ERAGON (Stefen Fangmeier, 2006)
ERAGON tells of how the sky was once dotted with dragons and their riders. Many years ago a lone rider turned on the others, nearly wiping dragons from the face of the earth. While the evil King Galbatorix (John Malkovich) terrorizes the poor people of Alagaesia, a dragon's egg is protected until it can be delivered to the chosen one who will lead the rebellion.
The Alagaesian savior comes in the form of poor teenage farmer Eragon (Edward Speleers). He doesn't realize what he's found when he stumbles upon what looks like a supersized blue jelly bean in the woods. To Eragon's surprise, a blue dragon named Saphira (voice of Rachel Weisz) emerges from the oblong curiosity.
Saphira matures at an unusually rapid pace. During her first flight she transforms into a fully grown dragon, although more time must pass before she can breathe fire. Dragons pick their riders, so Saphira is able to communicate telepathically with Eragon. The bond is so deep between human and beast that if a rider is killed, the dragon also dies.
Word of Eragon's new pet reaches Brom (Jeremy Irons), an outspoken peasant and former rider. He trains the seventeen-year-old Eragon as they journey to join forces with the Varden rebels. Meanwhile, the sorcerer Durza (Robert Carlyle) dangles the captive Princess Arya (Sienna Guillory) to pull Eragon from his task in hopes of killing him.
ERAGON borrows liberally from the STAR WARS and THE LORD OF THE RINGS universes. Character arcs and scenes parallel the film's inspirations with such fidelity that it plays like an expensive, yet strangely joyless, home video made by fans. It's not too reductive to say that Eragon is Luke Skywalker, Brom is Obi-Wan Kenobi, and so on and so forth. ERAGON seems proud to reference George Lucas and Peter Jackson's definitive films but doesn't recognize that it fails to measure up in comparison. (For all I know, the same is true of the source novel.)
Lucas drew upon Joseph Campbell's writings and Akira Kurosawa's THE HIDDEN FORTRESS, but he also created something of his own. Earnestly acted and directed, ERAGON has neither the visual dazzle nor narrative momentum to compensate for its cut-rate fantasy mimicry. Genre fans might be willing to overlook the plodding plotting if the movie looked, for lack of a better word, cool. First-time feature director Stefen Fangmeier's background is as a visual effects supervisor at Industrial Light & Magic, but the company's FX work for ERAGON is far from state of the art.
Fangmeier might know how to put together effects sequences, but he and his screenwriters are woefully inept in telling the story with visuals and dialogue. ERAGON opens with excessive voiceover narration and overuses blank reaction shots of dragon and rider listening to each other's thoughts. Most of the dialogue is laughable. There are also snickers to be had at the expense of the king's army, which resembles leftovers from a Capital One credit card commercial.
Speleers' screen debut doesn't give one reason to believe he merits another role. He's uncharismatic, never a good thing for a film's anchor, and forgettable. ERAGON boasts an impressive supporting cast, but what's the point in using terrific ingredients to make something that tastes stale when it's fresh?