8/21/07

R031 Eragon

(2006, Fantasy-Sword and Sorcery, color)

Riffers:

Mike Nelson and Kevin Murphy

Halt and be fabulous!

Rating: ****

In a nutshell:

Like every other fantasy movie you’ve seen, only dumber.

Summary:

Paragons of masculine danger, all of them.Many years ago, the mystical land of Alagaesia was ruled by the mystical dragon riders, a band of mystical warrior-magicians who rode the length and breadth of the land on their mystical, telepathic dragons, righting wrongs, standing up for the oppressed and downtrodden, fighting for truth, justice, and the Alagaesian way—until the mystically evil Galbatorix and his dragon turned against his rider brothers. Galbatorix (John Malkovich) declared himself king, murdered every rider who opposed his rule (i.e., everyone who wasn’t him) and set up housekeeping in a black, forbidding fortress, decorated with bones and boiling hot lava.

That’s the backstory. Our story actually begins with mystical girl named Arya, who travels the length and breadth of the land with a mystical blue stone she stole from the king. A mystical, lank-haired sorcerer named Durza pursues her with his mystical tattooed cohorts. He captures her by setting the woods on fire, but she casts a spell that teleports the stone to a vague but presumably distant locale.

Cut to the presumably distant locale, where a temporarily unmystical lad named Eragon hunts for deer in the dead of night. A sudden flash of light scares away his game. He finds the blue stone and, after an unsuccessful attempt to trade it to the butcher for food, he takes it home.

There’s some teenage joviality and sinister soldier antics involving village’s obligatory Grizzled Loner™ (Jeremy Irons as Brom) but none of it seems to be important or even informative. Eventually the blue stone hatches into a baby dragon named Saphira. Over the course of a day, she grows to adult size and learns to telepathically project her thoughts with the echo-effect voice of Rachel Weisz.

Somehow Durza discovers that the stone, er, egg has hatched, and the location it hatched in. He sends a trio of oily, insectile mummies to kill Eragon and Saphira. Of course they’re out of the house when the bug mummies arrive, so they slaughter his father/uncle/caretaker person instead. Brom turns up and—surprise of surprises—he turns out to be a disguised agent of the Varden (i.e., a mystical freedom fighter). He helps Eragon flee the bug mummies (called Raz’ac), and explains that by hatching Saphira, he has become the first new dragon rider since the king slaughtered his cohorts, lo, these many years ago. This makes him the Varden’s only hope to defeat the evil Galbatorix once and for all.

They wander/train/fight tattooed bad guys for a while before ending up in a swampy village that appears to have been designed by the Second Little Pig. Eragon meets a wholly inconsequential fortuneteller and a random dark, brooding person before the tattooed baddies arrive for their scheduled Big Fight. Eragon immolates them all with an accidental spell and passes out.

He wakes up miles away with Brom and Saphira, who explain the vague and arbitrary rules of magic. They fly around and kill Raz’ac, and then dramatically reveal Brom’s tragic past—he used to be a dragon rider until an agent of Galbatorix killed his dragon. Later, a sexy, soft-focus nightmare calls Eragon to rescue Arya, now imprisoned in Durza’s mystical grunge fortress.

Even as a dragon, Rachel Weisz looks great.Against Brom’s advice, Eragon journeys to the fortress and sneaks inside. He’s already rescued Arya before he discovers it was a trap all along. Brom leaps in front of a mystical spear, and Eragon shoots Durza in the head. Too bad Durza can only be slain by piercing his heart. The random dark, brooding person shows up to cover their escape.

Brom dies a short time later, and the poisoned Arya falls into a semi-coma, leaving the random dark, brooding person (named Murtaugh) to guide Eragon to the Varden. They ride all the way there with an army of tattooed baddies on their heels. The elaborately costumed Varden welcome Eragon, Saphira, and Arya, but imprison Murtaugh due to a complicated set of circumstances, most of which seem to have been cut from the film. Everyone digs out the fanciest warrior outfits they can find to prepare for battle.

Durza and his armies attack. There’s a lot of grunting, groaning, flailing, and falling down while Eragon and Saphira fly high above the action to flame the enemy at will. Durza summons a ghost dragon or something to take his fight into the sky. There are some setbacks and near misses, but Eragon manages to stab his enemy through the heart before he crash lands on the battlefield with Saphira. He uses his magic to heal her (Look ma! I’m mystical now!) and passes out again. He wakes up later to cheers and fanfares, but he ignores it all to fly after Arya.

Meanwhile, Galbatorix’s rage causes him to slaughter an innocent tapestry, by which I assume he means to imply an upcoming sequel.

Thoughts:

...the shards of Narsil; the sword that cut the ring from Sauron's hand...This is the laziest fantasy film I’ve ever seen, and when I consider the sheer number of cheap Italian sword and sorcery flicks I’ve watched, that’s quite a statement. It’s got a decent budget; we can tell by the very nice dragon graphic they’ve provided. It’s also supposed to have elves, dwarves, and orcs (known in this setting as urgals), but it apparently can’t be bothered to differentiate them from humans with anything more than axle grease, facial hair, and faux-Polynesian tattoos. Come on, movie, I know you’ve got the money to make the Raz’ac into the truly frightening insect monsters they’re supposed to be. So why, instead, did you decide to wrap a few guys in toilet paper and spray-paint them black?

At this point I think I’ve given it away, so I’ll just admit to it: I read and enjoyed book on which this movie was based. A lot of critics went on about how the movie is just a mishmash of clichés cribbed from every other fantasy film before it, and while that criticism is certainly valid, I don’t see this as a major problem. The book is a mishmash of clichés as well, but redeems itself with an astonishing amount of meticulously plotted detail.

These details are where the movie fails. Armed with prior knowledge of the plot, I was not too terribly confused by the strangely perfunctory story presented in the movie. This made writing the above summary a little difficult; I began to type something like the following, for instance: “Eragon lives with his Cousin Roran and his Uncle Garrow because his mother was married to the...” and then I had to hold down the backspace key because I remembered the movie never explained any of this. Not that Roran and Garrow were cut—they both had quite a bit of screen time at the beginning. They just didn’t seem to serve any kind of purpose, and if anyone ever mentioned their names, I must have missed it. Why include these characters at all if you’re not going to use them? It’s as if the people in charge of turning the book into a screenplay just included information from every twentieth page instead of, you know, doing an actual adaptation. If I was Christopher Paolini (author of the source material), I would be livid.

Mike Nelson and his most prolific guest-riffer Kevin Murphy team up again for the commentary track. They kick things off by making fun of the ridiculous fantasy names; Kevin refers to Arya as “Recitative” and “Leitmotif” while Mike calls the fantasy setting “Analgesic.” After the novelty of this wears off, they move on to making fun of the film’s numerous borrowed elements; when the Raz’ac show up to demand the dragon egg, Mike cries, “I sold it to a moisture farmer named Lars!” When lank-haired Durza appears to his band of evil, tattooed auto mechanics, Kevin calls him, “The poor man’s Snape.” The final sequences with the elaborately costumed Varden lead to many, many comments about their Chorus Line battle outfits. It’s an arbitrary, nonsensical film, but it’s bright, colorful, and fast-paced as well. Combined with the commentary track, it’s one of the funniest things I’ve ever seen.