Since the penultimate fantasy movie, Lord of the Rings, I have avoided watching fantasy movies, probably because I can’t imagine a better fantasy movie. But I was intrigued by Eragon. I knew little about it, avoiding hype and trailers, because I wanted to see it with a clear slate. Is it a better movie than LotR? Not even close. But is it worth watching? Is it any good? Yes. Er, well, maybe.
Here’s the story: A mysterious princess is pursued by an evil emperor and his minions. She’s carrying something that’s vital, something that can bring down the evil empire. Just as she’s captured, she manages to send the thing away and keep it out of the villains’ grasp. The item is accidentally found by a blond farmboy, a bumpkin with no idea of the hell that’s about to descend upon his head. The farm boy takes the item back to his home, where he lives with his uncle. His uncle has raised him from childhood, because the boy’s mother was on the run, fleeing from the evil empire. But the forces of evil are closing in, searching for him. They want the item back. The boy meets a grizzled old mentor, a member of a once great order of warriors for good, destroyed by the evil emperor. The old mentor knows what is going on around the boy’s discovery, the only person with the knowledge to save the boy and spirit him to safety. The minions of evil nearly find the boy, and kill his uncle while searching for the item. The old mentor spirits the boy to safety, and they flee together, off to find the rebels who can bring down the evil empire. And the boy has special powers that he has not yet tapped.
Does all this sound familiar? Strikingly similar to one of the top grossing movies of all time? Let’s make some easy substitutions.
Death Star plans become dragon egg, soon to hatch into an enormous dragon named Saphira (voiced by Rachel Weisz).
Luke Skywalker becomes Eragon (Edward Speleers).
Princess Leia become Arya (Sienna Guillory).
Emperor Palpatine becomes Galvatorix (John Malkovich).
Darth Vader becomes Durza (Robert Carlyle).
Obi-Wan Kenobi becomes Brom (Jeremy Irons).
All this similarity to Star Wars is not necessarily a bad thing, if its done well. Star Wars has one of the great archetypal plots. Other similarities can be found if you look hard enough.
I haven’t read the book (which is extremely popular right now), so I’m judging the movie on its merits.
Rachel Weisz does a great job as the voice of Saphira, the dragon. In fact, the dragon is breathtaking. Its obvious that enormous effort went into making the dragon into the amazing centerpiece of this movie, and they succeeded in that. Her relationship with Eragon, with magical and telepathic bonds, is interesting, and Eragon (Edward Speleers) is a good likable character and a good actor. If only George Lucas could have used him to play Annakin Skywalker, but that’s another story. The scenes where Eragon learns to ride are the high points of this movie, tense and exhilarating. The movie direction and cinematography are great whenever CGI is involved. Its on the ground with real landscapes where the movie tends to lack.
While this movie tries awful hard, it lacks the sweeping enormous scope of Lord of the Rings. It tries to stage a climactic great battle, but even with extensive CGI expansion of the battlefield, it still feels like a soundstage, and that’s true of a fight scene in a swamp village as well. I guess they spent all their budget on CGI effects and needed a director who knows how to shoot real sweeping battle scenes.
The battles between Eragon and Durza astride their flying monsters are impressive. Durza (Darth Vader in another script), the king’s evil wizard lackey, is a great villain, scary and ugly and eeee-vil. King Galvatorix, played by John Malkovich, has little to do except look evil.
So don’t go to this movie expecting Lord of the Rings or Star Wars. You’ll be disappointed. If you go in hoping to entertained, you might well be. You’ll be entertained, but not moved.