Reviewed by: Ben Sillis


Ever since 2001 and Peter Jackson's Lord Of The Rings trilogy began, Hollywood has been trying to hit on another fantasy franchise to match its box office success. Until the live action version of The Hobbit arrives, there's certainly a lot of other fantasy fiction to draw from; in 2005 it was the Chronicles Of Narnia. And this year, Eragon by young author Christopher Paolini is up to bat, but it's sadly another strike out.

The title's similarity with "Dragon" is no coincidence of course; Alagaesia is a land where dragons once soared. Their riders, we are told, protected the land with the incredible powers that flowed from the bonds they shared with their creatures, until one turned on all the others, wiping them out and seizing power. Decades have gone by and Galbatorix rules with an iron fist, exploiting and taxing his people into starvation. Eragon, the young protagonist (Ed Speelers), becomes the unwitting defender of the realm when he finds the sole remaining dragon egg and its secret.

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If dragon riders sound uncannily like Jedi, you're not far wrong. The comparisons with LOTR and indeed Star Wars border on plagiarism. Young orphaned hero living in remote village/the Shire/Tatooine? Check. Mentor with a hidden past who gives up his life for his new pupil? You bet. The evil king with his own set of undead pursuers to find the dragon? Nazguls. Warrior princess (Sienna Guillory)? Sounds like Eowyn or Princess Leia to me. And the list goes on.

Director Stefan Fangmeier plays up these similarities much too obviously, and to the film's loss. The book's one selling point over previous fantasy fiction was that it was written by a 16-year-old about a 16-year-old, and is about the struggle of youth and pain of growing as much as it is dungeons and dragons. But in an attempt to get the film to appeal to an audience hungry for a fantasy under 100 minutes, any sort of character development has been lost. Eragon is brash and presumptuous until about halfway through the film, when he suddenly changes, almost instantly becoming a hero when he dons his armour.

It doesn't help that most of the actors turn in abysmal performances. As the bad King Galbatorix, John Malkovich talks in a constipated manner that is in no way sinister or malevolent. As the rebel Varden leader, Djimon Hounsou is baffling, trying as he does to put on some strange Dutch accent. Jeremy Irons as Brom, the former rider, suitably grizzled and embittered, is the one exception.

The special effects are also odd. The creatures are well created, and any issue of lip synch is avoided as the dragon Saphira (Rachel Weisz) communicates with Eragon telepathically. The climactic sky battle too is exhilarating, but reptile CG aside it all looks rather low budget. Fangmeier wants the king's army to look and act as vicious as orcs, but they're just bald men with a bit of mud on their faces. And Malkovich's throne room hardly compares to Mordor, looking more like a dimly lit dank classroom.

The film's downfall is that Lord Of The Rings lite just doesn't work. It's the heavy, oozing, epic, sprawling quality of it that made it a success. Any attempt to condense that and keep the goblins and magic is doomed to failure. The film sets itself up for a sequel, but it'll have to be a stronger one than this if Fox hope for the next fantasy smash.

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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Angus Wolfe Murray ***

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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