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There's no justice in the world. John Kennedy Toole poured his soul into writing A Confederacy of Dunces, spent several years trying to get it published, and then committed suicide after a string of rejections. Fast forward three decades. Some kid named Christopher Paolini cobbled together other peoples' ideas, created the most derivative fantasy series since Terry Brooks burst onto the scene, ended up inking a three-book deal with a major publisher, became a best-selling author, and sold the films right to a major studio. See? No justice.
The kingdom of Alagaesia was once ruled by a benevolent force of dragon riders. But the riders began to fight among themselves for power, and a rider named Galbatorix (John Malkovich), who led the faction of evil dragon riders, wiped out everyone who opposed him. Galbatorix now styles himself king, and he hordes the only remaining dragon eggs for himself. An elf princess named Arya (Sienna Guillory) manages to sneak into Galbatorix's fortress and abscond with one of the eggs; she magically transports it to a distant forest, where a young farm boy named Eragon (Ed Speleers) is hunting. Eragon, thinking the egg is nothing more than a pretty rock, takes it back to his uncle's farm. The egg eventually hatches, and out pops a blue dragon named Saphira (voice of Rachel Weisz); Saphira and Eragon bond instantly. Durza (Robert Carlyle), Galbatorix's sorcerer henchman, dispatches several beast-like creatures known as Ra'zac to kill Eragon and bring back the dragon; Eragon, however, is visiting the home of Brom (Jeremy Irons), a strange old hermit who has a habit of angering the king's soldiers by regaling them with tales of the days when dragons patrolled the skies, and the Ra'zac kill his uncle instead. Eragon, Brom, and Saphira flee, hoping to find the Varden, a rebel band holed up in a hidden fortress; the Varden are awaiting the arrival of the dragon rider prophesied to defeat Galbatorix and restore peace and justice to Alagaesia. Brom, who himself was once a dragon rider, begins training Eragon. After receiving a telepathic cry for help from Arya, who has been captured by Durza, Eragon flies off to rescue her from Durza's stronghold. He meets up with a mysterious warrior named Murtagh (Garrett Hedlund), who helps him rescue the princess, but the success of their mission comes with a heavy price. Arya then leads Eragon and his companions to the Varden, who are preparing for battle with Durza and his band of Urgal warriors.
Does any of that sound familiar? It's amazing how shamelessly derivative Eragon is. The plotting and most of the characters are straight out of Star Wars, while the various races that dot the landscape have been swiped from Tolkien. Did Paolini, who reportedly started writing the books after running out of things to read (he obviously didn't look hard enough), really think he could rip off two of the most revered pieces of popular culture and not get called out for it? Hell, even my eight-year-old nephew recognized the story for what it was. And while I suppose that some of his supporters may attempt to defend Paolini by arguing that both Lucas and Tolkien drew inspiration from pre-existing sources, I think we're talking apples and oranges here. While it's true that Lucas and Tolkien drew on myriad sources, they melded them into something new, exciting and mythic. All Paolini (who will hopefully spend the rest of his life thanking J.K. Rowling for all of the financial blowback he has received) did was Frankenstein the work of others into a ragged, uninspired patchwork quilt, one which is highly unlikely to stand the test of time.
What's even more amazing is how unbelievably dull and awful it is. Don't let the names in the cast fool you; this movie is so bad it should have had its premiere on the Sci-Fi Channel one Saturday night. Screenwriter Peter Buchman (who had a hand in Jurassic Park III) has essentially distilled the novel's plot down into a Cliff's Notes version, with characters constantly coming and going, meaningless pieces of back-story being dropped in at certain points, and inane additions to the plot being used to cover up missing chunks of Paolini's story (for example, the dragon inexplicably grows to full size during its first flight). Most of the dialogue is laughably bad; the only time it's not laughably bad is when it's employed to catch us up on the plot (come to think of it, it's laughably bad then, too). And the overall structure is misguided. It's essentially seventy-five percent setup and twenty-five percent resolution. You know you're in trouble when major characters don't show up until the last twenty minutes, and you really know you're in trouble when those characters are then given nothing to do. (Buchman isn't totally to blame; after all, he was restricted by terrible source material [then again, so was Carl Gottlieb]. And he did have help in concocting this nonsense; although Buchman's given sole credit, several other writers worked on the script at one point or another, including Lawrence Konner and Mark Rosenthal, whose names appeared on some of the early posters and trailers.)
