This review might contain spoilers. Be afraid. Be very afraid. Merry Christmas. Heck, it probably will have some spoilers.
Before I go further, let me inform you that I have never read the Christopher Paolini novel this film was based on. However, I do want to read it now. That said, let us go on with the film review.
I enjoyed Eragon. I found it exciting, with beautiful photography and cinematography. The sights of the valleys and mountains, the raging rivers and gentle streams did much to enamor me of the beauty of the film. But I also enjoyed this film the first time I saw it over 30 years ago under the title Star Wars. Yes, I know, I know. It is supposed to be a blatant "homage" to The Lord of the Rings. But I still say Star Wars, the one with Luke Skywalker first meeting Ben Kenobi.
I mean, here we have a young man who lives with his uncle, and his closest friend (his cousin) is running away to stay away from the Empire Army recruiters. Our hero discovers something amazing, which leads to his family being killed by the evil Empire and he goes on the run with the older man who is going to teach him how to use his newfound powers.
There was even a suspenseful rescue of a beautiful woman from a dark fortress. I swear, at one point I expected the older teacher to say to some soldiers, "This is not your Dragon. This is not the Dragon you seek."
Don't misunderstand; the movie was fun and the special effects were excellent. Sure, the writing is a little ham-bone, but you expect something like that in a movie like this. You don't go to a movie like Eragon expecting William Bloody Shakespeare, so a bit of errant over-acting is expected.
The young man who played the lead character is a newcomer from what I understand, and his inexperience is easy to see. But what is also easy to see is the latent ability that Ed Speleers has. The kid has a future, if he chooses the right roles and finds the right mix in himself.
The character Brom (Jeremy Irons) plays like a cross between Kenobi and Han Solo, with a combination swaggering walk and buried wisdom that a mentor in a film like this should have. He even has a sword called a "Dragon Killer" — apparently it is the only thing that can kill a dragon. But he was fun.
The evil sorcerer warrior Durza (Robert Carlyle) was just about perfect. He was borderline cartoonish, but he certainly relished the anguish he was inflicting on his victims. But John Malkovich as the Evil Emperor, King Galbatorix, has to take the cake. With such evil lines as, "As long as I am King, disloyalty will be punishable by death," you know he is going to be a blast at parties.
Frankly the best performance was from the Dragon Saphira (voiced by Rachel Weisz), who conveyed everything from frightful innocence to downright bloodthirstiness. Saphira is not someone you want to tick off.
I sometimes think that just about all these films (heroic fantasy) use the same blueprint. Our hero, usually a boy, must discover his true nature before he is able to become the last hope of a poor, abused society to defeat its evil ruler.
He must always meet a wise mentor, the mysterious friend, the beautiful girl who might or might not be a princess who inspires him (wink wink nudge nudge) and might become his love interest or sister, depending on the way the incest moves that day. He then has to fight a few smaller battles to gain experience and self-confidence so that when he finally reaches the 'rebel forces' he is ready to lead them into battle at the head of the Army.
Look, I love this sort of stuff. I love dragons, elves, magical beings, all that stuff. In a film like this I expect and want good CGI. But it still takes a lot more then all of that to make a really good movie. And that is where Eragon missed the boat.
Most of the characters were very one-dimensional, with almost no explanation given for who or what they are. The only real exception to this is Brom, who actually tells us his history and his personal shame, giving life to the character and giving us someone to cheer for.
Sure, Eragon is the hero and we root for his success. But I often found myself hoping he would get killed while Saphira lived on for the sequel. And trust me, there is one planned.
Still in all, Eragon is still a lot better than Pete's Dragon, Double Dragon, Dungeons & Dragons or, heaven help us, Dragonquest.
I enjoyed it, I loved the sequences of the dragon-riding and the final battle between dragons almost got to me. Good film, a bit violent for young kids, but worth the time and money for older kids and adults.
No, it's not Shakespeare, but it is a fun time reinforced by good CGI. Maybe the acting in the next one will be a bit better.