I had no high hopes for Eragon. All I've hoped for was some campy, silly fun where the filmmakers would choose not to be too faithful to its source material, after all, the source material, the first book of a fantasy trilogy published when author Christopher Paolini was 19 (back in 2003), isn't Lord of the Rings nor Narnia, just a work of a fantasy fan that happened to appeal to many other fantasy fans due to the popular, conventional fantasy elements he had used in his book. In my opinion, it's much better for a filmmaker to not view a source material with so much reverence that he would end up not being able to take the necessary creative liberties that could optimize the quality of the film, we know what might have worked on paper wouldn't have worked onscreen.
Even Peter Jackson, despite being a long-time Tolkien fan, had chosen not to be 100% faithful to the Lord of the Rings books in his films, he chose to expand upon the characters (Legolas and Gimli were just decoration in the books), dramatize certain events (Boromir's death), lop off certain parts that would work in the book but not on film. (would you REALLY want to see an hour segment of Tom Bombadil singing? And then another musical segment of the four hobbits in a bathtub, singing too?) Purists were pissed, but the films have forever cemented themselves in history. And I'm sure the Godfather books by Mario Puzo are not as highly-regarded in the literary world as compared to their film counterparts.
I think The Da Vinci Code movie was bad because it was too identical to the book, I wish director Ron Howard could've done more with it himself than merely lopping off the supposed romance between Tom Hanks and Audrey Tautou's characters (... thank goodness).
I generally review films based on their own merits, disregarding the existence of their source materials. However, I think the derivative nature of this film may have been partially caused by the source material. Christopher Paolini was only a teenager when he wrote the book, and that is reflected in the storyline (it probably won't win awards for originality, but I'll go to that later), the generic characterization (characters were your usual fantasy stereotypes) and bland dialogue. Which, to if I want to be polite, is a 'homage' to Star Wars, obvious favourites of Paolini (if I want to be rude, I'll call it a rip-off, but I'm not that rude):
Blonde orphaned Luke Skywalker-like farm boy Eragon (Edward Speelers) discovers an object of great power (a telepathic dragon voiced by Rachel Weisz) left by a Princess Leia-like princess Arya in peril,; gets trained in using magic by an Obi-wan Kenobi-like swordsman/wizard (Jeremy Irons); goes on mission to free the captured princess. There’s also a Palpatine-like evil emperor, or king (John Malkovich), with a Darth Vader-like sinisterly murderous henchman with fearsome powers (Robert Carlyle).
Now, say it with me:
Yes, only Eragon, whose name sounds like Aragorn, can save the world of Alagaesia from the clutches of evil King Galbatorix with the aid of the majestic dragon Saphira.
I wonder whether I can speak out the last line loudly without breaking into laughter.
The director of this film, Stefen Fangmeier, had borrowed much from the Lord of The Rings films. Certain shots, certain framing, certain scenes, made me went "Ah! This is sooo Shire!" "Heh, they are like the Ringwraiths!" "Oooh, sooo Saruman looking at his army before the battle at Helm's Deep!" While watching the sheer earnestness of the LoTR films being emulated in a scene where two manly men embraced each other with loud rousing soundtrack in the background, I cursed quietly to myself that this film was going to take itself seriously and not be the campy, silly fantasy film I was hoping for that would bring back memories of the 80s. Darn.
My suspicions of Fangmeier being a first-time director would later be confirmed as I noted the numerous mistakes he made that were similar to some of the university film students I knew. Being a former SFX technicians, he is undeniably good in handling the special effects, but mentally, I would start screaming things like "Arrgh, stop using such a tight shot, enough with the close-up, man! You need to build the atmosphere!" "Okay, this part is getting sort of affecting, now, capitalize on it, hold the shot.... ARGH, IT'S GONE!" "Hmm, I wouldn't ask him to deliver the lines like this" "enough with the quick cuts and shaky cam, I can't see who is fighting who, why is he borrowing the fight scenes from Batman Begins and NOT Lord of the Rings when it is needed?"
I normally watch a film uncritically, more as a normal audience than a filmmaker, but once my attention is drawn towards the actual filmmaking techniques and methods used in a film, my attention would start to wander, and I began wondering how I myself would've done that particular scene, how I would ask the actor to portray this character, what I would've cut off, what transition was too fast. And since I did that throughout the film, it was difficult for me to feel particularly engaged or gripped by anything that was transpiring onscreen. There were some temptation to laugh, and take the film less seriously, pretend it was Snakes On A Plane, something I think I could've done if I were still in Perth, with the likes of Justin or Josh (read more about Josh here).
The audiences in the cinema I was watching then were viewing the film in stony silence, a few renegade laughters that broke out were greeted with more stony silences, and annoyed 'shhhs'. Granted, the atmosphere in the cinema was inappropriate for such frivolity, but taking the film less seriously as it had taken itself would have helped maximize a viewer's enjoyment much more. (kinda like what I did when I watched that Donnie Yen film, Dragon Tiger Gate, last week, which I will review some other time)
I don't think I'm really THAT cynical, or nitpicky. I enjoyed the Harry Potter films more than most (though I stopped reading after book 5), even the opening sequence of Narnia, when the kids were saying goodbye to their mom at the train station, and they headed off, that got to me too. Problem with the film, I guess, can be summed up by my friend who watched this with me. I paraphrase him: "it seemed to focus more on the uninteresting shitty parts, while disregarding everything that had potential to be interesting." Jeremy Irons was good as Brom (almost felt as if he were in a different movie compared to everyone else), the relationship between him and Eragon could've been fleshed out more, his character could've meant so much more when some revelations about him were revealed in the film, relationship between Saphira and Eragon could've been so much more too with more conflict, more expository dialogue, more humour. The lack of emotional depth and shoddy pacing made Eragon's transformation from innocent farm boy to invincible war hero felt, well, more like a transformation than a journey. And an entirely unconvincing transformation, since I snickered at one scene when he looked at the mirror and said something like "I can't even recognize myself anymore" before a major battle.
So yeah, not really recommended. Not looking forward to the sequel. Though still intrigued enough to see whether there would be any improvements from the director, or would there be a change of director in the future.
On the other hand, it's interesting that I saw a film adapted from a then 19-year-old author right after I met a 15-year-old author myself. I'm 22 and I feel old.
Other Eragon Reviews:
Char didn't like it.
Kadcow thought it sucked.
Christopher Paolini with David Letterman
More Christopher Paolini... with fangirls screaming in background.