Eragon marks the directing debut of Stefen Fangmeier, who in the past has worked as a visual effects supervisor on such projects as The Perfect Storm. Too bad he didn't bone up on story or character before having his named stenciled on the director's chair. In keeping with the traits of the source material, there are times when it seems as if the movie is the work of a fifteen-year-old boy. There's plenty of nonsensical slow-motion, sweeping crane and aerial shots that go on forever, and wire work so silly it makes the last X-Men flick look like an action masterpiece. And you can see Fangmeier working to get the exposition out of the way as quickly as possible, as if he knows that he's going to completely blow it if he doesn't get back to the effects (all of which makes him the perfect choice to helm direct-to-video sequels to Stephen Sommers flicks). And speaking of the effects, there's nothing special about them. Despite the combined efforts of ILM and Weta Digital, the abundant CGI is lackluster from beginning to end. To make matters worse, the design of Saphira is totally uninspired; there's no awe factor, nor is there any reason to believe she'd be a formidable foe. She looks as if she were designed to spearhead a line of toys for preschoolers, not be a decisive factor in a battle for freedom. (And while we're on the subject of the dragon, it was a bad idea to have Saphira and Eragon communicate telepathically. It's not too exciting to watch them stare vacantly at one another for long periods of time.)
I normally don't take pity on actors; they agree to a role and cash the check, so why feel sorry for them? But this movie almost made me reevaluate my stance. You'd think Jeremy Irons would have learned not to sign on for movies whose plots revolve around dragons, but maybe he's been losing at the track and needed the money. Malkovich does another listless variation on the type of villain he used to complain about being typecast as (his job here is essentially the same as that of Ben Kinglsey in Bloodrayne, meaning he got paid good money to sit on his ass and yell at the actors portraying his underlings). And Djimon Honsou, who shows up late in the game as the rebel leader, repeats himself by following up an Oscar-nominated role with a turn in a worthless effects-driven extravaganza (he's not in the movie for long, but it was long enough to kill his chances of taking home the gold for Blood Diamond). Sienna Guillory is given little more to do than lie in a stone slab and gasp once every fifteen minutes or so. I was thinking that Joss Stone's name in the opening credits indicated I would have something nice to look at, but she's in the thing for less than two minutes. Speaking of something nice to look at, I can't say I blame Rachel Weisz for having the good sense not to be seen. And then there's newcomer Ed Speleers, who reportedly beat out several thousand other kids for the title role. Not to knock him while he's down, but I don't see a remake of Corvette Summer in his future.
I usually look forward to the end credits of truly bad movies, if for no other reason than I know my suffering is coming to end. No such luck here, because the end credits feature a truly horrendous song performed by Avril Lavigne. The lyrics feature stunningly original sentiments about taking the hand of your friend and sticking together forever, which who once again proves that Avril's about as punk as my grandmother. Sheesh.
The 2.35:1 transfer (encoded with MPEG2 at 20 Mbps on a single layer disc) is generally excellent, but some softness creeps into a number of scenes, primarily those dominated by visual effects. Black levels are strong, depth and detail are impressive (even in darker scenes), and color saturation is spot-on.
The disc's DTS HD 5.1 lossless audio track isn't as aggressive as I was expecting. There's a good spread across the front channels, and there's also some very deep bass action, but surround use is generally reserved for the big action scenes, and even then it's not as smoothly integrated or immersive as it could have been. The banal dialogue always comes through cleanly and clearly. French and Spanish Dolby Digital 5.1 tracks are also included, as are English and Spanish subtitles.
Fox is releasing a stacked two-disc special edition of the movie, but they've once again skimped on the extras for the Blu-ray disc, which contains only the following:
It's not listed on the packaging, but included here is an audio commentary by director Stefen Fangmeier. It's not much of a commentary, though. Fangmeier spends a lot of time describing the onscreen action, and he has a tendency to needlessly repeat the same point or piece of information over and over again.
You also get a pair of theatrical trailers. Woo-hoo.
You may be tempted to watch Eragon just to see if it's as bad as everyone claims (I have to admit that's what drew me to it). Trust me when I say it is just as bad as everyone claims, so do yourself a favor and don't be stupid like I was.