ERAGON - DVD review

...a plodding journey through very familiar territory.


"Eragon" in many ways is like a ship without a captain. Based on the novel by neophyte writer Christopher Paolini the film version isn't so much a pastiche driven by the mad workings of too many cooks in the kitchen but rather a very blasé attempt at the hero's journey. It's essentially a lackluster version of "Star Wars" as told through the guise of "Lord of The Rings."

The plot is basic enough, maybe too basic for it's own good. A long time ago in a galaxy, whoops sorry I meant to say that it takes place in Middle Earth. No wait, Alagaesia. That's it Alagaesia. It's the story of dragons and dragon riders, of a tyrannical ruler named Galbatorix (John Malkovich) who was wiped away all of the riders, lest himself. He continues a pursuit of the rebel alliance, I mean the Varden, a group of warriors who hope to bring peace back to the land they once loved. They hold hope for the fulfillment of a prophecy that tells the coming of a new age of dragon riders, who will bring back peace to their land.

One night, Princess Arya (Sienna Guillory) finds herself fleeing the hands of a black mage named Durza (Robert Carlyle), Galbatorix's right hand man. He's essentially like sword and sorcery version of Darth Vader. She has in her possession a rare blue stone, which is in reality a dragon egg. She sends it away via some enchanted spell and it plops down into the hands of Eragon (Edward Speleers), just another farm boy out hunting for the night. Before long the egg hatches and a bond forms between young Eragon and the dragon, Saphira (voiced by Rachel Weisz) he's now secretly raising while under his uncle's care.

What follows is typical hero's journey fare, as Eragon meets a mentor, Brom (Jeremy Irons), goes on a quest to rescue Arya, the princess and joins forces with an interesting mix of companions including the son of a traitorous dragon rider. He learns some new skills along the way that help him in his journey into becoming a Jedi, I mean dragon rider.

Silliness aside, the point is to show the more than obvious influences of the story, which could have probably been made to work on some level, had the film had a clearer direction or vision. It's hard to say whether director Stefen Fangmeier, a former special effects wizard on a number of high profile films, is to blame for this beautiful mess of a movie or whether the blame be put at the feet of screenwriter Peter Buchman, who adapted the novel for the screen, or whether blame should be placed on the producers. Even the actors seem to be going through the motions, with every scene. The only one who seems to be having fun is Rachel Weisz, adding some gusto to her voice acting as Saphira.

With so many factors going into the production of a movie this size, I lean towards placing the blame throughout. Someone should have stood up and said, you know what this just isn't quite working. This is, of course, easier said than done. Films like this tend to succeed when there is a singular voice guiding the rest of the crew members, making decisions all the way down the line and leaving very few questions in their wake.

The film is essentially a rehash of those previous films I mentioned, with some nods to "Willow," The "Zelda" series of video games and many other sources. Kids seem to enjoy the books for what they are, mild adventure stories set in colorful far off land. They're easy reads from what I understand, which is probably what helped make them popular in the first place. Still, the film is lacking mostly because nothing in it is inspired. I retract that, I did quite enjoy the relationship between Eragon and Saphira. It was nice but not great. It might have worked better had this particular voyage found a leader worthy of commanding the troops towards a more spectacular cinematic battleground.

The DVD version of the films is presented in 2.35:1 anamorphic widescreen transfer, which in all honestly looks pretty bad. It's yet another screener provided by Fox with less than stellar looking visual for what should have, at the very least, been something of a visually interesting film. The image looks rather soft throughout, with colors making little impression, digital artifacting is apparent during the action scenes. There is, however, no grain or wearing on the image that was readily apparent.

The audio comes in a standard Dolby Digital 5.1 mix and a DTS version of the same track. There really isn't much weight behind either and it's hard to say whether it's the fault of the filmmaker's or this transfer. Still dialogue comes through clear enough but surrounds aren't really exploited to their advantage during the battle scenes. However, the score does come through rather well, which gives both mixes a bit more to chomp on. Overall, the mix isn't hugely impressive but it isn't a complete wash either.

The two disc set comes jam packed with a slew of extras, the first being a feature length audio commentary by the director. He's undeniably proud over his first directorial effort and goes on to discuss the standard audio commentary staples such as the making of, development and working with the actors.

Disc two houses the rest of the extras. The fist is "Inside the Inheritance Trilogy: The Magic of Eragon," which is essentially a chance for Christopher Paolini to discuss his novel and his general thoughts on his creation, while defending it against criticisms.

"The Inhabitants of Alagaësia" Finds the director taking us through discussion of the worlds inhabitants and the characters: that populate the film.

"Vision of Eragon," is a glimpse at Fangmeier's storyboards for the film, along with commentary by the director. A concept gallery is also included in the film. It's interesting to see that the film did have a great deal of planning put into it from the beginning, which is a bit odd considering how the film turned out.

"Extended and Deleted Sequences," is exactly as it sounds, a series of deleted and extended scenes from the film. None of it is really all that impressive or interesting.

"Saphira's Animation Guide" is actually one of the more interesting extra as it looks at Saphira's design. Fangmeier discusses the various ways in which they approached the dragon's conception and how they wanted to make her "cute" rather scary. "The Secrets of Alagaësia" is a look at eh films special effects with some of the crew members on hand to take us through the process.

Also included is "An Interview with author Christopher Paolini regarding Eldest" focuses on Paolini as he discusses his second book in his trilogy and throws in a few hints as what's to come in the third book.

Rounding out the extras are "Trailers," "Video Game Ads," "A Pronunciation Guide," "Storyboard Gallery," and "Lost Storyboard Gallery."

Film Value
The problem with "Eragon" may rest with the source material, which has been both praised and criticized for it derivative nature. Having never read the book I can't really say whether or not the criticism is warranted, or the praise for that matter. Nevertheless, what the movie ends up being is a plodding journey through very familiar territory.


Film Value