A Review by Noah Antwiler
The worst criticism I've ever received over my Gamer's Rant column was from my friend's eight year-old son, who upon overhearing my thoughts on the Harry Potter series stood up, looking very hurt and said "You're a big dumb meanie, and you have a big dumb nose." Stunned by this brutal and unexpected tongue-lashing, I gawked at the kid in terror while the entire table celebrated my total pwnage and gave him running high-fives. I don't think I've ever been so accurately described in every piece of hate mail I've read. He even zeroed-in on my huge nose, the snarky runt.
I asked him what his favorite movie was, and being a kid (who usually have a new favorite movie every week) he proudly declared it was Eragon with an expression that said he didn't care if I had twenty years and a hundred-twenty pounds on him, if I started bashing that movie, he was coming across that table for my throat. So I did the rational thing: I went home to totally savage it on the Internet!
But first I actually had to see Eragon, and after I had, I saw why the poor kid liked it so much. I loved Star Wars when I was his age, too. And man, does someone need to show that little guy the holy trilogy, stat, because few movies have enraged me as much as Eragon has. As a big dumb meanie with a big dumb nose, I've made my journalism career on tearing down fandom. It may not seem like I hold much sacred, but deep down in my black heart there are still some sacrosanct movies. There are still some things I will not allow, and Eragon does just about all of them. Why?
Because Eragon is, bar none, the most complete and shameless rip-off of Star Wars ever xeroxed. Not even Turkish Star Wars stole as brazenly from the dang series. I mean, sure, they stole X-Wing battle footage, but at least they still managed to come up with somewhat original characters. You read that correctly: Eragon is a worse movie than Turkish Star Wars, a film that features a guy wearing golden gloves machine-gun punching Robbie the Robot to the heroic strains of the Indiana Jones theme, then feeds a man in a bright red gorilla suit his own leg.
See if this sounds familiar: a humble farm boy discovers that he possesses a hidden power and finds himself hunted by an evil overlord who once betrayed a noble order of knights charged with the protection of freedom and justice. Along the way he meets a wise old mentor who gives him a powerful sword, encourages the young man to develop his magical talents, helps him save a princess in the warlord's dark fortress, and sacrifices himself to save the boy. The movie ends with an air battle after the bad guys track down the hidden stronghold of the rebellion.
And that's not even half of it.
Everything in this movie is stolen. Even Eragon (whose name is so blatantly suggestive it makes me want to punch kittens) seems to have stolen Luke Skywalker's haircut. He's even a whiny little brat who lives with his uncle, a shaggy fellow that gets butchered by urgals (read: stormtroopers). He has a brother named Roran who you might suppose has something to do with the movie, but he doesn't.
The movie begins with an elven princess stealing a "stone" (read: the Death Star Plans) from Darth Malkovich, and through sheer chance it ends up in Eragon's back yard. It just so happens that the stone is actually an enchanted dragon egg, and amazingly, Eragon is destined to be the chosen one who will ride this dragon against the empire. Through magic (read: bad writing) the dragon reaches full maturity in about four hours and is born with a better vocabulary than most adults I know. They bond quickly, and Eragon learns to ride the dragon by flying through a ravine ("Just like Beggar's Canyon back home!") and masters magic (read: the Force) through the tutelage of Brom, a former dragon rider and your average mentor character who never survives to the third act of the film.
It's a good thing Brom brought his dragon saddle. Seriously, that's how they explain it. Brom packed his dragon saddle.
Brom (read: Obi-Wan Kenobi) is played by Jeremy Irons, an otherwise excellent actor who seems to be psychically drawn to tremendously bad fantasy movies. At least he manages not to embarrass himself here like he did in Dungeons & Dragons, and in fact is probably the best part of the movie. Anyway, it doesn't seem like there's any real secret to magic; simply knowing the ancient Elvish words for things is enough to evoke their power. It sort of proves what John Constantine said about magic: "Any cunt could do it."
Darth Malkovich is rather upset over the theft of his dragon egg, and tasks his evil shade Durza to bring it back. Durza, a powerful wizard, in turn sends the nefarious Urgal assassins to kill Eragon. Man, there's an awful lot of subcontracting going on with these bad guys, and when the Urgals fail we have to sit through two phases of the defeated minions reporting to their boss about how they failed. I mean, why would the evil warlord even bother keeping the magical dragon egg around if it's the only thing that can destroy him? And why don't either Malkovich or Durza go out themselves to kill Eragon? It's not like either of them have anything better to do than sit on uncomfortable thrones and brood. Why wouldn't he spend an hour to get on his fully-grown black dragon, fly down to Eragon's village and turn the whole thing into a field of scorched glass with his breath weapon?
