In a world of myth and legend, a teenage boy discovers a dragon's egg and is hunted down by the forces of evil. Jeremy Irons and John Malkovich star in this fantasy adventure
Adapted from a successful children's book, and with at least one published sequel waiting to be filmed, Eragon is another budding fantasy franchise aimed directly at the Harry Potter market. Its direct influence though, is the Lord Of The Rings trilogy.
Like much epic fantasy, Christopher Paolini's original novel Eragon owes a colossal debt to Tolkien's world. Unfortunately, this has translated into a film that plays like leftovers from Jackson's trilogy with a heavy sprinkling of Star Wars, and doesn't get anywhere near the cinematic heights scaled by either.
It's a much less ambitious work aimed primarily at a young audience, and SFX expert-turned-debut director Stefan Fangmeier seems to have forgotten that fantasy is one of the trickiest genres to pull off. Getting the visuals right is only part of the mix, and there's serious potential for unintentional comedy when most of your cast are running around wearing eccentric headgear, waving swords, and delivering lines like, "There was a time when warriors sat astride mighty dragons!"
Fantasy filmmakers need Peter Jackson's conviction and grit to get past these problems, but all we get in Eragon are recycled adventures set in a medieval-era kingdom. In an introductory voiceover we are told that Dragon Riders were once the guardians of law and order until they became arrogant, and one of their own - the evil Galbatorix (John Malkovich) - turned against them and wiped them out. (Any resemblance to Jedi Knights is strictly coincidental.)
Now, Galbatorix rules the land as a tyrant, and all hope seems lost until ordinary farmboy Eragon (Edward Speleers) finds a mysterious stone that turns out to be the last remaining dragon egg. The egg swiftly hatches into a youthful dragon named Saphira (voiced by Rachel Weisz), but while Eragon forms a powerful bond with her and becomes the next Dragon Rider, the forces of Galbatorix and his undead henchman Durza (Robert Carlyle) are determined to hunt them down at all costs. Soon, Eragon's uncle has been killed, and he is forced on the run with grizzled mentor and one-time Dragon Rider Brom (Jeremy Irons), while their only chance is to reach the fortress of the Vardans and make a stand against Galbatorix.
Taken on its own terms, even away from the fearsome shadow of the Rings movies, Eragon serves up plenty of spectacle, but is closest in tone to creaky 1980s fantasy epics like Krull or Willow. It shares plenty of the same problems: clichéd characters; well-known actors delivering cheesy dialogue; episodic plotting. But plenty of 1980s fantasies managed to contain distinctive images or inventive sequences. Every moment of Eragon feels second-hand, from the Orc-like villains, and the endless sweeping landscape shots, to Carlye's uncanny resemblance to Brad Dourif's Grima Wormtongue from The Two Towers.
Indeed, it's hard not to watch Eragon and realise how massive Peter Jackson's achievement was, and how easily the Rings trilogy could have been turned into this kind of bland, cookie-cutter fantasy with the wrong creative minds at the helm.
Kids too young for Lord Of The Rings may be distracted by this below average fantasy, but for everyone else this is derivative and silly.