‘Eragon’: It’s cool for kids

Reeling it in

Posted: Thursday, December 21, 2006


20th Century Fox

1 hour, 39 minutes

When I was teaching, I used to get into the whole book vs. movie debate with my students all the time. As a teacher and responsible adult, you’re always supposed to say that the book is better — that reading is by far a more worthwhile activity and that, by comparison, movies are just a cheap representation of someone else’s imagination and interpretation.

This isn’t always necessarily true, but we’ll say anything to spark their interest in reading. Thankfully, children’s literature has been getting better in the past few years, and quite a few kids are experiencing a renewed interest in reading. This is partly evidenced by a pair of books, the first released in the wake of the Harry Potter/Lord of the Rings phenomenon, about a mythical land of dragons and the noble warriors who rode them.

“Eragon” proved to be popular enough to attract the attention of Hollywood, drunk on the success of the previously mentioned series of films. Unfortunately, something somewhere got lost in the translation and, though I’ve never read the book, let’s hope that it is, indeed, much better than the movie.

To be fair, I’ll have to admit that if I were under the age of 12, “Eragon” would have been about the coolest thing I’d ever seen. The movie begins with a quickie update on the land of Alagaesia, where the noble race of Dragon Riders were wiped out by the wicked King Galbatorix. Fast forward a few years, and people have pretty much forgotten about their glorious past. So much has been forgotten, in fact, that when young Eragon, out hunting food for his family, finds what is obviously a dragon’s egg, he mistakes it for a big blue rock.

He sets it aside where it promptly, and unsurprisingly, at least to everyone in the theater, hatches. What emerges is a cute little blue bit of computer animation, which coos and gurgles and feasts on a rat, but not before conferring on our hero’s palm an ugly scar which signifies him a “rider.”

A dragon and her rider have a very close relationship, seeing through each other’s eyes and sharing both the power of magic and the life force itself.

However, lest you think this movie is going places no movie should go (in my head I could hear Janeane Garafalo saying, “You can love your dragon, just don’t love your dragon”) this movie is more about the destiny of a hero than it is about the love of man and beast.

On the other hand, there is a bit of a love interest in the form of a fair-haired elf chick. She’s being held prisoner by a Shade, but Eragon must get to Varden to help them in their battle with Galbatorix and his Urgalls. So, Eragon and Saphira, guided by aged sage-with-a-secret Brom, must battle the evil Durza and the Razac to ... to ... OK, sorry, I lost track.

Suffice it to say there’s enough swords, dragons and creepy demon magicians to keep any pre-teen boy fascinated for the full and blissfully short, hour-and-a-half running time.

Now, for those of us over 12, wow. An incredibly complicated plot and characters with marble-mouth names do not necessarily a great movie make. Much of the story feels as though it’s lifted directly from the most popular fantasy of the past couple of decades, including “Star Wars,” Tolkien, and especially Anne McCaffrey. This is, in fact, probably because the book was written by a 15-year-old boy, and 15-year-old boys, as I know from experience, tend to steal their ideas from the pop culture around them.

There’s nothing wrong with this, necessarily. That’s how you learn to write, but there’s a reason we don’t usually publish sophomore-year creative writing papers. “Eragon” author Christopher Paolini was, by all accounts, an atypical 15-year-old boy, and I can’t judge his writing because, as I said, I haven’t read the book.

The movie has some technical issues beyond simply a convoluted and silly story line. The acting is all adequate at best, which is too bad considering this film has some great actors slumming, including the great Jeremy Irons.

Worse, though, was the unflattering cinematography which made the movie seem too bright and sunny somehow, highlighting the problems of the costumer, whose mishmash of cultural styles just end up looking goofy. When it’s all said and done, goofy is a pretty good word to sum up the lasting impression of “Eragon.” The best compliment I can give is that the dragon looked pretty good, and in the end, what else are the kids going to remember? Grade: C

“Eragon” is rated PG for cartoon violence and scary situations.

Chris Jenness is a freelance graphic designer, artist and movie buff who lives in Nikiski.

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