image-theft and sampling of iconography is that Eragon is a soup of leftovers. A tasty enough dish for sure, but definitely not to be mistaken for freshly cooked or particularly nourishing foodstuff.

Unless the filmmakers intended for a curiously absurd 'erotic' tension between the farm boy hero and his fire-breathing flying steed, Rachel Weisz sounds hopelessly miscast as the sexy voice of the 'dragon lady' (sorry, lady dragon). In the beginning of the film we are shown a sequence of events with a very obvious meaning, before the voiceover narrator explains the significance of what's just happened, followed promptly by a recap of the backstory so far by one of the principal characters. Now, a charitable view of this approach to moviemaking would be that the film's writer, director and editor are simply trying to suggest how the oral traditions of classical storytelling might acquire a mythic resonance by being told and retold. However, a more critical interpretation of the process, as used here, is damning evidence that Eragon is nothing more than 'Tolkien lite' (as it's been dubbed, quite accurately, in certain circles) and that these technically adept, yet aesthetically inept, filmmakers have simply chosen to dumb-down the whole show and shebang, thereby insulting even the intelligence of the work's intended pre-teen audience.

From a sleepwalking performance by John Malkovich as the evil king, to the insipid dialogue that's foisted on the likes of Jeremy Irons (who should have known better since he co-starred in Dungeons & Dragons) and Sienna Guillory (who managed to generate more sparks as a Resident Evil heroine than she produces here), Eragon's gratuitous faults topple into each other like a line of falling dominoes, to counteract and ultimately negate the picture's few good points. Honestly, it's not an especially bad film. It's just a rather pointless, and unnecessary, addition to the ever-growing sub-Tolkien canon of spectacular fantasy. Worth seeing, but it's a DVD to rent, not buy.

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