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December 16, 2006 |

By Phillip Stephens | Film | December 16, 2006 |

Christopher Paolini’s successful young-adult fantasy novels are pretty illustrative of the perils of offering up your work for the entertainment of others; his books are a hopelessly derivative slurry of contrivances — a watered-down reproduction of both Tolkien and Star Wars. But for all the triteness of his first novel, Eragon, and the hideously clunky prose with which it’s written, it’s hard not to cut Paolini some slack, considering the poor kid was around 15 when he penned it and does show some promise as a writer. His books at least succeed at being affectionately wrought and diverting.

It’s fitting, then, that this same description can be applied to the film adaptation of Eragon, a movie that is dumb and silly at its core but is affectionately aimed at both children and fantasy geeks in such a way that it’s hard to really hate it. That being said, it’s also pretty hard not to laugh at the damn thing.

Director Stefen Fangmeier (coolest name ever) has had an excellent reputation as both an astute visual effects supervisor and second-unit director for the last 15 years. This makes a lot of sense watching Eragon, as the film’s effects are impressively rendered while Fangmeier clearly doesn’t know how to construct a feature-length film. From the beginning, his scenes feel like the ancillary filler a second-unit helmsman would be asked to do: scant characterization, minor quips of dialogue, random landscape shots; all casual exposition strung together without any weight behind it.

The lack of gravitas becomes the film’s biggest problem, as it’s also too poorly paced to be involving and has no actor to rise above the silly material. Edward Speleers, who plays the title character, is too old to play a rising adolescent and too inexperienced as an actor to make it interesting. The ensemble cast includes a number of occasionally great actors — Jeremy Irons, John Malkovich, Robert Carlyle, Djimon Hounsou — all of whom are clearly slumming, in roles cut from cardboard, and whether they care enough to act well is probably of little consequence when the script chops up the novel’s already-hackneyed story.

But Eragon is diverting in a very haphazard way; both Speleers and Fangmeier seem to be trying hard, but neither good source material nor talent is on their side. Fans of the book or throwaway fantasy-camp should enjoy the visuals, but other than that, there just aren’t a lot of good things one can say for Eragon; it’s insipid and very uninteresting. I find myself comparing it to last year’s Chronicles of Narnia, which was also helmed by a guy with little direct experience with live-action dynamics; neither he nor Fangmeier know how to do “big” in any emotional or story-related sense. And if you can’t do “big” in a fantasy epic, you’re screwed.

Phillip Stephens is the lead critic for Pajiba. He lives in Fayetteville, AR.

Gee, I Wish I Could Chase the Dragon

Eragon / Phillip Stephens

Film | December 16, 2006 |

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