Stefen Fangmeier has been the visual effects supervisor for some remarkable films, including: "Jurassic Park", "Terminator 2", "Saving Private Ryan", "The Perfect Storm", "Twister", "Master and Commander" and more. "Eragon", Fangmeier's directorial debut, is based upon the novel by Christopher Paolini, who wrote the highly popular novel when he was in his teens. The picture is a mash-up of a whole lot of different things, including "Star Wars" (there's one particular shot early on that clearly takes from a shot in "Star Wars"), "The Lord of the Rings", some "Narnia", "Harry Potter", some "Dungeons and Dragons" and a little "Dragonheart".
17-year-old Eragon (Ed Speleers) lives with his uncle in the fantasy world of Alagaesia (which sounds like expensive soap), where one day he finds an odd blue stone which, eventually, turns into an equally blue dragon. One who telepathically communicates with Eragon, and sounds an awful lot like Rachel Weisz (which would be because it is.)
Years ago, the land was guarded by the Dragon Riders, who were killed off by King Galbatorix (John Malkovich). After his uncle is taken out of the picture, he's saved by the dragon and introduced to a new mentor, Brom (Jeremy Irons), who sets about training him for battle and informs him that he is the dragon rider that will lead his people to victory over the evil forces. He also has to save a princess, Arya (Sienna Guillory), who will help him in his quest, and eventually joins with a rebel group. Starting to sound a little like another movie that took place in a galaxy far, far away? The fact that nearly the entire film feels as if it's been done many times before results in very little momentum to the story.
I haven't read the book on which the movie is based, but if it's anything like the movie, I'm rather surprised that young Christopher Paolini was able to take from so many other works in a way that, at least in the film, seems so obvious in spots as to be almost humorous. After a while, I decided to just settle in and treat this as what it is: a fine example of unintentional humor. What did Jeremy Irons, Rachel Weisz, Dijmon Hounsou, Robert Carlyle, John Malkovich and others see in this material? That said, there are few things better when one is in the right mood than a set of award winners trying their best to sell lines of dialogue like, "It's good to be brave, but sometimes it's better to be wise." Every line of dialogue manages to be cornier than the one that came before it, and yet the actors present it with the utmost seriousness. At least "Dragonheart" had the good sense to know it was goofy.
There's no denying that Fangmeier has an incredible resume of effects work, but "Eragon" just doesn't satisfy in terms of story or characters. The visual effects are decent enough to get the job done, and the production design is about at the same level. The film's few battle sequences aren't particularly thrilling, given that they've been taken down to a PG level and some are filmed with low enough light to obscure the shortcomings of the scene.
The performances aren't all that bad, but the material certainly doesn't help anyone here. Malkovich chews scenery throughout the picture, occasionally reminding me of his "Con Air" effort. Irons makes the most of the cliched role and Weisz's vocal performance actually sells a few of the lesser lines. Ed Speleers, who is making his debut here, is better than Hayden Christensen was in the first "Star Wars" prequel, although not as good as Christensen was by "Revenge of the Sith".
Again, I haven't read the novel, but it's a little obvious here that something may have been lost in translation, given that the novel is over 700 pages and the movie clocks in at just about 90 minutes plus credits. The material just doesn't feel fresh or that interesting, and some of the dialogue is awfully clunky.It's apparent that the trilogy of "Eragon" novels was intended to be made, but this choppy, rather generic and very uneven film really was not a very good start.
VIDEO: The review copy that arrived offered the special features that came with the final product, but the video presentation is not the same as final copy. The video quality of the review copy was fairly good, with acceptable sharpness and detail and only some minor artifacting and shimmer.
SOUND: The film's Dolby Digital 5.1 and DTS 5.1 soundtracks provided a fun audio experience. The surrounds were put to use throughout much of the picture to deliver dragon fly-bys and other various sound effects during the more intense sequences. Audio quality was fine, with crisp effects, solid bass and clear dialogue. The DTS presentation did boast slightly deeper bass, but the two were otherwise quite similar.
EXTRAS: director Stefen Fangmeier offers an audio commentary for the film on the first disc of this 2-DVD set. On the second DVD, we get "Inside the Inheritance Trilogy", which is a 51-minute documentary taking a look at the making of the film, starting with novelist Paolini (who even looks like George Lucas could have possibly looked as a kid!) discussing the process of writing his book. The somewhat dry documentary first looks into the development of the film, then through the casting and on to production. Much of the piece watches the cast at work, filming scenes, rehearsing, working on effects, trying to work with animals and more. The documentary remains a bit low-key, but it does provide some good information.
"Eldest – The First Two Chapters" provides a preview of the second book in the series. "The Inhabitants of Alagaesia" provides short featurettes taking a closer look at the main characters and their creation. "The Vision of Eragon" offers an animatic for "Arya's Ambush", with commentary from the director. There is also a conceptual art gallery included in the same section.
12 minutes of deleted scenes are included with commentary; while these may be interesting for fans, I didn't find anything here that would have added much to the picture. Fangmeier does provide some good tidbits about the scenes and why they were dropped. Moving on, we're given a pronounciation guide for some of the terms of the story, as well as storyboards for both scenes in the film and some that didn't make it. We also get "Saphira’s Animation Guide", trailers, a video game promo, an interview with the author and a series of short visual effects featurettes that break down many of the film's main FX sequences. These are quite informative and give a great look at the making of these scenes.
Final Thoughts: "Eragon" certainly assembles a good cast, but they're working in service of subpar material. There's a few moments here that work decently, but more that don't and come off as unintentionally humorous. The Special Edition DVD offers a lot of extras for fans, but there's also a 1-DVD edition (which I'm guessing only includes the first disc) that will likely be fine for most fans. Those who haven't seen the movie and are interested should definitely rent first.
The Film C-