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Saturday, December 16, 2006


I’ll confess it. I’m socially retarded when it comes to anything that grabs the attention of people under the age of 20. Okay 30. Maybe even 40, but that’s my final offer. For most of the 1990s I thought Harry Potter best described the back-end of my gardener, tragically over-exposed every Summer as he plants shrubs around my property, so when I first heard about Eragon I thought it was a new product. It sounded like some kind of sealant to me. “When you need a tight seal, reach for Eragon!” seemed like a logical tv announcement. Then I started seeing twelve year old boys carrying the books with them everywhere and I worried. Since when did they read books unless they were forced to by teachers with riding crops and the ability to assign detention? But these kids were doing it willingly! I had to investigate, and so I turned to my dear friend Marita Hartnett, who has worked in the children’s department at Barnes & Noble in South Burlington for years. Obviously Marita is a masochist, but her enjoyment at surrounding herself in a world of sniffling daycare divas is her decision, and I am as pro-choice as anyone, and my choice remains keeping the little diaper-filling drool-buckets at arms length. I’m sorry, Readers, but it is true. I do love the little nippers, I do, but my maternal instincts are similar to those of a sea turtle. Drop the egg and forget where you left it. I prefer to ‘ooh’ and ‘ah’ at my neighbors adorable little girl Sage as she grows up before my eyes from next door knowing that I’m not the one who will be spending her teen years pacing the floor at night wondering about the boy she is out with or whether I’m going to be able to have enough money to send her off to college when the time comes. Instead, I can just enjoy how adorable she is playing in the yard with her parents and ignore the darker realities of parenthood. But I digress (and I know I’ll get letters, so let’s move on).

Marita explained that
Eragon, the movie, is based on a book written by Christopher Paolini, who was a mere fifteen when he wrote the manuscript for this fantasy adventure back in 2003. As a Montana farm boy, Paolini had been home-schooled by his parents who were members of the survivalist cult ‘Church Universal and Triumphant’ and their influences are seen throughout the book. Before the success of Eragon, Paolini had never been to Europe, yet his imagination soared as he dreamt of castles and kings and dragons and the like, creating an entire world of magic set in the land of Alagaësia, focusing his novel on the life of a (surprise!) 15 year old boy much like himself living on a farm.

The movie version of
Eragon, now showing at the Essex Cinemas, is already proving to be an enormous hit among the Clearasil crowd and the young men who work at the Essex Cinemas seemed especially hyped to see the movie as soon as they could, asking me in almost reverent tones as I left the film what I thought of the cinematic experience. I felt that same sudden rush of pressure one feels when introduced to a couple’s new baby and asked to comment and you are looking at a gruesomely ordinary child. What can you say? Something noncommittal, I suppose, so I said it was “pretty good”, which translates in critic-speak into “I’ve seen this a hundred times before.”

Sad to say it’s true. There is nothing new in
Eragon. It is basically a stew of The Lord of the Rings, mixed with Star Wars, with some Dragonslayer, The Neverending Story, and Shrek thrown in for good measure and seasoned liberally with ham (Jeremy Irons; Inland Empire) and bitters (John Malkovich; The Call). The story is so worn you can practically see the stitches where it is held together. A teen boy, Eragon (debuting Edward Speleers) grows up in his uncle’s home after being abandoned as a baby by his mother (no word on Daddy dearest), and he incredibly comes into possession of a dragon’s egg, the last of its kind in all the world. He soon realizes that he is destined by fate to be the last Dragon Rider, sort of an ancient version of a Jedi Knight, and whether he likes it or not, he has to find and join the resistance, called the Varden, to defeat the evil King Galbatorix (Malkovich) who has overthrown Alagaësia (apparently while Eragon was growing up in the country and not noticing all this oppression, torture and taxation weighing down the adults).

