Written by a kid for kids, this dragon's bite feels too familiar


on December 15, 2006 by Tim Cogshell
The easy thing for any critic reviewing Eragon — a fantastical story about dragons, wizards, an evil king and young heroes on a mythical mission to save the world — would be to point out how derivative it is. And so we shall: It does, in fact, borrow from everything from the Arthurian legend to the many Star Wars films to the Lord of the Rings trilogy to the more recent dragon-centric adventures Dragonheart and Reign of Fire to Wagner's Ring Cycle, for that matter. Indeed, there is nary a truly originally conceived idea, character or concept in Eragon, nor, one assumes, in the trilogy of novels written by a teenage boy from which it was adapted. But perhaps a more difficult measure is just how much it really matters that a movie made for children by a child is derivative.

With this in mind, it is perhaps a more reasonable to measure the effectiveness of Eragon on its own terms, to the extent that it has any of its own. The film is a classic Joseph Campbell-style mythical medieval story about a boy and his pet dragon. Eragon (debuting star Edward Speleers) discovers what appears to be a lovely blue stone in the forest whilst hunting. The stone turns out to be a dragon egg that hatches a blue dragon(let) that Eragon names Saphira, which is essentially the same as calling the blue dragon…blue.

Eragon (which is the word “dragon” with an “e” instead of a “d” and phonetically spells the phrase "era gone," if you're keeping track of these clever little gems) and his dragon can communicate telepathically, which at least eliminates the necessity of making the big blue digital dragon move its lips — or beak. (The voice inside of Eragon's head is that of Rachel Weisz. There is no good reason for this, and James Earl Jones would have been better. Since the story is pinching archetypes anyway, it might as well pinch the good ones.)

The evil here comes in the form of mad King Galbatorix (John Malkovich) and his right-hand wizard Durza (Robert Carlyle, in a red wig and black talons), who are intent on destroying Eragon and the dragon he flew in on. The requisite romance, likely to come to fruition in the next two films in the series, comes in the form of a young female warrior, Arya (Sienna Guillory), whom Eragon rescues. With the help of Brom (Jeremy Irons), a vagabond who acts as Eragon's mentor and the film's expository herald, along with a host of other characters all played well enough, the new dragon rider sets out to do battle with the king and his minions.

Director Stefen Fangmeier is one of Hollywood's most noted special effects gurus with credits ranging from Terminator 2 and Signs to The Bourne Identity and Lemony Snicket's A Series of Unfortunate Events. His direction here is certainly adequate, and his attention to the special effects is duly impressive, to the extent that digital dragons and the like can be impressive. If one happens to be a boy between the ages of 10 and 15 or so, all of this will be quite exciting and engaging. If one is much older — say, 16 — and has seen any epic adventure produced in the last two decades, Eragon will be trying, perhaps even a bit grating. It will certainly be familiar. Distributor: Fox
Cast: Ed Speleers, Jeremy Irons, Sienna Guillory, Robert Carlyle, Djimon Hounsou, Garrett Hedlund, Joss Stone and John Malkovich
Director: Stefen Fangmeier
Screenwriter: Peter Buchman
Producers: John Davis and Wyck Godfrey
Genre: Family action adventure
Rating: PG for fantasy violence, intense battle sequences and threatening images
Running time: 104 min.
Release date: December 15, 2006

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