Young farmer Eragon (Speleers) finds a dragons egg, and teams up with the newborn dragon, Saphira (Weisz), a former Dragon Rider (Irons) and a hot female Elf (Guillory) to tackle an evil king (Malkovich).
The next time a dragon movie script lands in Jeremy Irons’ lap, he should throw the goddamn thing out the window because, after this lifeless monster and the risible Dungeons & Dragons, it’s clear that winged beasts and he don’t mix. And yet he’s still the best thing in Eragon, which may have something to do with having the good sense to check out early.
If you think that’s a spoiler, it really isn’t, because Eragon is a derivative and damp re-spin of all those old fantasy epics that owe a debt to Joseph Campbell’s The Hero Of A Thousand Faces. It often feels like a cheap Vegas Star Wars tribute act, albeit with a dragon playing the Millennium Falcon. Want a wet-blanket blond farmboy hero? You got it. Hell, he even has a disposable uncle and a sunset to mope at. How about a wise old wizard who sets our hero on the path to power before pegging it? Yep, that’s here too. A feisty princess who gets imprisoned early on and has to be rescued? Take a wild guess.
It’s easy to lay all the blame at the door of Christopher Paolini, who wrote the source novel when he was 15 — and it shows. But it’s director Stefen Fangmeier who’s the real culprit. A former ILM FX supervisor, his first directing job betrays his origins, as he shows more interest in the CG dragon, Saphira (a passable, but not photo-real achievement) than he does in conjuring a fresh take on fantasy. This is the sort of movie where you know the villain (John Malkovich) is evil because he broods on his throne in a dark, cavernous room. Plot holes abound, and it’s moribund visually; if it weren’t for the number of sweeping shots of blokes barrelling along on horseback, the movie would be 18 minutes long.
As for Fangmeier’s treatment of his non-CG actors, they’re hung out to dry with type-this-shit-but-you-can’t-say-it dialogue like, “Taste the blood of your dragon!” Malkovich became a parody of himself long ago, but it’s hard not to feel a shiver of pity for Robert Carlyle, who seems to be fighting the urge to sack his agent through every soul-crushing scene. As for Edward Speleers, the Brit newcomer in the title role, he’s game enough, but sadly also pretty gormless, his blank stare multi-tasking furiously as it brings us barely discernible variations on happy, sad and heroic.
Ultimately, with a human hero it’s impossible to invest in and a CG dragon that doesn’t invite awe (it doesn’t help that Rachel Weisz phones in her turn as Saphira’s voice), Eragon just doesn’t catch fire. Kids may love it, and it may do big business, but let’s hope not, because that may be the only thing that can stop the sequel from spreading a dark and terrible shadow over this once proud and prosperous land.
Technically competent, but essentially a fantasy movie that mistakes industrial light for magic. As dragon movies go, Dragonslayer, Reign Of Fire and even Dragonheart can rest easy.