[Screen It]

(2006) (Edward Speleers, Jeremy Irons) (PG)

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Action/Adventure: Accompanied by his new loyal dragon and a former dragon rider, a farm boy sets out to assist a band of rebels in their quest to overthrow the evil king and his demonic wizard.
The land of AlagaŽsia was once protected and served by dragon riders, but since one turned against and killed the others, things haven't been the same. Through his right-hand enforcer, the evil sorcerer Durza (ROBERT CARLYLE), King Galbatorix (JOHN MALKOVICH) rules with an iron fist, and his soldiers inspire fear among the masses.

All of that's led to a guerilla rebel force, the Vardan, led by Ajihad (DJIMON HOUNSOU) and Princess Arya (SIENNA GUILLORY), the latter of whom has stolen an important stone from the King. When confronted by Durza, she uses magic to make it disappear, resulting in her imprisonment and torture to try to force her to reveal its whereabouts

Unbeknownst to any of the King's men, it's ended up in the possession of Eragon (EDWARD SPELEERS), a 17-year-old farm boy who lives with his uncle and cousin. A bit full of himself and his unproven abilities, he's entranced by tales of the days of old told by village storyteller Brom (JEREMY IRONS). Accordingly, Eragon is pleased when the stone turns out to be an egg from which hatches a baby dragon.

Having successfully hidden her from others, the dragon quickly grows up into Saphira (voice of RACHEL WEISZ) who informs Aragon -- via mental telepathy -- that he's to be her dragon rider. When Brom learns of this, he sets out to teach the boy about the ways of such a life, including that his newfound magical powers - transferred to him from Saphira -- can be both useful and dangerous.

Learning of the rebel forces and soon joined by rogue loner Murtagh (GARRETT HEDLUND), Aragon rides off on Saphira in hopes of rescuing Arya and joining the rebellion in efforts to overthrow the King and his evil, totalitarian regime.

OUR TAKE: 3 out of 10
The beauty of the fantasy genre -- no, not that kind, but the one with elves, wizards, monsters and such -- is that such tales, be they in comic book, novel, TV or movie form, transport us into extraordinary worlds quite unlike those we've ever seen before. Thus, along with the inherent mythological structure, the fun is in getting to experience such unusual characters, places, and stories.

However, when such creations heavily borrow from their predecessors or other genres, the magical "tourist" experience is severely shortchanged in the usual "been there, seen that before" fashion. Such is the case with "Eragon," the latest attempt by Hollywood to breathe some new life into the old, fire-breathing tale of dragons and such.

While based on Christopher Paolini's novel of the same name -- that was written by the then 19-year-old and initially self-published by his family -- the film feels like a retreading of elements from other pictures. The most obvious, of course, are other dragon flicks (an unavoidable issue since that's what the film is about), but there are so many bits, pieces and chunks removed from "Star Wars," "Lord of the Rings" and other such flicks that this one feels something akin to "Star WarLord of the Dragonslayer."

That might have been okay had screenwriter Peter Buchman ("Jurassic Park III") and/or director Stefen Fangmeier (making his debut behind the camera after supervising the special effects on various films) done something interesting or compelling with the recycled, borrowed and stolen material.

Alas, they don't even come close with this effort that might sport some good special effects (the dragon, natch, being the best), but also features a bland lead character (and related performance), some notable cinema veterans chewing up the scenery to the point you want to reach for the phone to call Orkin, and a storyline that doesn't make you care one iota about any of the characters or the outcome of their quest.

Perhaps operating on the belief that those wanting to see the film will already be familiar with the story and its details, the filmmakers skim over some much-needed explanations about the world in which we've been thrust. That includes much of the basics, including the standard who's who and what's what traditionally needed to engage viewers. Some characters -- most notably the subordinate villains as well as a late to arrive, roguish good guy -- are barely identified, and all sorts of fantasy-based names for places, people, and such are bandied about with little more than a trivial touch.

Of course, some of the exposition is provided by voice-over narration courtesy of Jeremy Irons in the Obi-Wan type persona. He's generally fine in the role even if the character feels shortchanged in terms of much depth. Yet, he's a cinematic reservoir compared to Edward Speleers as the title character. Rarely has a more bland, pretty boy taken up so much screen space without actually doing or providing much for a film.

That is, except in that other recent literary adaptation, "Alex Rider: Operation Stormbreaker," another quite popular, kid-based work that similarly featured a blasť lead and related performance, a fairly notable cast (who must have signed on - just like here -- to impress some kid in their lives), and a story about a young character who manages to overcome the obstacles to defeat the seemingly much more powerful head villain.

This one's just about as boring, a point repeatedly emphasized when Fangmeier constantly resorts to shot after sweeping vista shot of the characters traveling from one locale to another. They, of course, are trying to make their way to join a rebel contingent and rescue a kidnapped princess (hmm, where have we seen that before?).

That's all while the title character communicates with the dragon (voiced by Rachel Weisz) via mind reading and inherits magical powers from the beast that grows from "pup" to adult in a flash (all for reasons not explained much beyond the fact that -- to paraphrase Walter Cronkite -- that's just the way it is).

Which pretty much sums up the film, a fantasy ripped off from various other fantastical tales. Beyond the special effects, however, there isn't much reason to see this film, especially when it constantly strives to remind you of its far better predecessors. Since this is the first installment of a scheduled trilogy, one can only hope things will get better by the time part two comes along. Until then, you might be better off reading the book and imagining your own version of the movie in your head. "Eragon" rates as a 3 out of 10.

Reviewed December 12, 2006 / Posted December 15, 2006

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