With Eragon, visual-effects wizard Stefen Fangmeier turns director and proves himself the logical successor to Uwe Boll. Not since Dr. Boll’s idiot masterpiece BloodRayne (2005) have so many good actors been so utterly subjected to this degree of humiliation in search of a paycheck.
Oh, sure, the actors have only themselves to blame (can it be that John Malkovich actually aspires to the level of career judgment evidenced by Ben Kingsley?), and Fangmeier did have the help of screenwriter Paul Buchman (Jurassic Park III) in putting this thing together. But in the end, much of the problem lies with Fangmeier. Few directors could possibly get performances of this … uh … caliber out of Malkovich, Jeremy Irons, Robert Carlyle, Rachel Weisz and Djimon Hounsou. (Indeed, I had thought Hounsou was incapable of giving a bad performance. Eragon proves otherwise.) And possibly even fewer directors could so completely demonstrate a tin ear for dialogue.
The film comes from the novel of the same name by Christopher Paolini, a writer better known for the unusual circumstances of his success than his literary merit. Paolini wrote the book between the ages of 15 and 17. After it was self-published, the book drew the attention of a publishing house, received a proper publication and became a freak hit — in part due to its teenage whiz-kid pedigree. In other words, it’s much like Dr. Samuel Johnson’s observation about a dog walking on its hind legs, “It is not done well, but you are surprised to see it done at all.” Had an adult concocted a story that is two parts Star Wars and one part Lord of the Rings with some dragon action thrown in, the kindest assessment would land somewhere between unoriginal and plagiarism. (It doesn’t help that a dragonified Star Wars rip-off was done back in 2000 with Dungeons and Dragons.)
Even cutting some slack for the necessary streamlining of the nearly 500-page book, the film plays like nothing so much as the cobbled-together fantasy of a nerdy boy who sees himself as a bold hero, irresistible to the fairest of the fair, possessed of wisdom and natural talent far beyond his years, and destined for greatness. Unfortunately, the fantasy the film actually gives us is so thickly coated in cheese that it feels like an extended advertisement for Wisconsin dairy products.
At the center of this Camembert fest is 18-year-old Edward Speleers as Eragon, who supposedly won the role out of 180,000 potential casting choices. If this is true, I do not want to see the other 179,999. Without being unduly cruel, the best I can say for Speleers is that he looks less like a heroic figure than like someone you’d see pictured in ads for Web sites promising “barely legal” models, and his acting tends to reinforce this. (In fairness, the kid is drowning in a sea of bad scripting and lame direction.)
In any case, Eragon’s the lad who ends up in possession of this thing that looks like a really big jelly bean, but is in fact a dragon egg. Said egg will hatch and in due course transform into a sleek beast that communicates telepathically (in Rachel Weisz’s voice) with Eragon. (Maybe it was the fact that I’d just seen Charlotte’s Web that made me think this chatty dragon with all the right answers was little more than a scalier version — minus a few legs — of that famous arachnid.) By then, our hero has hooked up with Obi-Wan Kenobi — only now Kenobi is calling himself Brom (out of fear of copyright lawsuits) and is played by Jeremy Irons (what with Alec Guinness being dead, the casting change was inevitable, I guess).
Brom wants Eragon to join up with some civilization that lives on the other side of a waterfall (the entrance is one of those trick rocks that looks suspiciously like a door) to join the fight against the evil King Galbatorix (Malkovich). Of course, it’s not that easy (is it ever?) thanks to Eragon’s willfulness and the evil magician Durza (Robert Carlyle, who seems to have inherited Vanessa Redgrave’s wig from Ken Russell’s The Devils (1971), and taken acting lessons from Basil Rathbone in Bert I. Gordon’s The Magic Sword (1962)). Lots of fighting with bargain basement Orcs, pages of stilted dialogue, miles of bad crepe hair beards and wigs, and it all leads up to a non-ending that does nothing but cause Galbotorix to have a hissy fit and set the stage for the sequel. A 4-year-old kid at the showing I attended put it best when the credits rolled and he loudly asked, “What happened?” Rated PG for battle sequences and frightening moments.
– reviewed by Ken Hanke