Soon he is summoned telepathically by the captured princess Arya (Sienna Guillory; Rabbit Fever), and told he is “(their) only hope.” I really expected her to have her hair up in twin cinnamon rolls and call him Obi Wan before her next “transmission” but what really counts is another couple of twins of hers, if you get my meaning. Since Eragon is a fifteen year old boy and so is most of the audience, at least at the screening I attended, it wasn’t her hairdo they were staring at anyway. She could’ve been a proctologist’s daughter and Eragon wouldn’t have cared. He was determined to save Arya and free the kingdom because… well, because. Because he hatched a dragon? Because Brom (Irons), his mentor, told him to? Fate? Because Saphira, his dragon (she “talks” telepathically via Rachel Weisz; The Fountain) has become a bossy nag? Because the Varden expect him to fulfill a prophecy and he’s just a guy who can’t say no? Maybe it’s a bit of all of the above, but none of it comes together very cohesively. Instead, Eragon just seems to bounce around loyally on his quest without a plan or any skills to achieve this goal except the promise in the prophesy that as a Dragon Rider magic will come to him with time as he and his dragon bond.

And bond they do. They fly over mountains, dip down through crevices, skim along rivers, propel
through clouds, and rage battle against the King’s nasty Skate, or dark wizard, Durza (Robert Carlyle; The Mighty Celt). The flying sequences, other than the climactic battle, seem to go on for way too long and serve little purpose other than to thrill the audience with the vicarious vision of Dragon Riding, but for kids today the high speed CGI loop-de-loop head-on view is nothing they haven’t already seen in the Star Wars films, the Harry Potter quidditch matches, and even with point-of-view shots of the Man of Steel himself zipping along in Superman Returns, so it seems tired and overdrawn here, especially when the plot is moving at a glacial pace.

The biggest surprise as a non-reader of the
Eragon series is that it is, indeed, a series. I expected a dramatic although clichéd confrontation between Eragon Skywalker and Darth Galbatorix, but instead the story just stopped abruptly after two hours. I was apparently the only one in the audience who didn’t expect this because everyone else seemed as satisfied as if they had eaten a huge and satisfying meal while I sat there wondering if the film had broken. That’s it? Not even a “To be continued…”? Where is the cliffhanger, for goodness sake?

I left feeling that Eragon had definitely been draggin’ with its dragon. The CGI was okay, but Rachel Weisz is such a girly girl she doesn’t quite pull off the tough voice necessary for a warrior, especially a six ton reptilian who breathes fire and roars. Saphira needs a strong and powerful woman behind her soul, someone like Judy Dench or Cate Blanchett.

Jeremy Irons is so used to playing the roles such as his Brom that he could just record the lines and have a cardboard cutout take his place on set and he wouldn’t look any less bored. As for Malkovich, it is difficult to guess why he agreed to be in the
movie at all as he has so little to do that his role could just as easily have been played by a drag queen on Quaaludes. All he had to do was sit on a throne, wave his hands about, and be as high-strung as Bette Davis on five or six Red Bulls. The only two real standouts in the cast are the almost unrecognizable Robert Carlyle as the evil Durza, who, as always, gives the role his every attention and makes his character ooze menace and successfully manages to make you feel dirty whenever he is on screen; the other find is Edward Speleers, who is handsomely photogenic and does well with lines that are sometimes corny and other times downright tongue-twisters. He bears a resemblance to a young Simon Baker and should, hopefully, go on to better roles than this.

Eragon won’t kill you if you decide to see it. It is definitely a movie for a certain fan base, and those who have read the book will probably like the movie, but for newbies like myself, it might have been a whole lot better if Peter Jackson had gotten his hands on the script instead of Stefen Fangmeier, whose only previous directing experience was as a second unit director on Dreamcatcher and Galaxy Quest. There are worse ways to spend a couple of hours, so if you want a little fantasy and don’t mind an open-ended plot, check out Eragon at the Essex Cinemas.


Anonymous said...

Hi, I have a son with Down Syndrome who is mentally retarded and take offence to your use of the word, "retarded" in your opening line -- being retarded is not a negative thing -- it just is how he is and I'd appreciate some sensitivity when using the word in the way you did to describe something negative about your abilities.
thanks for considering my request.

Clamzilla said...

I certainly understand and appreciate your take. I even considered not using that particular word but decided that since it is used constantly on television and in real life it had become less sensitive than it used to be. I don't automatically associate "retarded" with Down Syndrome, but think of it as a synonym for "slow" and I can definitely be slow when it comes to keeping up with the fads and interests of today's youth, but I apologize if you interpreted it otherwise and were offended. It was not intentional. I tend to think of someone with Down Syndrome as "differently abled", a much more positive spin on the challenges someone with DS faces than on the old stereotypes of someone who is not capable of functioning or leading a meaningful life.