Building upon, but vastly inferior to, The Lord of the Rings and Harry Potter, the new film Eragon, from Christopher Paolini's popular book, has a lot of energy, moments of humor, and some decent battle scenes. Its chief problem is not so much its derivative plot, but its hurried pacing; it crams a rather big book into a film that lasts just over 100 minutes. In today's Hollywood climate, it is perhaps something of a compliment to complain that this film tries to say too much too quickly rather than not having enough material to fill its time. But the result is still a mediocre film.
There are echoes in Eragon, not just of Lord of the Rings and Harry Potter, but also of Star Wars. In an opening reminiscent of Luke Skywalker, young Eragon (Ed Speelers in a debut role) is living on a farm and being raised by his uncle. When Eragon discovers a large blue egg, takes it home, and it hatches a telepathic dragon, he finds himself at the center of an ancient battle between the forces of good and evil. But the dialogue is for the most part flat, the plot cluttered, and the pacing erratic.
A film in a hurry, Eragon moves so quickly from one scene to another that the audience has no opportunity to linger over the significance of events or to appreciate diverse characters. The film's first moments, which bear a superficial resemblance to the introductory sequences of Lord of the Rings, offers a much too condensed voiceover announcement of the back-story. In the old days, virtuous dragon riders ruled the realm, but they were betrayed by one of their own. The traitor Galbatorix (John Malkovich) now occupies the throne as King, supported by a sorcerer (Robert Carlely) with a wicked case of gingivitis. The few survivors of Galbatorix's vicious purge have retreated to the mountains where they await a new dragon rider.
Eragon is the foretold chosen one, but he is naïve and untutored in the lore of dragons. A cynical social outcast with memories of the way things used to be, Brom (Jeremy Irons) embraces the task of training Eragon in the skills and responsibilities of the dragon riders. But Broms's character has neither the whimsy of an Obi-Wan nor the majesty of a Gandalf. Aside from an entertaining scene in which he trains an overconfident Eragon in sword fighting, the film does little to foster the emotional investment of the audience in the relationship. The emotional focus instead is on the relationship between Eragon and his dragon, Saphira (voiced by Rachel Weisz). The problem here is voice miscasting. Saphira sounds less like a mysterious and terrifying creature and more like someone's amiable aunt.
The film's haste is also a problem for audience identification with the budding romance between Eragon and Arya (Sienna Guillory). The guardian of the last dragon egg, Arya is being held captive by the powers of the dark side. The set-up here is rather clumsy. A fortune-teller informs Eragon that there is a girl whom he has already met in his dreams and whose destiny is intertwined with his own. The film, which is occasionally capable of humor, here misses opportunities for the sort of romantic humor characteristic of the minor classic, Princess Bride. But at least there is a certain noble purity in the growing affection between the two and that elevates it far above the daily dose of falsely sophisticated romance featured on afternoon shows on the Disney Channel.
The more devoted is a child to the book, the more likely he is to be disappointed with its awkward and cramped translation to the screen. Kids, at least, are not likely to be disturbed the film's wasting of Jeremy Irons or distracted by John Malkovich's role confusion, his penchant for playing himself rather than a character in a story. To its limited credit, the film has an infectious energy and newcomer Ed Speelers exhibits, if not talent, at least likeability.