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Epically Derivative

If you haven’t heard of Eragon, Christopher Paolini’s bestselling first novel (begun when he was fifteen), or if you only heard of it via the marketing blitz featuring the film adaptation of the same name, chances are you’re not a part of Eragon’s intended “young adult” demographic. First published by his family and later by Alfred E. Knopf, Eragon became a bestseller. With producers looking for the next big fantasy series to follow in the footsteps of The Lord of the Rings trilogy, The Chronicles of Narnia: The Lion, The Witch, and the Wardrobe, and the Harry Potter franchise, a novel written by and for teenagers seemed like a potentially lucrative prospect. One hundred and twenty five million dollars later and we get Eragon, an epically derivative fantasy unlikely to appeal to anyone above the age of fourteen (and even that might be a stretch).

Eragon (Edward Speleers) lives on a farm with his uncle Garrow (Alun Armstrong) and his cousin, Roran (Christopher Egan), in Carvahall, a small village in the kingdom of Alagaesia. Eragon discovers an egg-like object on a nighttime hunting trip. After an attempt to barter the object for meat fails, Eragon hides the egg in the barn. With Eragon watching, the egg cracks open and out pops a baby dragon. King Galbatorix (John Malkovich), Alagaesia’s despotic ruler, orders Durza (Robert Carlyle), his chief sorcerer, to find and destroy the dragon and its new rider, Eragon. On its first full flight, the dragon grows to full size, acquiring a name, Saphira, and a voice (Rachel Weisz), that Eragon can hear telepathically.

Forced to flee after an attack by Durza’s forces, Brom (Jeremy Irons), a villager with more than a few secrets of his own, steps in to help Eragon. As Eragon’s mentor, Brom helps him adjust to his role as a dragon rider and potential savior for the people of Alagaesia. Brom hopes to bring Eragon and Saphira to the Varden, rebels dedicated to defeating Galbatorix, and the Varden's mountain stronghold, Farthen Dûr. During the journey to Farthen Dûr, Arya (Sienna Guillory), a princess held captive by Durza, enters Eragon's dreams. Eragon also meets Murtagh (Garrett Hedlund), a black-clad archer who offers to help Eragon find the Varden. Meanwhile, Durza has sent out his Orc-like minions, the Urgals, to track Eragon and Saphira, find Farthen Dûr, and, once found, defeat the rebels in a decisive battle.

Eragon owes obvious debts to J.R.R. Tolkien's The Lord of the Rings trilogy, C.S. Lewis' The Chronicles of Narnia, Anne McCaffrey's The Dragonriders of Pern series, George Lucas' original Star Wars trilogy, Dragonslayer, and Dragonheart; all of which suggests that Eragon, the first sequel, Eldest, and the still untitled second sequel, add little innovative or original to the fantasy genre. Whatever Paolini's talents as a writer, originality isn't one of them. Hopefully, like J.K. Rowling, who’s consistently improved as a writer with each new book in the Harry Potter series, Paolini will improve too. That might not matter, of course, if Eragon becomes a box office hit (and it probably will).

Not surprisingly, the producers selected visual effects supervisor-turned-first-time-director Stefen Fangmeier. Fangmeier supervised the visual effects for Lemony Snicket's A Series of Unfortunate Events, Saving Private Ryan, and Terminator 2: Judgment Day. Fangmeier's experience tells us he can design and direct complex effects sequences, but it doesn’t tell us whether he can put together a coherent, cohesive film or whether he can direct convincing, credible performances from inexperienced actors (e.g. Edward Speleers) or pros merely collecting paychecks (e.g. Jeremy Irons, John Malkovich). Unfortunately, it’s a moot point, since Fangmeier had to direct Peter Buchman and Lawrence Konner’s lazily written screenplay that leaves no cliché unturned.

Sadly, Eragon feels like a video game (and yes, the video game tie-in is already available for purchase), but experiencing the movie is less like playing a video game than watching someone else playing the game (and as any gamer will tell you, that’s no fun at all). Like Paolini’s first novel, Eragon is squarely aimed at undiscriminating, undemanding pre-teens who prefer their stories simple and their eye candy plentiful. For them, Eragon will be all that and more. For everyone else, Eragon will be far, far less.

Rating: 2.5 out of 5 stars