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A boy named Eragon finds a polished blue stone in the forest. At first, he thinks it's a lucky discovery, something that will bring meat to his poor family for the winter. Instead, it brings a dragon hatchling, and Eragon is soon thrust into a world of magic and power through which he and the dragon must navigate.
For more about Eragon and the Eragon Blu-ray release, see the Eragon Blu-ray Review published by Jeffrey Kauffman on March 27, 2011 where this Blu-ray release scored 3.5 out of 5.
Starring: Michael A. Mehlmann, Ed Speleers, Tamás Deák, Jeremy Irons, Matt Devere, Sienna Guillory
Director: Stefen Fangmeier
» See full cast & crew
Eragon Blu-ray Review
A boy's best friend is his dragon.
Reviewed by Jeffrey Kauffman, March 27, 2011
The next time one of your petulant children is complaining about doing his or her Creative Writing homework, you might want to casually drop the name of Christopher Paolini. You might want to stay away from some of the specifics of Paolini's life story, notably his having been home schooled (why invite that headache?), but perhaps focus on the fact that well before Paolini was out of his teens, he was a multimillionaire due to his income from a little story he penned when he was only 15, Eragon. Even more impressive: Paolini wrote Eragon from his own free will, there was no homework involved, from his home schooling parents or otherwise. If the lure of riches can't seduce your child into putting pen to paper, probably nothing can. Luckily, Paolini was inspired by nothing more or less than pure imagination. A voracious reader since childhood (childhood being a decidedly relative term in this case), Paolini grew up reading everything from Tolkein to Herbert to LeGuin to a host of other authors who melded magical fantasy and legend into rip roaring adventure stories that frequently had a (much) larger than life element. If, therefore, there are undeniable aspects of pastiche in Paolini's Eragon, those elements are certainly easier to forgive given their author's youth and inexperience. Unfortunately, that same feeling of having experienced large swaths of this story before haunts the film adaptation of Eragon, a film which can't quite escape from any number of similarly themed epic heroic tales, be they the Lord of the Rings trilogy, or, to choose a couple from perhaps more closely linked dragon-themed stories, Dragonheart or even Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire. If dogs are a man's best friend, there's some sort of analog in the world of fantasy films, where boys inevitably befriend dragons, and while there's a nice (perhaps too nice) element of beast-human bonding in Eragon, there's simply a feeling of déjŕ vu running throughout the film that keeps it from ever rising to the mythic heights to which it aspires.
Eragon (Edward Speelers) is a simple, rustic lad who rises early to stalk deer in the sylvan forests of Alagaësia. Meanwhile, a mystical princess named Arya (Sienna Guillory) manages to teleport what looks like a gigantic blue Contac capsule away from the nefarious clutches of a scary bad guy named Durza (Robert Carlyle). That capsule of course appears next to Eragon. The boy assumes it's some kind of rare stone or jewel, but is unable to pawn it off on the local butcher, and so takes it home, where he soon discovers it's—an egg! Soon Eragon is playing parent to a hatchling dragon named Saphira (voiced by Rachel Weisz).
Of course this being a magical fantasy involving the heroic journey of a simple farm boy, Eragon soon discovers he's preordained to be a "rider," able to enter a mystical, almost Avatar-esque "marriage" of sorts with Saphira. The two communicate telepathically, which if nothing else saved the filmmakers untold thousands in CGI costs, what with them not having to animate Saphira's mouth moving. Along the way Eragon comes under the aegis of Brom (Jeremy Irons), a crusty elder who (don't gasp with surprise) has his own history with dragon riding.
While there's nothing horrible about Eragon, even that brief précis outlined above points out the major problem with the film: you know what's going to happen from virtually the first moment, and unfortunately Paolini, while certainly deserving kudos for crafting a literary enterprise to begin with, is simply not innovative or experienced enough to graft anything really new and fresh onto this time honored idiom. This is almost like Joseph Campbell paint by number mythologizing, and that Xerox carbon-copy feeling is Eragon's ultimate downfall.
