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Eragon 

click to enlarge Winged victory: Eragon (Edward Speleers) on board his dragon
  • Winged victory: Eragon (Edward Speleers) on board his dragon

Christopher Paolini, the author of Eragon -- the first in a trilogy of novels about a young adventurer in a fantasy world of, literally, dungeons and dragons -- was a pup of barely 16 when he began writing his book. It became a huge bestseller, and now has been made into a movie. Not quite Mozart, but still not too shabby.

I wouldn't exactly call Paolini imaginative: Eragon, at least as a movie, plays rather like dinner conversation by a bright 6-year-old who's telling his grandparents a "true story" that sounds suspiciously like a book he's had read to him before bedtime. Of course, J.K. Rowling borrows from myriad cultural tropes in her Harry Potter stories, and the Star Wars saga patches together copious clichés from old matinee serials. Even so, in those books and movies, you still wanted to know what happens next. In Eragon, you only want to see how it happens.

So the director, Stefan Fangmeier -- seriously, that's his name -- assembles what may be the longest movie trailer in history. The action in Eragon lasts for 95 minutes, and there's no character development to speak of (or, for my purpose, to write of). Every 30 minutes, the forward thrust of the plot pauses for exposition that lets those of us who haven't read the book learn who's who among all the people we've just met. It's terribly efficient.

I have reason to believe there's more substance to the novel, which seems to have been written for teen-age boys: Leaving the theater, I heard one such fellow say, "There were too many special effects." What??? Too many special effects in a movie with a dragon? What was he expecting, The Seventh Seal? I suspect he meant that Fangmeier and his screenwriters had stripped away the "literary" parts of Paolini's book and just focused on story and spectacle. Good for you, young fellow: Time to move on to S.E. Hinton, and then maybe Jonathan Safran Foer.

So anyway. There's this place called Alagaësia, and it's ruled by an evil king (John Malkovich) who takes boys away from their families to fight in his war against some noble rebels. So one day young Eragon (introducing Edward Speleers, a mop-top towhead English lad) -- who's 17, but with a Heath Ledger-like timbre to his voice -- finds this big blue rock that turns out to be a dragon egg. And dragon eggs hatch only when they sense the presence of their Rider, and when a Rider dies, the dragon dies, and Dragon Riders can draw magic from a dragon and use those magical powers, and Eragon -- who is, you could say, a new hope -- learns all of this from Brom (Jeremy Irons), the craggy old town thief who was, it turns out, once a Rider himself. (If none of this sounds familiar, then it's way past your bedtime.)

Dragons can also speak telepathically to their Riders, and vice versa. Eragon's dragon sounds like Rachel Weisz, one of two girls in the movie. The other is Arya (Sienna Guillory), a princess or something. She has long red hair and a very hot overbite.

So it's off to the secret hiding place of the rebels, who are led by the heroic Ajihad, played by the African actor Djimon Hounsou. (He and his character's daughter are the only non-Anglos in the cast: This may not be a very diverse world, but they seem to have a great affirmative-action program.) Oh! And watch out for Durza (Robert Carlyle), the sorcerer who works for the king, and who's been ordered to "get the boy" and kill his dragon.

This is all barely entertaining and almost dull, but not quite. I'm sure it's also a metaphor for something. Saphira, the dragon, is big and blue, and the aerial dragon fight between Eragon and Durza is impressive, if anti-climactic. The world they inhabit is all rock and forest, sort of like Middle Earth on a budget.

It ends with a promise (or a threat) of a sequel, with Eragon asking Arya, "When will I see you again?" And I said to myself: With a good opening weekend, how about Christmas '07, in theaters everywhere?

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