Eragon (Two-Disc Special Edition)

It’s hard to fault a guy who wrote a book when he was only 15 that went on to be both a best seller and a movie with a $100 million budget. It’s certainly better than I’ve ever done. But the new two-disc special edition of Eragon certainly doesn’t make anyone want to go out and read Christopher Paolini’s series on a mythical land and its inhabitants. It’s not easy to be original. The proof is in this review, as it will probably contain many comments that other critics have made about the sword and sorcery movie, Eragon. Rather than spreading them out in dribs and drabs over the next few paragraphs, let’s just get them all out of the way now. The movie is extremely derivative and “borrows” heavily from both the Star Wars and Lord of the Rings series. The copy-cat nature of the plot and dialogue, along with the somewhat simplistic original material, makes this an appealing movie only for those old enough not to be too scared by the creatures but too young to have seen much of the other films.

The movie follows a farm boy, Eragon (newcomer Edward Speleers), who lives with his uncle and discovers a dragon egg while out hunting. Through the help of a crusty villager, Brom (Jeremy Irons), he discovers that he is a Dragon Rider, of one mind with the dragon, Sepheria (voiced by Rachel Weisz), that hatches out of the egg. Eragon and Sepheria join forces with Princess Arya (Sienna Gilroy) and the rougish Murtah (Garrett Hedlund) to oppose the dastardly King Galbatroix (John Malkovich) and his warlock henchman Durza (Robert Carlyle.) Galbatroix is a former Dragon Rider who turned against his former comrades and took power by killing off all the other Riders. It is believed that there are no more Riders to oppose Galbatroix until the arrival of Eragon.

It doesn’t take a rocket scientist to substitute the names Luke, Obi Wan, Leia, Han, and Darth Vader for those listed above and call Eragon a Jedi rather than a Dragon Rider. You have to wonder why George Lucas didn’t immediately call his lawyers. Heck, even the joke about Vader killing off one of his commanders and then telling another fearful man, “congratulations, you’ve been promoted” is ripped-off lock, stock and barrel in the film. What doesn’t come out of the Lucas archives reeks of Tolkien. It’s unclear if the blame lies with book author Christopher Paolini, who was only 15 when he started writing this tale (probably after a long weekend watching DVDs), or screenwriter Peter Buchman, who reportedly made quite a few alterations to the Paolini’s plot.

Derivative can still work, of course. Star Wars was hardly original itself. However, in the hands of first time director Stefen Fangmeier, some very fine actors are either dull (Irons) or completely wasted (Malkovich and Dajmon Houston.) In his first movie, Speleers is actually a bright point. He holds up well against a bored looking Irons and has natural charm to spare. Give this guy better material and a strong director and a star could be in the making. Malkovich looks like he shot all his scenes on the same set on the same day and then he picked up his check on his way out the door. If a sequel is filmed, he should have a bigger presence, but it’s not clear he’d even want that.

The look of the film combines some nice green (but not overly lush) scenery with CGI effects that are the forte of long time visual effects supervisor Fangmeier. The dragon doesn’t always fit seamlessly into the scenes but the look overall is quite nice. Unfortunately, the characters have to talk and interact, and that is the film’s weak point.

Paolini has already released the second book in his planned trilogy and Eragon’s ending was designed specifically to set up a sequel. Unfortunately, the first movie was such a critical and commercial dud that, unless the movie studio sees something the rest of us missed in the first film, a continuation of this story is very unlikely. That said, for the pre-teen group with a limited knowledge of movies made prior to two years ago, this may actually come across as a fun and exciting tale. There is plenty of action and faux-Celtic pomposity; something any ten year old boy will love. Everyone else should beware. Although the movie itself is pretty mediocre, it probably has some fans and they will really enjoy this special edition DVD. There are well over two hours of extras on the second disc and the first disc contains a commentary from director Fangmeier. He clearly has excitement about the movie and the people who worked on it, and his commentary, while not spectacular, is informative.

Fangmeier shows up all over disc two as well. Most of the extras include him either doing commentary, narration, or as the key interview subject. He makes the lion's share of the comments in “The Magic of Eragon” which is a 50 minute all encompassing “making-of” documentary that covers the movie from book to finished product. The wide scope doesn’t allow for depth on any one area, but you get a good overall view. The visual effects are viewed more in-depth in a separate 40 minute feature. Most of the key visual effects and CGI scenes are shown in various forms with the visual effects crew providing commentary on how the shots were created. It is probably the most interesting thing on either disc and the 90 minutes of the combined behind-the-scenes extras is much more interesting than the movie itself.

For those who can't get enough of the movie, there is about 13 minutes of extended or deleted scenes. Fangmeier provides an optional commentary to the scenes. He also is the narrator for “Inhabitants of Alagaësia.” Using concept art and stills from the movie, Fangmeier discusses the main characters in the movie and what he felt each actor brought to his or her role. After watching the making-of doc, this 20 minute featurette seems like overkill as it treds some of the same ground.

The seemingly indefatigable director also narrates a five minute animated story board sequence of the opening scene that he used to help sell the film to the movie studio honchos. He also narrates a very brief review of the concept art for the various characters and scenes and a short segment on the animation of the dragon. There is also an unnarrated and unanimated story board segment of various scenes that the viewer clicks through using the remote.

There are the obligatory teaser and theatrical trailers for the film’s original release. They aren’t misleading, exactly, but they make the movie look interesting and exciting. You may find yourself saying “that movie doesn’t look half-bad” until you realize you already watched it and it is half-bad.

Finally, for book fans, there is a four minute interview with Christopher Paolini about “Eldest” the sequel to “Eragon” and the second book in the planned trilogy. It’s basically an infomercial for the sequel, which seems a little odd since the book came out in 2005. Most likely, a viewer is either already a fan and has the book or watching the movie has generated their interest in the book. But in that case, they would more likely want to read “Eragon.” There is also an extra with the first two chapters of “Eldest” that the viewer can click through and read. The first page didn’t look so great.

As would be expected, the transfer is nice and there are a boatload of extras for anyone who does, in fact, like the movie. It’s tough to find too much fault with either the quantity or quality of what is on the second disc of this DVD. It’s just disappointing that is at the service of not such a great movie. But for a fan of the film, it’s a pretty nice package.