|Written by Christopher Joseph|
|Wednesday, 01 August 2007|
After watching “Eragon” only one word seems to come to mind: derivative. Based on the best-selling novel written by then-teenager Christopher Paolini, “Eragon” plays more like a watered down pot of gumbo consisting of equal parts “Star Wars: Episode IV,” “The Lord of the Rings” trilogy, a dash of “The Chronicles of Narnia” with a sprinkle of every semi-successful fantasy/sci-Fi movie released in the past 30 years. When I saw the trailer, I assumed at the very least I could expect some awe-inspiring special effects. Instead, the only “wow” factor was that no plagiarism or copyright infringement law suits ensued. While some may be quick to point out that even George Lucas and J.R.R. Tolkien drew from their own influences, make no mistake; “Eragon” is not inspired. Dull and boring, it blatantly pieces together characters, scenes and themes from the various films with no regard for originality.
The film begins with a narrator revealing Alagaesia, a prosperous land of peace once ruled by the great dragon riders. Over time, power and greed took hold and the riders began to fight amongst themselves. Grand dragon rider, Galbatorix (John Malkovich), led a group of evil riders in destroying everyone who opposed them. With the dragons all but extinct, Galbatorix became the self proclaimed king of Alagaesia, hording the last remaining dragon egg.
With the good vs. evil “Lord of the Rings” style prologue out of the way, a beautiful young elf princess named Arya (Sienna Guillory) infiltrates Galbatorix’s fortress, managing to steal the egg. Galbatorix deploys his best henchman sorcerer, Durza (Robert Carlyle) to stop Arya and return the egg. Durza tracks her down, surrounding her in a tower of flames, but not before she magically teleports the egg to another forest, where young farm boy and soon-to-be-hero, Eragon (Ed Speleers) is hunting. Eragon takes the egg back to his uncle’s farm, assuming it’s nothing more than a precious stone. It hatches and out pops what looks like a stuffed animal version of the cuddly dinosaurs from “The Land Before Time.” This is the dragon, Saphira (voiced by Rachel Weisz), who has chosen Eragon as her rider. As the prophecy goes, together they will defeat the evil king and restore peace to Alagaesia.
Durza, now holding Arya captive, reads her visions and sends a horde of beast-like creatures known as Razac, to kill Eragon and recover the dragon. But Eragon is in town visiting Brom (Jeremy Irons), a local hermit who continually regales the local soldiers with stories about the time when dragon riders ruled the skies. That night, Eragon returns home to find his uncle slain, his home in ruins. Brom, a former rider himself, sees that Eragon has the mark of the dragon rider and takes the devastated boy under his tutelage. Along with Saphira they embark on a journey to find a group of rebels called the Varden, determined to over throw Galbatorix and his evil empire.
Sound familiar? A coming of age farm boy destined to lead a rebel force and conquer evil? Raised by a kind uncle? Trained by an old warrior posing as a local hermit? Yeah, it’s that blatant. Just take “Star Wars”, throw it into Middle Earth and voila! The similarities are undeniable and make for one distracting viewing experience. Maybe if the filmmakers had taken these familiar themes and built upon them, all would be forgiven. Instead, the movie plays more like a nagging case of déjà vu. Even when Saphira turns into a full grown dragon (which inexplicably happens in the course of two seconds on her first attempt to fly), it’s quite underwhelming. You just don’t care. The story line has already become too predictable, and the characters seem more like cheap imitations than tools to keep you involved in the story.
The rest of the film goes something like this: Eragon and Saphira develop into seasoned warriors, rescue the princess, and team up with the Varden for the final battle with Durza and his army of Razac and Urgals. The climactic face-off is a bit of a letdown, which is to be expected after enduring the first 90 minutes. In the film’s most impressive sequence, Eragon and Saphira take to the sky in a dizzying aerial duel with Durza. His dragon isn’t actually real but rather a product of his dark magic, appearing like a cross between a black cloud of smoke and a large bat. That’s about as good as it gets in “Eragon.”
The credits may fool one into thinking that the cast will be a saving grace. Once again, not the case. Ed Speleers, who apparently beat out 180,000 other boys for the title role, lacks the charisma and vulnerability that made Mark Hamill a believable Luke Skywalker. John Malkovich, who has maybe four minutes of screen time, is reduced to a one-dimensional tyrant barking goofy one-liners. Jeremy Irons does his best with this Obi-Wan Kenobi knockoff, but there’s only so much the man can do. Towards the end you start to feel sorry for him and the rest of the cast, wondering why they wasted their talents on a complete throw away. Did somebody say paycheck?
All that said, this is a PG film, which most of the family can watch together. When Thanksgiving rolls around and you’re looking for something that won’t offend grandma while still keeping the children entertained, “Eragon” is the ticket. Is anybody going to particularly enjoy it? Maybe the kids, as it has a sufficient amount of eye candy and is short enough at 104 minutes that it’s sure to sustain their limited attention spans. For those old enough to have watched the “Star Wars” or “Lord of the Rings” franchises: steer clear!
“Eragon” is presented in full 1080p with MPEG2 encoding on a 25GB single layer disc. This is a recent release so the source is pristine and the transfer is of the highest quality. There are no obvious signs of digital noise, macro blocking or compression artifacts. A bulk of the film takes place at night with lots of rich and beautiful deep blue hues. The evil characters and settings in the film use a dark red palette that also comes across well with no over saturation and a good amount of pop. Overall, the colors in the film are vibrant with a deep range of blacks and excellent contrast. The only complaint about “Eragon’s” video quality is its CGI-heavy scenes, which seem to suffer from a noticeable softness. This is most apparent and distracting when played next to a scene or shot containing little to no CGI. This doesn’t necessarily kill the film but keeps me from recommending it as reference material.
The DTS HD 5.1 Master shines most in the action sequences which have excellent channel movement and a wonderful array of rumbling bass tones. The sound design can be quite impressive with its realistic portrayal of the dragon’s beating wings and fire breathing. Non-action sequences are a bit lackluster with little surround use, but most importantly, the dialogue comes through clean and clear.
Once again, the Blu-ray release gets robbed in the special features department. In addition to promoting Blu-ray’s superior audio and video quality, you might think studios would be cramming the discs with every special feature available, making them the ultimate package for movie lovers. Instead, a dismayingly large number of Blu-ray releases have been similar to the first wave of standard definition DVD’s: mostly bare bones. So it should go without saying that none of the special features made it over from the standard DVD special edition. Strangely enough, there is a commentary track by director Stefen Fangmeier that’s not advertised anywhere on the packaging. I enjoyed this track, as he goes through scene by scene, sometimes shot by shot, pointing out things he would like to have done differently. In addition, he reveals behind the scenes magic on how they pulled off some basic or complex special effects. There are two nearly identical theatrical trailers, with the second one seemingly a little less sharp with instances of low level video noise. The special features are rounded out by a host of 20th Century Fox trailers presented in full 1080p including, “Fantastic Four,” “Ice Age 2,” “The League of Extraordinary Gentleman,” “X-Men: The Last Stand,” and “Night at the Museum.”
Memories of slick trailers and fire-breathing dragons may tempt you to the checkout line with “Eragon” in hand, but you need to trust me. Don’t waste your time! While the audio and video quality are nearly superb, only die hard fans should spend their money on this bare bones release. My recommendation? Pop in “Star Wars” or “Lord of the Rings” for the 157th time and just hold tight. There will be plenty more worthwhile fantasy fare to come.