Sunday, December 17, 2006

Having your patience slammed repeatedly produces dramatic tension...

We went to see Eragon ---spoilers follow--- last night, and despite my usual attempts to expect next to nothing of a film I got my hopes up. I only wish I could say I wasn't disappointed. To the credit of the film-makers, (most likely the CGI wizards) the dragon, Sephira? was nothing shy of adorable at first and then alternately austere, menacing, coolly majestic, and convincingly scaly and serpentine. I even liked her voice (Rachel Weisz). There are even a few moments where due to my inherent geekdom I thrill at the thought of having a dragon for a soul mate. What Eragon primarily suffers from is the Harry Potter syndrome, that is, the movie translation of the books is hurried, stilted, and therefore embarrassingly undramatic. With so much plot to cram into the typical two hours, there are few moments where we can "absorb" the rustic charm of the token village, brood alongside a villain, or become truly elated at the "pinnacle" (intended or not) of the film.

The grand champion of fantasy films at this point, Lord of the Rings, manages to choose character-building moments at crucial points in the film. We see very little of Boromir in terms of actual screen time and yet he dies in quite a serene and stirring crescendo toward the end of the film. Though I've seen it now at least ten times I can't help but tear up. Conversely, the titular character of Eragon almost expires in a stunningly overplayed aerial duel with a hammy (and unsurprisingly creepy) "shade" sorceror, and yet I really didn't blink an eye.

No doubt some would say I'm being unfair. After all, Lord of the Rings took a much longer time to conceive and by an accomplished philologist, instructor, and well, a highly intelligent Brit. Eragon was conceived by a 15 year-old (or so I'm told) and as seems likely an American. One story had a touch of history, of legend, of poetry to it. The other has easily recognizable conventions and sometimes silly names. Naturally the film-makers couldn't be blamed for the tremendous differences in dramatic quality their films would produce. Yet, Peter Jackson's insistence that the production design for the Lord of the Rings be conceived with a pseudo-documentary realism, (that is, Elves really did exist, Sauron and the ring, etc. were more than just the wondrous products of a refined intellect) seems to have produced a conceivably "real" style of dress and architechture. In Eragon only the dragon seems "real."

Likewise the performances in the latter are less moving, more plastic. Numerous times in the movie I'm reminded that I'm actually watching a movie. No fantasy film worth its salt can really survive unless it's inured me into the emotional reality of its characters, enchanted my senses, enthralled my sensibility into believing in dragons, etc. Few tears are shed; however, numerous grimaces, growls and grunts issue forth. In this film as in many of its peers the villains are tragically more convincing (or at the very least "moving") than its heroes. Sad to say, despite a roster of at least a couple of noteworthy actors the aforementioned immersion never took place. Most disappointingly, John Malkovich is incredibly goofball. His slow drawl took me back to Mice and Men, and I was more worried he was going to headlock someone and love them to death than to wreak havoc and darkness on some poorly outfitted resistance. Not threatening, certainly not intense, unless you think having your patience slammed repeatedly produces dramatic tension.

Likewise, if you're looking for the delicious dialogue of LOTR, you'll have to go home and watch the DVD. This movie has some moments of charm, even charisma, but they are few and far between. The rest is more often than not derivative ("there were... complications") and vapid.

However, if you're looking for a musical score that attempts to cue every emotional moment (perhaps desperately trying to buttress weaker moments) you'll get one. I expect a perfect musical score (especially one that will invariably become domineering) to mesh with the cinematic visuals. I shouldn't notice it trying to elevate my emotional resonance. Not so here. The score (as with a number of other elements of the film) tends to sound cheap: overdone here, under-finessed there---something one expects of a "B" movie. Truthfully, it's a waste to have spent this much time writing about it.

In conclusion (though I'm far from done) I'd say that the film-makers should have backed up, closed the author's eyes and reduced the plot and savored the high points, (er... or point), like Sephira. I would have attempted to find actors who had at least a meager love for the book, though I doubt anyone on THIS movie reads Eragon once a year, or is part of the fan club. If they were, they would have tried to make a film that honored the book, instead of a flick that fitted the book inside of it, regardless of how it mangled the pages.

At one point during this awkward movie, I actually whispered to my wife, "When is this movie going to be over?" As such, using my usual standards for the quality of a movie, I'd say wait for the dollar theater, but not for the rental (unless you have a large group). Waiting to rent the DVD may be too much money.


  1. Anonymous1:06 PM

    There are so many better movies to see.

  2. I wasn't all that impressed with the books, and as movies tend to be lesser versions of books (I admit I'm biased) I expected crap. SO when I watched it, I was pleasantly surprised with a few crap-less moments. Overall, worth a dollar to rent, but definitely not worth getting out of the house to see.