A film review by Craig J. Koban
2006, PG-13, 100 mins.
Eragon: Edward Speleers / Brom: Jeremy Irons / Arya: Sienna Guillory / Durza: Robert Carlyle / King Galbatorix: John Malkovich
Directed by Stefen Fangmeier / Written by Peter Buchman, Lawrence Konner, Mark D. Rosenthal and Jesse Wigutow / Based on the novel by Christopher Paolini
When films are imaginative and ambitious, it could be said that those traits are virtues. However, when a film is painfully and woefully derivative to the point of being a rip off, then it commits one of the few unforgivable cinematic sins.
The new fantasy ERAGON fills the latter category. Its storyline feels so remarkably similar to a particular 1970’s space fantasy that it was shocking to see that there was no title card at the beginning that said, “A long time ago in a forest far, far away….” ERAGON superficially feels more like an appropriation of works of J.R.R Tolkien, but George Lucas almost deserves one of those special thank-you credits at the film’s conclusion. ERAGON comes across as the bastard son of the first STAR WARS and THE LORD OF THE RINGS. If anything, it walks around acting like A NEW HOPE wearing FELLOWSHIP OF THE RINGS clothing.
Astoundingly, ERAGON is based on a so-called “INHERITANCE” trilogy of books (the third that has not even been written or published yet) written by a then 19-year-old home schooled teenager named Christopher Paolini. Paolini graduated from high school at the tender and young age of 15 and when his parents balked at sending him to college he began to write. By the time he hit his late teens ERAGON was produced and his parents’ publishing company released it to the masses. When it attracted the attention of rival publishers and was later released under Alfred A. Knopf, Inc. it became a New York Times best seller. Now, when a teenager has a book that has made a National best seller list, that in itself is commendable. Yet, I can’t say how much of the book made it to the screen. Nevertheless, ERAGON is a story that feels like it got its impetus by Paulini's innumerable viewings of STAR WARS. There’s nothing wrong with paying homage, but when a work is nearly plagiaristic, then it becomes hard to really become involved in.
Am I being a bit overzealous by saying that ERAGON seems to beg for a lawsuit from Lucasfilm? I don’t think so. Even a lay filmgoer with a cursory knowledge of STAR WARS from 1977 would be able to perceptively see the similarities. Just consider all of the analogous elements:
q STAR WARS had a young farm boy named Luke Skywalker that dreamed of something beyond his mundane life of agriculture. In ERAGON, the title hero (Ed Speleers) is also a young, blond, blue-eyed teen that is a farmer.
q Luke in STAR WARS works at his uncle’s farm. Ditto for Eragon.
q In STAR WARS Luke has friends that decide to enlist in the Imperial Navy before being drafted. In ERAGON he has a cousin that leaves home to also join the military.
q In STAR WARS the main villain is Darth Vader whose Empire ruled over the galaxy. Vader was once a Jedi Knight, the guardians of peace and justice in the universe. He and his Emperor hunted down and exterminated all of the Jedi. Vader was also master of the mystical and magical “force.” In ERAGON, the main baddie is Galbatorix (John Malkovich) who also rules over his lands. He has decimated all dragon riders, who also performed magic and were the guardians of peace and justice in the lands. Vader had a large helmet and breath mask to protect his fragile visage. Malkovich should have worn one out of embarrassment to hide his actual appearance in the film.
q In STAR WARS a small and banded group of rebels fight together to finally destroy the Empire. Ditto in ERAGON.
q In STAR WARS Luke appears to have a heritage of being Force sensitive and eventually becomes the new hope for the Rebellion. In Eragon, the title character also discovers that he too possesses the abilities to be a fierce magician and dragon rider. He is also referred to in the film as an "only hope.”
q In STAR WARS Luke has an introspective moment when her stares off into the sunset, contemplating who he is and what life will bring him. One shot in ERAGON seems almost identical with its title character.
q In STAR WARS Luke's uncle is killed by Vader's men. He arrives to his farm to see his father's dead body. Ditto for the hero in ERAGON.
q In STAR WARS a wise old hermit named Ben “Obi-Wan” Kenobi - who was once a famed Jedi Knight that protected the galaxy - befriends Luke. Ben reveals this to Luke and decides to train him in the ways of the Force. In ERAGON, the title character also meets up with a local village hermit named Brom (Jeremy Irons). It seems that Brom was once a magical dragon rider and will use his age-old skills to teach Eragon in the ways of the Jedi…er…I mean…dragon riders.
