Eragon is best known as having been written by a teenager (Christopher Paolini), along with three other books that made for a popular fantasy series. I’ve heard good things about the books, and Lord knows I’m aware you cannot just a book by the movie made of it, but if the movie is any indication, it’s nothing more than a “Star Wars”/Lord of the Rings ripoff that inspired a, quite honestly, laughable fantasy film in a post-“Harry Potter” and “Lord of the Rings” (the Peter Jackson trilogy) era of cinema. J.R.R. Tolkien, I have a feeling, would be rolling in his grave more over what this story does to the fantasy lit legacy he wrought more than anything Peter Jackson did in adapting The Lord of the Rings and The Hobbit, despite what his son Christopher says. This is the product of lazy storytelling and absurd overacting on the part of an overqualified cast. I don’t even know if you can point to the production values as being able to redeem it, although at least we got a good Avril Lavigne song (“Keep Holding On”) out of it. You can more or less telegraph where the story is headed- the question becomes whether you care about that or not.
The film tells a story of turmoil in the realm of Ellesmera, where an elf princess named Arya (Sienna Guillory) has stolen a stone from the evil king, Galbatorix (John Malkovich, in full-throated villain mode). While getting away, she is cornered within a ring of fire by a Shade (a dark sorcerer) named Durza (Robert Carlyle, making a run for Malkovich’s crown as most over-the-top villain). She uses her magic to send the stone to a forest near the village of Carvahall where it is found by Eragon (Ed Speleers), a 17-year-old farm boy who lives with his uncle and cousin. He soon discovers that the stone in his possession is, in fact, an egg, and not just any egg- a dragon egg. It hatches, and a mark is burned into Eragon’s hand. He is now branded as a dragon rider, and that brand is felt throughout the land, putting a big target on his back with Galbatorix and Durza. Aided by a former dragon rider named Borm (Jeremy Irons, who hopefully enjoyed the money he was paid to play this mentor), Eragon and his dragon, named Saphira (voiced by Rachel Weisz), escape and go to train for the battle ahead. There’s also a resistance that Galbatorix is trying to snuff out, as well, but it feels remarkably tacked on, if you ask me.
The biggest quandary I find myself in while reviewing this movie is what grade it deserves. Is it truly “F” material? Yes, the film is derivative enough to make one hope George Lucas and the Tolkien estate got some royalties off of it, but the production values are decent (hardly “Battlefield Earth”-level embarrassment), and the cast really does try to make this all feel important, although Speleers doesn’t really engage me as the lead. Writer Peter Buchman (“Jurassic Park III,” “Che”) and director Stefen Fangmeier seem committed to the whole enterprise, but they just aren’t able to make this feel like anything other than made-for-TV fantasy, although ironically, “Game of Thrones” has made that whole notion feel obsolete. This is a bad movie, to be sure, but it’s relatively competent in terms of what people bring to it, so I can’t really hate on it too much. But given the bar that was raised just a few years earlier by fantasy phenomenons “Lord of the Rings” and “Harry Potter,” there’s more than just sure-footed filmmakers that feels missing. Imagination, and the ability to take us on an adventure, is also lacking, and that’s probably the biggest problem of the bunch.