The success The Lord of the Rings created a boom in fantasy film-making, with some very good stuff resulting, but with every boom must come a bust, and thus here we have Eragon. A failure on almost every possible level, I can’t even recommend it as an unintentional comedy; and when a bad fantasy film cannot even be that, it’s a sure sign of how utterly wretched it is. The source novel, written by a fifteen year old, isn’t actually as bad as you’d think. It’s not that good either, but it’s reasonably entertaining, and there’s certainly worse high fantasy out there. The film, however, is one of the worst the genre has ever produced.
A young farm boy called Eragon (Edward Speelers) finds a dragon egg in a forest, which soon hatches into one of the last dragons left in the world. Unfortunately, agents of the evil empire from which it was stolen come to get it back, and murder Eragon’s uncle while he’s away. Eragon therefore teams up with a wise old wizard (Jeremy Irons) and a loveable rogue (Garrett Hedlund) in order to rescue a princess (Sienna Guillory) from a dark wizard (Robert Carlyle) and get the dragon to the hidden base of the rebels so they can fight against the empire.
The plot is, beat for beat, character for character, stolen from Star Wars, and it takes place in a boring clone of Middle-earth. I’ll be the first to admit that Star Wars wasn’t the most original film, borrowing liberally as it did from Kurosawa films and the old Flash Gordon serials, but at least it did new and interesting things with the tropes it borrowed; Eragon is just a rote rehashing of tired fantasy cliches which weren’t even that interesting when they were new.
Even ignoring the borderline plagiarism, Eragon‘s script is appalling. The characters are utterly lacking in personality, and the film is in such a rush to get to the end that nothing that happens has any impact. At 99 minutes long, it’s far too short for an epic fantasy, and has no time for character development or explanation of the plot, jumping disjointedly from one uninteresting set piece to another. The dragon goes from hatchling to fully grown in about 30 seconds, and despite being apparently too young to breathe fire at the beginning, so little time has passed between beginning and end that it goes from too young to napalm-vomiting death machine in the space of about two days.
Furthermore, Eragon, a film which cost $100 million has no excuse for looking this bad. Since they apparently spent most of the money on the dragon, most of it takes place in dull forests and hills, and director Stefen Fangmeier has none of the eye for spectacular scenery which made Peter Jackson’s opus so remarkable. Instead of orcs we have tribesmen with body paint (because they’re cheaper), and the grand final battle is disappointingly, if not surprisingly, small and boring. It looks like a direct-to-DVD film.
The cast don’t help matters. Ed Speleers shows all the acting ability of an Attack of the Clones-era Hayden Christensen; John Malkovich is barely in it; and Robert Carlyle is given nothing interesting to do as a colourless knock-off of Darth Vader. Jeremy Irons is the film’s one saving grace, trying admirably to lend some gravitas to the proceedings, but even he can’t do anything with this script. His performance makes you long for his Profion from Dungeons & Dragons, because at least he was having fun there.