Eragon

Eragon

***

Reviewed by: Angus Wolfe Murray

What gives J R Tolkien's The Lord Of The Rings trilogy a solid foothold on the jagged rocks of the imagination is the depth of its backstory and the detail of its evolution. Eragon lacks both. The bad king, the evil wizard, the wise old soldier and the innocent farm boy are two-dimensional off-the-peg characters who come complete with clunky dialogue and a mixture of Grand Guignol extravagant, cringeworthy bland and unexpectedly sincere performances. What lifts the film above your common-or-kingdom sword'n'sorcery epic is Saphira, the loyal, inexperienced, too-young-to-make-fire female dragon (voiced by Rachel Weisz).

In this mythical land of thatched villages and tree-clad mountains, dragon riders used to fly in harmony and keep the skies clear of predatory invaders and hawk winged demons until one of their number, Galbatorix (John Malkovich), decided to take it all and assume the throne and eliminate the dragons and rule with a bloody fist.

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The peasants suffer a Nazi-style occupation and are too afraid and ill equipped to fight for their freedom, although, far away in the North, a band of rebels are said to be building their strength and plotting revolution. When the elf princess Arya (Sienna Guillory) steals "a stone" from Galbatorix and escapes into the woods, she is chased by the king's bodyguards. At the moment of her capture, she hurls "the stone" out of sight and it lands at the feet of a 17-year-old farm boy, Eragon (Edward Speleers), who brings it home to his uncle's designer hovel, where it hatches a baby Saphira.

Like all good once-upon-a-timers, this is the story of a journey. It is also the story of magic, both good and evil, and a sweet romance between a dragon and a teenage boy. When Galbatorix realises that the infant dragon has hatched, he orders Durza (Robert Carlyle, made up to look like Nosferatu's younger brother) to "find the boy and kill him before he becomes a man." Durza is a Shade, which means he can do stuff conjurers would die for, like teleport himself from one place to another and take an arrow in the head without feeling a thing.

Eragon teams up with Brom (Jeremy Irons), a dragon rider of the old school, to find the rebels and join them. On the way, Eragon is visited by Arya in a dream and, on waking, insists on releasing her from Durza's clutches against the advice of an infinitely more sensible Brom ("I have been about a bit"), who accuses the boy of being "one part brave and three parts fool." If only… The comic elements are noticeable by their absence, unless you find being wet behind the ears a joke. With the exception of Carlyle's panto villainy, humour is sorely missed.

The film has more violent action than a PG-certificate dares admit to and looks suitably legendary - Galbatorix's stronghold is bleak and dark and lacks the feminine touch (as well as furniture). Guillory is especially beautiful and Irons especially good. Malkovich says about three things, but you don't forget him, and Carlyle, with his messy lips and blackened teeth, revels in wickedness.

With the wondrous Saphira swooping and diving between the trees, this should be the Christmas treat for boys. There is a problem, however, and his name is Speleers. Bashfully blond and so wholesome you want to sick up your cereals, his acting skills are outclassed by the dragon and his star quality fails to match the charisma of a cheese grinder.

Reviewed on: 14 Dec 2006
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When a simple farm boy discovers a dragon's egg, he also finds his destiny: to recover the lost art of dragon riding and save the kingdom from evil.
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Ben Sillis **

Director: Stefen Fangmeier

Writer: Peter Buchman, Lawrence Konner, Mark Rosenthal, Jesse Wigutow, based on the novel by Christopher Paolini

Starring: Edward Speleers, Jeremy Irons, Robert Carlyle, Sienna Guillory, John Malkovich, Garrett Hedlund, Alun Armstrong, Christopher Egan, Djimon Hounsou, Gary Lewis, the voice of Rachel Weisz

Year: 2006

Runtime: 104 minutes

BBFC: PG - Parental Guidance

Country: US

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