Cinematic Flashback: Eragon (2006) Review
There was a time when the fierce and beautiful land of Alagaësia was ruled by men astride mighty dragons. To protect and serve was their mission, and for thousands of years, the people prospered. But the Riders grew arrogant, and began to fight among themselves for power. But the Riders grew arrogant, and began to fight among themselves for power. Sensing their weakness, a young Rider named Galbatorix betrayed them, and in a single bloody battle, believed he had killed them all, Riders and dragons alike. Since then, our land has been ruled by Galbatorix. He crushed all rebellion, including the freedom fighters known as the Varden. Those that survived fled to the mountains. There, they hoped for a miracle that might even their odds against the king. Our story beings with this “cinematic flashback” of the 2006 movie Eragon.
“One Boy….. One Dragon…. A World of Adventure”
Director: Stefen Fangmeier
Writer: Peter Buchman
Starring: Ed Speleers, Jeremy Irons, Sienna Guillory, John Malkovich, Robert Carlyle, and Rachel Weisz
Run Time: 104 Minutes
Release Date: December 15th, 2006
The Kingdom of Alagaesia is ruled by the evil King Galbatorix, a former dragon rider that betrayed his fellow riders and his people in his quest for power. When the orphan farm boy Eragon finds a blue stone sent by Princess Arya, he sooner realizes that it is a dragon egg. When the dragon Saphira is born, Eragon meets his mentor Brom, an old and wayward dragon rider who teaches him the ways of ancient order and sees the young boy as “the one” foretold in a prophecy that would set his people free from Galbartorix’s grip. Traveling across the land to the secret base of the Varden, rebels who stance against Galbartorix’s tyranny, Eragon and Saphira finds the courage to become the last dragon rider, while the wicked king sends his evil sorceress Durza and his army to squash the Varden once and for all.
Working at a bookstore, I remember when the Christopher Paolini’s Eragon first came out (under the publisher company of Alfred A. Knopf, a sub company under Random House) and I saw the books literally “fly off” the shelf. Being a fantasy buff, I decided to check it out. Personally, I liked it. Despite some nitpicks of fantasy stereotypes clichés, I thought that Eragon (and its future installments) were pretty good reads in the YA / Teen fantasy genre. Because of this, I was pretty excited when it was announced that Eragon was gonna be made into a movie and, while I kind of liked it when I first saw the movie, I look back on this 2006 motion picture as a big letdown.
Given the success of the Harry Potter movies, The Lord of the Rings trilogy, and The Chronicles of Narnia: The Lion, The Witch, and the Wardrobe film, Eragon was ripe for the cinematic adaptation lineup and seem quite ideal choice, especially considering the popularity that Paolini’s books were receiving. Thus, it came at the right time and had the attention of viewers. Of course, the story (as a whole) has all the right stuff, especially the elements that I liked. A young hero, a dragon, a villainous king, an evil sorcerer, a princess, an old mentor, a rebellious group, etc. Eragon certainly did have all the makings of a classic fantasy adventure….and the movie partly succeeds in setting all that up, which does make the feature semi-entertaining (at least I thought so when I first saw it).
The problem of Eragon, however, is that the movie feels like it wants to be something big and grand, but ends up being a mediocre disappointment. The film was promised to be the next big “fantasy epic feature” and (sadly) it wasn’t. For starters, the movie’s screenplay, which was penned by Peter Buchman, totally felt generic and hollow….as if Buchman (or the studio execs) decided to change a lot of story from Paolini’s source material. Of course, I do understand the difference when adapting work from “page to screen”, but Eragon seems partial unrecognizable within its narrative. Naturally, the main conflict and major characters are all there, but a lot of aspects were changed in the movie and not quite for the better. It’s almost like Buchman didn’t read Paolini’s Eragon (and just read the synopsis) and just try to create his own version with the book as a vague blue print. The end result loose a lot of Paolini’s ideas and creation (some of which was heavily criticized from taken of other fantasy tales) to create a theatrical feature that feels generic and bland of fantasy plot points and nuances. In the end, the movie doesn’t really stand on its own merits (story nor visually speaking) and becomes a tasteless fantasy endeavor.
Perhaps another big issue was the fact that Eragon felt that it was on a shoestring production budget. To have a small film budget is not necessarily a bad thing, but a movie project endeavor like this, which demands a large cast of recognizable actors, expansive locations and set builds, and heavy visual effects shots…the movie can’t be created on a dime. Eragon, however, was done with a $100 million production budget, but I felt that most of the money went into getting many actors for the cast (more on that below). Suffice to say….the visual appeal of the movie isn’t that great and winds up feeling dated and uninspiring.
In addition, director Stefen Fangmeier didn’t do a terrific job in the movie. He definitely got the job done, but only an adequate job on the project. The sad truth of this movie is was suppose to be the start of franchise with a plan to adapt Paolini’s next two books (Eldest and Brisingr) into two sequels (shot back-to-back). Unfortunately, due to the negative reception from critics, moviegoers, and fans, these plans were cancelled; making Eragon a “one and done” endeavor and leaving the continuation of the cinematic tale opened indefinitely. What’s even sadder is that Ergaon’s director Stefen Fangmeier, who made his directorial debut with this film, is his only directorial feature. Fangmeier did return to visual effects supervisor on several projects after Eragon, but the aftermath of film’s failure halted his directorial prospects indefinitely as well.
The cast in the movie has plenty recognizable names to play the characters throughout, but most of them are wasted on such a project like this. Actor Ed Speleers made his theatrical acting debut with this film by playing the feature’s title character of Eragon. Unfortunately, his acting was just mediocre at his best and Speleers just comes off as just another cliched “chosen hero” from destitute boy to warrior. Luckily, Speleers has gotten better has an actor (see his performance in Downton Abbey and Outlander). Perhaps the best performance in the film is actor Jeremy Irons as the wizened mentor Brom, who seemed like a perfect fit for the character. Definitely how I pictured Brom in a movie. Likewise, actress Rachel Weisz’s voice was nice fit for Saphira (I mean…. who could go wrong with Weisz’s voice?). Everyone else, including actress Sienna Guillory (and musical singer / actress Joss Stone) and actors John Malkovich, Robert Carlyle, Garrett Hedlund, Gary Lewis, and Djimon Hounsou, are just completely underutilized on this fantasy project. All of them are quite talented actors and have proven to be capable to produce memorable characters roles on various projects. Unfortunately, none of them truly stand out in Eragon and even their screen presence can’t help elevate the poorly written / one-dimensional caricatures.
Despite an eager fanbase and anticipation, Eragon just simply failed to deliver. It does have some moments that work, but this fantasy adventure feature feels partial unrecognizable from Paolini’s novel of the same name. Coupled with a lackluster presentation, mediocre visuals, a rushed narrative journey, and a waste of its acting talents and you get Eragon; a failed YA “page to screen” fantasy endeavor from Hollywood that never really got off the ground. Like the character of Brom says in the movie “I always say, better ask forgiveness than permission” and I think that’s the disappointing silver lining of the feature as a whole.
Cinematic Flashback Score: 2.6 Out of 5
Fun Fact: Christopher Paolini, author of the original novel, expressed his wishes to make a cameo appearance in the film, specifically a warrior who is beheaded in the battle of Farthen Dur. However, he was unable to due to the constraints of his European Book Tour.