December 21, 2006


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Eragon (PG)
A boy and his dragon fight an evil sorcerer and openly steal from both your major sci-fi/fantasy trilogies in Eragon, a movie based on the book by Christopher Paolini.

Paolini is only 23 years old now and was supposedly 15 when he started writing Eragon. Perhaps, and I say this completely impressed with all he’s accomplished at such a young age, but perhaps those written-at-15 parts should have been edited a little more.

Eragon (Edward Speleers) is out hunting one day when, zam!, a shiny blue stone appears all flash-of-light-and-flames in the middle of the woods. Eragon takes the stone back to the home he shares with his uncle and cousin and watches as the pretty rock hatches into an adorable dragon. What’s a farm boy to do? Why, teach it to fly and let it eat rats in the yard, of course. But all is not rural bliss for this boy and his dragon. The tyrannical king (John Malkovich) had been the owner of the stone/egg and now he has set his sorcerer Durza (Robert Carlyle) on the case of reclaiming the big bean or its contents. Durza sends out a creepy mummy thing to find it and the mummy-thing soon learns that Eragon has it.

Luckily for Eragon, he heard a crazy old man deliver an “in my day, we fought the evil king” rant about the subject of dragons and dragon riders, the knight-like men who protected the kingdom before one of them went all Anakin Skywalker, killing his fellow dragon riders and making himself king. The guy telling these tales is Brom (Jeremy Irons) and when Eragon realizes he’s in trouble, he goes to Brom for advice. After first turning Eragon away, Brom and the boy pair up and faster than you can say “oh no, Uncle Owen and Aunt Beru,” Eragon learns that his uncle has been killed and that his only hope for survival is to team up with Brom and go in search of a group of warriors with whom Eragon can mount a rebellion against the king.

Naturally, you can’t have a farm boy without a princess and, while on his way to the rebels, Eragon makes a quick detour in the complete opposite direction to save Princess Arya (Sienna Guillory), who he believes has called to him. Aiding Eragon in this adventure is Saphira (Rachel Weisz), the dragon who — after a five minute babyhood and a three second adolescence — turned into a full-sized flying dragon who can communicate with Eragon by reading his thoughts (he can also read hers).

Hey, just like how Luke always knew what R2-D2 was saying even though all we heard was beeps and whistles.

Malkovich? Irons? Yeah, beats me. Maybe they get a percentage of future merchandise tie-ins. Maybe they were offered a whole lot of money. I sincerely hope so. Rachel Weisz, you won an Oscar. I understand that you recently had a child and probably want some lower-impact work but isn’t there a nice Pixar film you could lend your voice to?

None of the performances of these grown-up stars is bad, per se (except Irons, who seems to be disoriented in most of his scene, possibly confused with why he was there), but they certainly don’t transcend this fan-boy mishmash. Newcomer Speleers is just as unstunning as you’d expect from a Mark Hamill knock-off and none of the action, niftily created with CGI though it is, shocks you with its innovation.

Take, roughly, the plot of Star Wars: A New Beginning and plop it in the J.R.R. Tolkienverse of elves and wizards and you have Eragon. If I took Scarlett O’Hara, Rhett Butler and Ashley Wilkes and put them in 1940s Morocco — perhaps in a bar owned by a disillusioned American former fascist fighter? — do you think I could pass it off as a brand new movie? Do you think I could turn it in to a series? Are new ideas really that hard to come by?

Unfortunately, Eragon is the first of two books in what’s threatened to be a trilogy. By the Darth-Vader-careening-off-into-space ending of this movie, there’s plenty of plot to stretch into three films. Just, please, in movie three? No Ewoks. D+

Rated PG for fantasy violence, intense battle sequences and some frightening images. Directed by Stefen Fangmeier and written by Peter Buchman (from the novel by Christopher Paolini), Eragon is an hour and 44 minutes and is distributed by 20th Century Fox in wide release.