My favorite part of the movie is where Malkovich explains to Durza why it's important to kill Eragon quickly to prevent the resistance from having any hope because he rules his nation through fear. "Fear will keep the local systems in line! Fear of this battle station!"
The real shame is that Malkovich is the best actor in the movie, and despite being the main villain he's barely in it. His work was likely finished in a day, so most of the heavy villainy is done by Robert Carlyle in a ratty Bozo wig who somehow managed to find a worse role than the Bond villain in The World is Not Enough. His character is a complete idiot, sending riders in black (you might say they're... Black Riders) out to kill Eragon over and over again, and yelling at them when they screw up when he could easily burn his face off any time he wants. In fact, when he successfully manages to lure Eragon into a trap using the elven princess (Leia) as bait, he inexplicably allows the heroes to escape when he has them at his mercy.
Along the way to the rebellion, Eragon enlists the aid of a charming rogue (read: Han Solo) to guide them through the mountains. The resistance is a group of warriors who have made camp in a cave behind a waterfall, led by Faramir of Gondor—I mean, Ajihad, played by Djimon Hounsou in some truly hilarious hair extensions. It looks like the movie is officially out of Star Wars to steal, so now it's running down the checklist of Lord of the Rings plot points and stealing them, too.
Durza realizes that Eragon has entrenched himself in the stronghold of the resistance and rallies the Urgals with a dramatic speech that's written and filmed almost word for word, shot for shot exactly like Saruman's "You do not know pain, you do not know fear" speech to the Uruks. And that's not the only shot Eragon steals from other movies. I remember one scene when a forlorn Eragon stands outside his uncle's house watching a dramatic sunset, carbon copied from A New Hope. I don't make this accusation lightly. There's coincidence, there's homage, and there's outright theft. Someone should have been sued over this.
I haven't even mentioned how poor this movie is in every technical regard. The dialogue is about as subtle as a beer fart, with characters repeating things we already know several times and vocalizing the completely obvious with nobody else around. I can barely pick out the most embarrassing line from this travesty, although the first one stands out in my mind: "I suffer without my stone."
I also haven't mentioned the dragon much, an inexcusably phony-looking animated wyrm named Saphira, voiced by Rachel Weisz. Saphira shares a telepathic link with Eragon, because if there's one thing that I really want to see Ed Speelers do, it's pretend to think really hard for half the movie.
If you're wondering why Eragon doesn't just command his dragon to breathe fire all over his enemies, she can't. Brom explains that she's "not yet old enough to sustain a flame," but considering Saphira grew into a ten ton clawed death machine in a matter of hours, "not yet old enough" translates to "wait until morning" because the next day she's laying waste to an entire army with her napalm breath.
It's also maddening at how quickly the movie progresses, an unusual complaint for me to make, but it's true. It feels like the Cliff's Notes version of an epic movie. There's no character development to speak of. There are simply good guys and bad guys, and if any character is given a backstory, it's usually in the form of awkward dialogue shoehorned inappropriately in between action beats, like "Seize him! He is the son of the traitor!" Ironically, the only characters the movie dwells on. Brom and Eragon's brother depart the narrative completely. Why would they waste time developing the background and motivations of characters who don't show up for the rest of the movie? Maybe they show up again in the sequels, but as a single movie it completely fails to stand on its own.
It's one of the worst movies of all time, not only in terms of its poor quality, but because of its total creative bankruptcy. When I safely say that Dragonheart was a masterpiece in comparison, it should scare you to your marrow. Its only value is in devising a "Spot the Rip-off" drinking game, or maybe if you've got some weird Sienna Guillory fetish. Even then, I'd take Resident Evil: Apocalypse over this cheese, and I would rather wear a sandpaper thong on a treadmill than watch a Resident Evil movie.
Still, something good came out of all this. I spend so much of my time being a big meanie that sometimes I forget how much I really appreciate Star Wars, and yes, even George Lucas for at least being something of a storyteller. The meanie in me says that Lucas could probably be accused of stealing the plot for that from half a dozen samurai movies, but the fan in me still doesn't care if he did. They didn't have hyperdrive in Hidden Fortress!
Besides, I got to totally blast an eight-year-old's favorite movie in a magazine he'll probably never read. Isn't that what it's all about?