Watching “Eragon” leaves you a little lost for words, pure disbelief and shock at what you have just witnessed, quite possibly gasping for breath as the credits roll. Unfortunately, not in a good way. Your disbelief will not stem from marvelling at the visual experience of a great fantasy spectacle but rather you will wonder how this ever, ever, got off Hollywood production lines or why exactly respected actors like Jeremy Irons signed up for the project. On paper of course it’s exactly what the 20th Century Fox studio execs would have wanted: epic fantasy adapted from best-selling novel in a revitalised genre, certain to tickle the taste-buds of those fans that recently moved from Naboo to Middle Earth. In addition Fox appointed first time director Stefen Fangmeier to the project, an ILM visual effects guru who had worked on projects such as “Master and Commander”, someone then who could be trusted with large set-pieces, talking dragons, sprawling battles and the like. As an added bonus they gave him $100 million to play with. The end product however, is so mediocre it was laughed out of the theatres by audiences and critics alike.
Mentioning “The Lord of the Rings” and “Star Wars” earlier was no coincidence for the novel, written and self-published by Christopher Paolini when he was 16, is quite clearly a blend of the two, the characters and plot borrowed, no, blatantly stolen from “A New Hope”. There’s a poor farm boy (Ed Speelers) living with his uncle in a land exploited by an evil empire who is touched by fate and special powers (talking dragon and ‘magic’ for the force). With the aid of elderly story teller Brom (Jeremy Irons alias Ben Kenobi) he sets out to rescue an elven princess held prisoner by the evil if not asthmatic shade Durza (Robert Carlyle) under the command of King Galbatorix (John Malkovich). Oh my, oh my! To be fair to Paolini, the novel is exciting and he has made it his own with the sequels but this does not translate into the film. The screenplay as written by Peter Buchman is quite simply terrible, every scene vying for it’s place among the gallery of best clunky lines ever. Some plot points from the novel have been discarded (such as a trip to the city of Gil’ead) but that only makes it look even more like Star Wars. Pity Han Solo never shows up to lighten things a bit. Although top scripts need to be approved by the studio one can not but wonder how fast asleep the board at Fox were when crackers like “The thing is the word. Know the word, and you control the thing” or “I suffer without my stone” were being written?
Naturally, having something as bad as that as source material, actors won’t be able to do much with it. It’s impossible to tell whether Speelers in the title role is actually a good actor or not, so cringingly embarrassing is the stuff he’s asked for, but there’s not really a lot of emotion for the audience to latch on to. Irons and Carlyle can just about keep things together but neither of them really wants to be there. Clearly the paycheque was considerable or else they wouldn’t be. Many other characters simply pass us by: Sienna Guillory as Arya and Djimon Hounsou as rebel leader Ajihad are little more than ornament while the voice-work of Rachel Weisz as the dragon sounds like it’s been phoned in. Joss Stone who has a cameo as fortune-teller Angela is another hopeless availing of the actor/singer exchange program. Oh and anyone who has seen Malkovich in “Johnny English” will most likely be laughing throughout all of his scenes, the characters aren’t all that dissimilar. The only character of note is the embittered Murtagh. Garret Hedlund who showed such promise in “Troy” does his level best but neither the script nor direction allow him the breathing space required to flesh out an interesting role.
Well ok, you might think, so the storyline and characters aren’t exactly very deep but that’s the case in many a movie these days. At worst it’s going to be a brainless action picture with lots of CG to drool at, right? How wrong you’d be. Fangmeier’s disregard for his picture seems complete: As rich as the production design might be, you’ll never notice because it’s all so rushed. The cinematography allows no space for delving into an environment, we never see Carvahall or Farthen-Dur properly, something Peter Jackson managed to do so well with Middle Earth, there we feel like we’re part of that world. The action also; battles and the crucial flying scenes lack imagination. We’ve seen all this before, time and time again. Even worse, the CG doesn’t look photo-real. Saphira is just about fine on the eyes but everything else is an afterthought. Fangmeier just doesn’t seem to care. It might be worth your money to take a bet on how soon he will be directing a major Hollywood motion picture again.
The task of writing music to accompany this mess fell to British veteran Patrick Doyle, best known for his collaborations with Kenneth Branagh on Shakespeare adaptions such as “Henry V”. Fresh off his success on the fourth Harry Potter, Doyle very much extends that epic style to suit this fantasy. Mostly Major-key and triumphant, what we get is an appropriately large orchestral score. Fans of his previous work will most likely enjoy this one as well. Just ignore the horrible Avril Lavigne song thrown in at the end.
Predictable fantasy fare all round with a horrific script that falls into golden raspberry territory. Watch “Star Wars” instead. About this film, all that’s left to say is $100 million well spent!
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