Thursday, December 28, 2006

Eragon Review

20th Century Fox
Year Released: 2006
MPAA Rating: PG
Director: Stefen Fangmeier
Writer: Peter Buchman
Cast: Ed Speleers, Jeremy irons, Sienna Guillory, Robert Carlyle, Djimoun Hounsou, John Malkovich, Rachel Weisz

In a word... worthless.

There are so many things wrong with this movie that it's difficult to know where to start. Ultimately I'll place the blame on the filmmakers, but it runs deeper than that. Director Fangmeier is an alumni of ILM. A damn good effects supervisor (Master & Commander, The Perfect Storm, Saving Private Ryan), he was somehow and unfortunately given the opportunity to direct. And as a director he has proven to be an excellent effects supervisor. But the blame is not all his.

The terrible script, from an equally terrible novel by Christopher Paolini, is wholly bereft of imagination, humanity or anything even approaching genuine emotion. The story is an unconcealed rip-off of Star Wars and to a lesser degree The Lord of the Rings, possessing not a singly original word or frame. There are scenes in the film that are almost word-for-word and shot-for-shot rip offs of those far superior films.

What is perhaps most disturbing is how this film is doing so well at the box office. Chalk another one up to the studio marketing folks who seem to never tire of fooling people into theaters. What the marketing department at Fox did here was cut together a trailer and a campaign that hinted at the mythic story of the ordinary person who has greatness thrust upon him; who somehow finds the strength to stand up to tyranny and save the girl and the world. What the marketing department at Fox did was was sell a lie.

The moment the music swelled and the voice over started explaining the entire story it was clear that this movie was going to be a dog. Not even the effects were worthwhile, which is surprising because that's the one thing you'd think Fangmeier would get right.

The basic story centers around a poor farm boy (can you guess his name...?), who discovers a dragon egg while hunting in the evil King's private woods. He doesn't know it's an egg though, in fact it looks like a huge gemstone. Naturally our young hero picks it up, but instead of running home to show his beloved Uncle, he takes it to the town butcher to trade it for... a piece of meat (this had no relevance to the plot what-so-ever and the kid sure wasn't starving). The butcher - who never again appears in the film - doesn't trade the lousy piece of meat for the huge gem stone/egg however. What he does instead is send the boy off with a warning about hunting in the King's woods. Hmm.

So now the boy wanders home and hides the gem stone/egg from his beloved Uncle and in ways that would make a high school English teacher cringe, the writer has our young hero tell us how he was abandoned by his mother (followed by several maudlin scenes where he laments this fact). He also has a beloved brother (we know this because they wrestle then laugh and hug each other when the wrestling is over) who leaves the farm (this storyline also goes nowhere). The brother - like the mother - is never mentioned or heard from again.

Early on I thought the theme of Eragon was going to center around the connection of family and the strength that can bring to a person. But alas, the filmmakers had no such inclination. In this script there is no theme and storylines are started, stopped and abandoned more often that Paris Hilton releases new sex tapes.

Naturally the egg somehow hatches (maybe because our hero left it on the barn floor...?), Eragon gets a strange mark on his palm (too easy), the evil King senses the dragon, the King's evil wizard sends out deadly, unstoppable maggot ridden assassins to kill the young lad, the unstoppable assassins fail, an enigmatic stranger comes to Eragon's aid, and Eragon develops magic powers that he somehow (magically...?) knows how to use.

Here's where the movie truly loses it's way. In Eragon's world magic has no rules. It isn't learned through years of study and practice; it doesn't have any foundation; it's just something that comes to you wherever you are around a dragon that hatches. Whenever the filmmakers need to "move the story along," they fall back on "magic," as if that were enough.

In a laughable scene, our young hero takes his dragon out to teach it to fly. As it soars into the clouds it "magically" tranforms into an adult dragon that can communicate psychically with Eragon, yet it is not so fully formed that it can breathe fire. How does all this happen you ask...? By "magic!" With these filmmakers magic is as magic does. The problem is that by using these ridiculous plot crutches, Fangmeier, Buchman and the producers miss every opportunity to build emotion or develop any relationship between the characters. There is no character we understand and none we care about.

The team that threw this movie together made up for lack of story, imagination and acting by including sweeping panoramic shots of the Hungarian countryside. And they got their monies worth. In scene after scene, the effects supervis... err, director uses shot after shot of these sweeping vistas. It would have made for a great vacation video on Youtube, but in this movie it was just boring. With n o context or relevance to the story these shots only add to the tedium. In this film, not even the stunning countryside is interesting.

I wondered as I watched this movie (and tried to stay awake), how the producers were able to convince such a competent cast to join them for this crap. When I got home and checked out the budget it all became clear. With an estimated budget of almost $100 million dollars, the actors were obviously convinced to walk through this landscape with the promise of 7 figure paydays. The money was spent, it just wasn't on the screen.

As I said at the start, there are so many things wrong with this film that it would be impossible to cover them all here. The most insidious thing is that the low standards being set here are more and more often becoming the rule in studio films. There is no love of filmmaking here, no love of the fantasy genre in evidence, just a crass attempt to create a franchise film, exploit the audience and leverage fan interest with merchandising deals for toys and video games.

The best I can say about the filmmakers is that they were lazy. The best I can say about the film is that it is worthless. Eragon is easily the worst film I have seen this year.

Friday, December 22, 2006

Welcome to Indie Film Einstein

Flatplanet Films Blog is dedicated to discussing and promoting independent film production in New York City, and will include reviews, news and comments on various happenings throughout the filmed media universe.

I'm a strong advocate of developing story-driven films for specific audiences and will post mostly from my own experiences. Topics will cover script storytelling, development, production, distribution, new media and more.
I welcome any comments - both pro and con - that contribute to improving independent films - but please keep the comments on topic and civil. See you on location.