Review: Eragon

Eragon (the movie)
Cast details, etc., are in the IMDb entry.

InstaRating: 2 out of 5

Having little else to do while school is out, I decided to see Eragon, this season’s epic high fantasy. I went with some trepidation, as the commercials made it seem overwhelmingly, well, cheesy. In hindsight, I had no idea

This isn’t a bad movie, exactly. It just isn’t a good one. Apparently it is based on a series of novels much-beloved by a subset of the Net population, but I’d never heard of them before, much less read them. Pro: I went in without any preconceived notions. Con: I went in. I suspect that, had I picked up the book, I’d have known better than to shell out $8 on this movie.

The problem with Eragon is that the author Christopher Paolini (and eventually, the scriptwriter Peter Buchman) simply rehashes very very standard epic fantasy tropes. Some people on the Net accuse Paolini of ripping off directly from (take your pick) Lord of the Rings, Star Wards, or Dragonriders of Pern. I think that’s probably unfair. I don’t think Paolini consciously started out saying, “Wow! I wonder how much of Tolkein I can plagiarise and get away with it?” It isn’t just “LOTR with the serial numbers filed off”. But without getting all Campbellian, there are a limited number of standard motiffs, characters, etc. that we expect within an epic fantasy story. It’s very hard to juggle the things we know into something new. It can be done — witness, say, The Belgariad — but it’s hard.

I can’t really judge Paolini’s contribution, since I didn’t read the book. But judging from the movie, his story is about the same as every other 14-year-old who says to himself, “Hey, Tolkein is neat. I could write something like that.” I’ll admit, with only a little shame, to having thought the same myself and to have pounded out the overlong, under-developed fantasy quest novel to show for it. Looking back at the text now (which, unfortunately, I happen to have saved), I squirm a bit as I read the high school prose and the urgent attempt to Add Meaning. There are zillions of these things, with more every year, and they’re not an evil. But they’re not good. And I suspect — without, admittedly, more than this movie to back me up — that Paolini’s is one of these.

In any event, whether or not Paolini intended to steal from Tolkein, the director clearly intends to steal from Peter Jackson. This movie so very desperately wants to be The Return of the King. Alas, it is not. Its source material is not as strong and the director (Stefen Fangmeier) is not nearly as skilled — or perhaps not nearly as fanatically dedicated to the material. It’s been said that Jackson was a bit overboard in his love of things Tolkeinian. Indeed, the LOTR movies benefited greatly from the near half-century of marination in the cultural subconscious. Eragon just doesn’t have that feel.

Beyond a somewhat cardboard story, we have to include the very cardboard actors. Jeremy Irons gives a good turn as Brom, former dragonrider. The rest of the cast is eminently forgettable. This viewer, at least, felt no connection to any of them and felt no visceral thrum of danger whenever they were in peril. Much as the film has the feel of a pasted-together travelog, the actors seem like the indeterminate people you meet in airports.

Wrapping up: My advice is to skip this movie. It isn’t bad enough to be good, and it isn’t good enough to be good, either. It’s in that terrible limbo in-between, that cinematic graveyard wherein reside all the movies destined for nonstop play on the Sci Fi Channel.

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