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Even preteens aren't slayed by familiar tale
Seattle Times movie critic and guest critics
Some movies require weaponry stronger than popcorn and pen. For the screening of "Eragon," the fantasy adventure based on Christopher Paolini's novel, I brought along additional artillery: a pair of sixth-graders ready to comment on the movie's merits, its faithfulness to the book and its flying-dragon effects. Tyler, a fan of the book, was concerned that the movie might get it wrong (as, he noted, the filmmakers of "Lemony Snicket's A Series of Unfortunate Events" did); Diego had not read the book, and was curious whether the movie would work for those unfamiliar with the story.
"Eragon," with Ed Speleers, Jeremy Irons, Sienna Guillory, Robert Carlyle, Djimon Hounsou, Garrett Hedlund, John Malkovich. Directed by Stefen Fangmeier, from a screenplay by Peter Buchman, based on the novel by Christopher Paolini. 103 minutes. Rated PG for fantasy violence, intense battle sequences and some frightening images. Several theaters.
Both, ultimately, enjoyed the movie rather more than I did. "Eragon," to me, seemed technically accomplished but fairly lifeless and at times a bit silly — but then again, perhaps my mood was affected by watching one of my guest critics eat an extra-large bag of popcorn mixed with chocolate-covered raisins and drenched in fake butter. (This was, perhaps, the most unsettling moment I've had in a year of moviegoing.)
But Tyler and Diego are the targeted audience members for "Eragon," not me, and for them it worked satisfactorily. The star rating above is an average for the three of us: I'd give it two stars, Tyler voted for two and a half, Diego went for three.
All of us agreed on one thing, by the end: Much of "Eragon" looks and feels a lot like "The Lord of the Rings." The story of a teenager named Eragon (played by newcomer Ed Speleers) who becomes the rider of a blue dragon named Saphira, Paolini's novel was an instant bestseller.
Its territory of creatures, elves (who speak an "elf language"), warriors and battles is familiar: There's a cranky king (John Malkovich); an evil sorcerer (Robert Carlyle, in snappy red highlights); a warrior elf princess (Sienna Guillory); and a wise fellow named Brom (Jeremy Irons), who helps Eragon on his quest.
And while I pondered the serious grown-up questions the movie raises (Why is Princess Arya wearing a hair ornament that looks exactly like a gilded banana peel? Why is King Galbatorix confined to what seems to be a Goth basement nightclub, lit only by cigarette smoke? Shouldn't dragon riders be licensed?), the boys focused on bigger issues.
Both agreed that it was "a pretty good movie," and that they would probably recommend it to their friends. Tyler felt it did a good job of staying close to the book; Diego felt that while the plot was predictable, it was easy to follow even for those who don't know the material.
Both boys praised the scenery, costumes and acting, particularly liking the black-clad, crawling-insect-covered assassins (who, quite frankly, creeped me out). Tyler liked Brom, but noted that he was somewhat reminiscent of Gandalf, and that the final battle scene was a lot like LOTR's battle of Helm's Deep. Both approved the flying effects. "The flying was so well shot, it made me nauseous," said Diego.
"Eragon" ends with a sequel hint that's about as subtle as a dragon roar, and with some lessons for its audience. Without fear, we're told, there cannot be courage. Indeed, but without popcorn and chocolate-covered raisins, could there be "Eragon"? Just something to ponder, as the wait for the sequel begins.
Moira Macdonald: 206-464-2725 or firstname.lastname@example.org
Copyright © 2006 The Seattle Times Company