When Peter Jackson finally found someone with enough courage to give him money to make Tolkien’s trilogy into movies, he essentially hoisted the entire fantasy film genre bandwagon up, slapped four wheels on it, attached a team of Clydesdales and sent it down the highway at a hundred miles per hour. Ever since then everyone seems to be trying to jump on and ride that fantasy gravy train. Eragon is the latest attempt to hop on board, but it falls off with a thud in the first fifteen minutes of its mediocre life.

The story seems to have been meant to go something like this: a young, poor farm boy by the name of Eragon (Edward Speleers) comes across a strange blue stone while hunting in the woods. To his amazement the stone hatches and a magical dragon emerges, one of the last of its kind. A roguish old man from the village, Brom (Jeremy Irons), discovers Eragon’s little secret and reveals to him that the boy is the last of a dying breed of warriors known as the Dragon Riders. Eragon’s special bond with the dragon, named Saphira (Rachel Weisz), grants him the ability to use magic, and together the two will be able to defeat the evil King (John Malkovich) and his sorcerer henchman Durza (Robert Carlyle). Along the way he saves a warrior princess named Arya (Sienna Guillory) with the help of a mysterious ally, Murtagh (Garrett Hedlund).

It’s a pleasant enough fantasy tale for younger teen audiences and even if that’s how it was meant to go, that’s not what comes across on the screen. The final product is the story of a young, poor, bizarre combination of Anakin Skywalker, Luke Skywalker and Harry Potter joined up with the female counterpart to Draco from Dragonheart. With the help of an Obi-wan meets Gandalf sort of mentor, he sets out to save the wizarding world and half of Middle Earth by using Elven magic to defeat the equivalent of Voldemort wearing Sauron’s Ring of Power and his right hand sidekick who is the perfect amalgam of Saruman, Wormtongue and a Balrog-riding Darth Maul. Oh, along the way he stops to save the love child of Arwen and Princess Leia with the help of Aragorn crossed with Han Solo. It’s free for all sci-fi/fantasy mad libs, only instead of verbs and adjectives the story substitutes in favorite character archetypes and plot from other films. And then comes the final battle scene.

With time running out (both for the characters and the movie), all parties find themselves gearing up for some serious combat. As the audience you’re expected to be very concerned for the good guys, but you’ve been offered very little time to actually get to know anyone well enough to care. The heroes in the story are painfully underdeveloped and you don’t even meet the people they’re fighting to defend until the last possible second. It’s a horrific mess, an underwhelming ending to a poorly paced, overwrought movie.

From what I know of the book it doesn’t sound like the movie does it justice. Rather than letting the story have its own life, director Stefen Fangmeier seems bent on telling it in the light of every other major fantasy movie out there. The problem may lie in the fact that this is Fangmeier’s first time in the director’s seat and he hasn’t had much experience in sculpting a story or directing actors. Prior to this he spent most of his time supervising visual effects work. While that lead to Eragon having beautiful visual effects, none of that matters when the story is so mish-mashed and the characters are so one-dimensional that watching them feels like a chore.

“I suffer without my stone,” says the evil King Galbatorix to Durza at the start of the story, lamenting that his prized dragon egg has been stolen. “End my suffering.” The king’s request quickly became my own. Of course, the book on which the movie is based is the first in a trilogy, and the ending of the film lets you know they have every intention of making the next two films. I sincerely doubts that Eragon will generate the kind of interest and acclaim (and money) it will need for the further two films to be made. Thank goodness for small favors.