Eragon (2006) (part 1 of 13)
Where has all the originality gone?
I’m not just talking about what’s going on in Hollywood right now, with the slew of remakes and adaptations currently emerging en masse. I’m not just talking about the publication of Eragon, a book that’s essentially an extended Star Wars/Lord of the Rings/Dragonriders of Pern crossover fanfiction starring a Gary Stu.
I’m talking about the latest step that the moviemaking world has taken, by making an adaptation of a book that’s basically Star Wars with the names changed to faux-LotR, conveniently encapsulating both of the current hot trends in filmmaking. Except that in this case, the remake was made without permission, thus saving the expense of paying George Lucas or Tolkien’s estate for the rights. I can’t help but be impressed.
I suppose it was pretty much inevitable that Eragon would get a movie adaptation. At the moment, Hollywood will adapt anything that counts as a bestseller (and since the book was written by a 19-year-old kid—and published by his parents, incidentally—it became a bestseller pretty quickly regardless of its quality). And of course, fantasy is very much “in” at the moment.
The rights to Eragon (and, it’s rumoured, the sequels—hey, it’s not fantasy unless it’s a trilogy) were sold to Fox very early on, and the movie went into production a couple of years ago. Expectations were quite high—even among people who were unimpressed by the book. I wasn’t a fan, but I had very high hopes for the movie. If the plot and characters were re-imagined by someone older and more experienced than their original author, I reasoned, they could actually make for an exciting movie.
As details began to emerge and many differences between book and film showed up, I was encouraged (of course, most of the fans weren’t). When it was revealed that four high-class actors had signed up—Jeremy Irons, John Malkovich, Djimon Hounsou and Robert Carlyle—along with several others who were certainly good at their craft—Rachael Weisz, Garrett Hedlund and Sienna Guillory—it seemed we were at least in for some decent performances. And Industrial Light and Magic were doing the special effects. So it was all very promising, no?
Well, not quite. There were a few warning signs. One of them was the decision to cast an unknown in the title role. It’s not a guarantee of failure—after all, it worked for Harry Potter and Superman Returns. But there were other, more worrying signs.
There was the director, Stefen Fangmeier, a special effects supervisor whose directing experience was limited to second-unit work on Dreamcatcher and Galaxy Quest. Then there was the screenwriter, Peter Buchman, who had only one previous script to his name: Jurassic Park III. Yeahhhh. That’s some real skill and experience right there, huh? A director who’d never directed before (although his special effects résumé is impressive), and a screenwriter who wrote an extremely stupid movie about dinosaurs failing to kill people.
Still, I continued to rationalize that this didn’t mean they would sink the movie. After all, Fangmeier had worked on dozens of movie sets and must have known something about directing. And maybe Buchman just hadn’t had the chance to flex his screenwriting muscles and show us what he could really do (I keep saying the same thing about Lindsay Lohan’s acting, but no one seems to agree with me).
And then came the final warning sign: the trailer was delayed. Over and over again. It was supposed to be attached to Superman Returns. Then it was All the King’s Men. Then it was Pirates of the Caribbean: Dead Man’s Chest. Every single time, they changed their minds at the last minute. On several occasions, the trailer was supposed to become available on the Internet within a few days, but then Fox would pull it at the last minute, to the eternal frustration of fans.
And the movie itself had its release date suddenly changed several times without notice, mere months before it was due to arrive in cinemas. Something was up. Fox’s excuse was that they weren’t happy with the CGI yet, and wanted to be completely sure it was up to snuff (interestingly enough, exactly the same excuse was used when the poorly-received Ghost Rider was delayed).
Balderdash. The early trailers for King Kong were released well before the CG was finished. They made due with some temporary models, and got plenty of publicity while they were still finishing the movie, and ending up doing some pretty good business.
No, it was pretty easy to tell what was really going on: Fox had test-screened the thing and they weren’t happy with it. Something was going on behind the scenes. Most likely, the footage was being given a very rough recut by some desperate editor trying to salvage a decent movie out of it.
Either way, it didn’t work. The movie arrived in cinemas after a very half-hearted ad campaign, and in spite of the ready-made audience in the form of fans of the book, it bombed spectacularly.
The negative reviews came thick and fast, and before I’d read more than a handful of them, I already knew the movie was dead on arrival. It made a fair wad of cash—it had a budget of about $100 million, and earned approximately $163 million worldwide—but in no way was it a smashing success. And even if it wasn’t a complete financial catastrophe, it was definitely an outright critical failure. I hadn’t seen movie reviews that vicious since Battlefield Earth. And here’s the thing—even fans of the book hated it. The anti-fans, of course, had a field day.
The Critics Rave about Eragon!
“Stefen Fangmeier establishes himself as the Uwe Boll of family-friendly fantasy.”
—John Beifuss, Commercial Appeal
“Why has 20th Century Fox released this embarrassment—whose quality would be dubious for a direct-to-video release—into theatres?”
—James Berardinelli, ReelViews
“More than a Star Wars rip-off… The only thing missing here is a Chewbacca.”
—Kevin Carr, 7M Pictures
“The film’s few moments of hilarity are no less welcome for being completely unintended…”
—Jeannette Catsoulis, New York Times
“For those who love the fantasy genre known as sword and sorcery—and I count myself in their number—sitting through the movie version of Eragon will suck the will to live right out of you.”
—Chauncey Mabe, South Florida Sun-Sentinel
“George Lucas should sue their sorry plagiarist asses…”
—James O’Ehley, Sci-Fi Movie Page
“If you took all the dragon-centred movies ever made, and counted the good ones on your fingers, I bet you’d still have enough fingers left over to flip off Eragon as you walked laughing from the theatre.”
—Eric D. Snider, EricDSnider.com
“Laughably bad, mind-bogglingly derivative, and easily one of the worst movies of the year.”
—Pete Vonder Haar, Film Threat
Of course, seeing as how I’m an intelligent, independent thinker, as well as a complete moron, I went to see the movie anyway.
Amazingly enough, I discovered that when you adapt a plagiaristic, shallow, and poorly-written book, you end up with a plagiaristic, shallow, and poorly-made movie. So let us begin our journey into Alagaësia, land of teleporting horses, dragons with feathers, and peasants who wear leather vests. I hope you’ve got a good health insurance policy. Because this is going to hurt.