A trifecta of inexperience may have doomed Eragon from being any much more than middling. Screenwriter Peter Buchman only had Jurassic Park III to his credit before this enterprise, and both director Stefen Fangmeier and star Edward Speleers were making their debuts (Fangmeier had previously been Effects Supervisor on a host of major films). Buchman was probably hobbled by Paolini's source material, but he also never really elevates that material above a sort of middle of the road quality level. (Other writers were brought on board to radically revise his work, but WGA rules forbade them receiving credit, as Fangmeier discusses in his commentary track). And while Fangmeier has a good grasp on the epic visual sweep of Eragon, and must have contributed his knowhow to the often impressive CGI of Saphira (contributed by Industrial Light and Magic Weta, certainly no slouches when it comes to SFX), the film never takes flight, despite its awesome dragon wings, as it really should. While Speleers is charismatic and certainly doesn't embarrass himself in any major way, he also fails to really find this character and instead seems to be drifting through the proceedings with no real direction, either figuratively or literally.
All of this is not say that Eragon is a worthless experience, for it isn't, and it may in fact ignite the imaginations of younger children especially, particularly if those kids haven't been previously exposed to other, better epic works like The Lord of the Rings. Irons brings a suitable world weary gravitas to Brom, Saphira is an appealing beast, and the production design and cinematography are top notch. But like the heroic odes of yore, those tales which were oft-told from generation to generation, Eragon simply can't ever quite escape the feeling it's been told before, and better, by other soothsayers.
Eragon Blu-ray, Video Quality
Eragon was an early days Blu-ray release and thus sports an MPEG-2 codec, in 1080p and 2.35:1. There are elements of this transfer that look spectacular. Some of the sylvan forest scenes are incredible, and there are some absolutely luscious segments with water so crystalline and real looking you swear you could reach into your screen and get wet. Colors are often beautifully saturated, and a number of nice filters present everything from the cold blue opening sequence to the sunny yellow ambience of Eragon's village. But all is not well in this mythical realm, at least insofar as image quality goes. Eragon has long sequences which are bathed in shadows, gloom and darkness, and black levels are strong, with consistent contrast. Grain structure is intact and looks very natural. There are some persistent artifacts, including very ugly shimmer on things like the thatched roofs of the villagers' homes, and some brief but distracting aliasing. For the then-new technology of Blu-ray, this is certainly a respectable enough release, but by current standards, it has a couple of glaring problems that will most likely upset the more persnickety videophile.
Eragon Blu-ray, Audio Quality
Much, much better is Eragon's boisterous lossless DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1 mix, a beautifully detailed soundtrack that presents some awesome sound effects which brilliantly create some very immersive sequences. Saphira's roars, fire breathing and flapping wings all thunder through the soundfield with really bombastic LFE. Several of the action sequences are really amazing displays of sound effects editing, with precise placement of arrows, fists and other tools of the trade. Dialogue is always clear and crisp, and if Patrick Doyle's score is pretty cliché-ridden and cloying, it's also very well mixed into the proceedings.
Eragon Blu-ray, Special Features and Extras
Eragon Blu-ray, Overall Score and Recommendation
Eragon may simply be a case where, to quote the old adage, "the book was better." But a young author like Paolini, for all his gifts, is probably not yet at the level of a Tolkein, able to utilize the long, vaunted history of myth and legend in a facile enough manner to craft anything really innovative and fresh. There's an element of staleness that undercuts Eragon, despite its attempts at grandeur and larger than life heroics. This is nonetheless a very pretty film, with some stunning location footage in Hungary and Slovokia, and Jeremy Irons is appropriately crusty and fun to watch. Younger children will probably be nonjudgmental enough to simply enjoy Eragon for the "wonder" of Saphira and Eragon's exciting battle scenes (though very young children will probably be disturbed by Robert Carlyle's Durza if not John Malkovich's evil king). One way or the other, if this stays at a bargain basement price, it's expense won't break the bank and so any minimal entertainment quotient will probably be okay with most consumers. Otherwise, just put this in your Netflix queue if you're sufficiently interested.
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