q In STAR WARS Luke and Obi-Wan go in search of the Rebellion and their secret hidden fortress. Ditto in ERAGON.
q In STAR WARS Vader dispatches his henchmen to find and capture the heroes. In ERAGON Galbatorix has his main henchmen Durza (Robert Carlyle) hunt down Eragon and Brom.
q In STAR WARS there is a pretty young princess that is part of the Rebellion that hopes to destroy the Empire. She is captured by the villains and held captive in their space fortress. Luke disguises himself to break into the fortress and successfully rescues her. In ERAGON there also is a pretty princess-like persona that is too captured by the bad guys and placed in a Death Star-like castle. Eragon does not don Stormtrooper armour for a disguise, but wears robes and sneaks in and rescues her. There is, thankfully, no incestual kissing between the two as Luke and Leia engaged in.
S P O I L E R
q In STAR WARS Vader kills Ben Kenobi while helping Luke, Leia and the rest of the heroes escape the Empire’s Death Star. In ERAGON Brom also bites the dust at the hands of a weapon by the bad guy. He does not wither away, nor does he command Eragon to “use the force” during the climatic conclusion battle versus the villains.
q The climax of STAR WARS has Luke and the Rebels launch an attack on the Death Star. Luke uses his affinity to the force to save the day. In ERAGON the title character uses his advanced skills in magic and dragon riding to defeat Galbatorix and his armies. The force was with him after all!
q In STAR WARS Vader escapes unharmed and appears to be back for a very much-anticipated sequel. In ERAGIN Galbotorix also escapes harm’s way, but we really wanted him to die so he would not re-appear in a not-so-anticipated future sequel. Maybe in that one he’ll reveal himself to be Eragon’s father’s brother’s nephew’s cousin’s former roommate. Wait a tick…then we can add plagiarizing SPACEBALLS to the mix here.
S P O I L E R S:
Beyond the film’s disastrously obvious echoes of STAR WARS, ERAGON fails to elicit any real sense of overt danger, tension, or intrigue. Since this is a paint-by-numbers fantasy, nothing that passes by throughout the film’s 100 minutes seems surprising. Also, the title hero inspires even less emotional buy in from the audience. Unlike Luke Skywalker – who was naïve and impatient, but brave and noble – Eragon is kind of a petulant brat who seems to be a bit cocky. You never really grow to want to root him on against the antagonists.
His supporting cast does not help either. Jeremy Irons does not ham his performance up as he did to ridiculous levels in his work in a previous fantasy, DUNGEON’S AND DRAGONS, but he essentially phones in his role here. Sienna Guillory is tragically underdeveloped as the love interest and spends most of the film either in a strange, intoxicated coma or a state of distress at the hands of the villains. John Malkovich is so criminally underused here that why the character of Galbotorix is even in the film is debatable, especially when Robert Carlyle seems to be having a decent time as the film’s only scary and evil presence in Durza. Malkovich perhaps has three or four lines in the whole film and has more of a glorified cameo. When great actors are wasted, that is a shame. And the beautiful and luminous Rachel Weisz is not even in the film. She provides the voice of Eragon’s dragon (which only appears as a telekinetic voice in his head), which hardly makes the dragon an intimidating creature to be feared. At least the dragon looks decent and the art direction of the film is adequate, albeit in a low budget, Middle Earth kind of way. Yet, there is a genuine lack of hobbits in its villages. And for the love of God, ERAGON does not even have the decency to have one damn wookie in it.
ERAGON may be based on a book by a 19-year-old author, but the film feels like a 9-year-old wrote it. The plot and characters are such carbon copies of STAR WARS that while watching ERAGON you’d swear that your viewing yet another special edition of A NEW HOPE, this time with flying dragons occupying Tolkien-esque environments. When a fantasy like this spends nearly its entire running time repeating ideas, regurgitating themes and personas, and attempts to thrill and inspire audiences in the ways that other better, classic films have already done, then what is the point? ERAGON is simply dull, lifeless, and monotonous. The resulting work is one that feels vaguely like some of the stories your buddies ripped off and attempted to pass off as their own in creative writing classes in high school. When caught red-handed, students like this deserve an “F”. Recycled and hackneyed fantasies like ERAGON seem to stand up and demand the same grade.