We also had at "Eragon" a little more during this "Cort and Fatboy" broadcast.
Anyone remember "Willow"?
In 1988, George Lucas tried to launch another fantasy franchise, this one following an ersatz Hobbit (Warwick Davis) who gets sucked into an epic "Hero's Journey" quest. The movie, directed by Ron Howard, has its charms -- Val Kilmer is hilarious and cool as the rogue swordsman -- but the movie suffers from way too many blatant, connect-the-dots story lifts from both "Lord of the Rings" and Lucas' own "Star Wars" trilogy. Sometimes it's fun, but it never feels fresh.
Well, "Eragon" is a less-funny "Willow."
The movie's a mostly dreary adaptation of Christopher Paolini's blockbuster young-adult fantasy novel, published when the author was 19. (He started writing it at 15.) I can't speak to the book -- which my stepdaughter assures me is a very cool read if you're 12 -- but the movie is so Xerox-copy derivative of "Star Wars" and "Lord of the Rings," it left me wondering if "Eragon" was a bestseller because it had a cool cover, a great title and an unusual author bio.
Actually, decide for yourself. Here's the story of "Eragon," with citations as needed:
An opening narration ("Lord of the Rings") tells us that a great sect of supernatural warriors has been wiped out by an evil king ("Star Wars"). Just before she's captured, a fleeing princess ("Star Wars") accidentally leaves a supernatural artifact ("Lord of the Rings") in the care of a blond farmboy, Eragon, who lives with his uncle ("Star Wars") in a bucolic countryside estate ("Lord of the Rings").
The artifact reveals powers long thought extinct ("Lord of the Rings") -- in this case, a baby dragon who hatches out of a bright-blue lozenge my stepdaughter described as "a giant Mike & Ike." The evil king and his evil-wizard sidekick ("Star Wars," "Lord of the Rings") send screeching warriors to hunt the farmboy ("Lord of the Rings"), killing the boy's uncle ("Star Wars") and sending him on a quest with an elderly warrior-mentor ("Star Wars," "Lord of the Rings").
Aided by the geezer and a rogue sidekick, the farmboy tries to rescue the princess, find a hidden resistance and master long-forgotten magic ("Star Wars"). The climax features a battle with ogre-like warriors trying to take a fortress city ("Lord of the Rings") intercut with an aerial dogfight in a canyon full of towers ("Star Wars").
Throw in a few young-wizard nods to "Harry Potter" and you're good to go. The Tolkien/Lucas shout-outs get so numbingly blatant after a while, you start pining for something more original -- like "Krull."
Now, of course, George Lucas was himself borrowing liberally from Joseph Campbell, "The Dambusters" and Kurosawa's "The Hidden Fortress," and Tolkien was hip-deep in centuries of mythology, and neither of them invented the quest story. But "Eragon"'s nods go beyond story to actual shot-for-shot lifts from Lucas and Peter Jackson. If you've been missing Jackson's swooping helicopter shots of people traveling on mountaintops, do I have a movie for you. And there's a shot of Eragon pining for adventure while staring at a sunset that's so ridiculously familiar, I half expected him to see two setting suns.
But even that might be forgivable if the movie was funny, charming or in any way exciting. It mostly isn't.
Director Stefen Fangmeier, a well-regarded special-effects man and second-unit director (his credits include "Master and Commander" and "Galaxy Quest") does a superb job visualizing the CGI dragon -- despite my stepdaughter arguing that its blue-toned skin made it resemble nothing so much as a "flying moldy blueberry." But Fangmeier is working with a script without a single memorable line and way too many characters and creatures with silly names. (The orc stand-ins are called "urgals," but if you don't know the book, you keep mis-hearing dialogue along the lines of, "The Urkels are coming!") And the director is stuck with good performers (Jeremy Irons, John Malkovich, Robert Carlyle and Djimon Hounsou) who look vaguely embarrassed or act through mouthfuls of scenery.
Also, Fangmeier is working with a budget that keeps the film from feeling as epic as it clearly wants to be. By the time a pack of fat bald guys with greasy makeup and red contact lenses attack a fortress made largely of wooden poles, it feels like you're watching a Rennaisance Faire get overrun by pro wrestlers.
But hey -- that equally silly (though far more expensive-looking) "Narnia" movie was a massive hit, so maybe "Eragon" has a built-in audience. That audience would be better off waiting for "The Hobbit."
'Eragon' drips with epic plot rip-offs (The Oregonian, Dec. 15, 2006)
Cort and Fatboy (Dec. 15, 2006)