Wednesday, December 20, 2006

Eragon: the Best Bad Movie of 2006

Simply, Wow.

As folks who've followed League of Melbotis for any amount of time might know, I tend to skew towards genre in my movies. I'm usually up for action, monkeys, robots and space ships. And I can often be tempted to see a movie simply because it features a dinosaur or the promise of some web-slinging.

One of the things even long-time followers of this blog might not know is that it has always been a trade-mark of The Brothers Steans to wind up at the grisliest of mistakes coming out of Hollywood. I think our poor movie selection speaks to two things: (a) our eternal optimisim that we might stumble into something of interest, and (b) when together, we'd rather share the misery than try to drag someone else into a mistake we figure we're going to make, anyway.

So Jason is working from home/on vacation this week from putting people in the slammer, and I'm unemployed. So mid-day, after we'd gone to a pet store and played with a little pig (I now totally want a pig), we headed to the Regal Cinema at WestGate to see the new fantasy feature, Eragon.

I don't know much about the Eragon books. I think they're some sort of 15th generation fantasy novels based in a Tolkein-light universe. I'd also heard that the author was in his mid-teens when he wrote the first novel.

"I suffer without my stone. Do not prolong my suffering!"

Eragon is, essentially, the tale of a young farmer who lucks into a dragon egg/ R2-unit. There's an evil king, a former dragon rider, a total fox of a princess, and absolutely no new ideas.

At it's heart, Eragon is the sign to anyone over 20 that they are no longer of the younger generation. As Lucas cannibalized the films of his youth, so Eragon literally cannibalizes whole scenes from Star Wars: A New Hope and the Lord of the Rings trilogy, offering nothing new in return.

Literally, we are given analogs of Luke, Han, Leia, Obi Wan, Vader and either Grand Moff Tarkin or the Emperor, depending on how you want to read it. There's a sort of Death Star to invade, storm troopers/ orcs to fight, and a battle for Yavin IV. There's even a recreation of the scenes in which Luke realizes Uncle Own and Aunt Beru might be in trouble, right down to Luke leaving the now destroyed farm. (Although Storm Troopers aren't responsible. This time it's LOTR's Dark Riders. No, seriously. Only they have Wolverine's claws AND his off-screen trampoline to leap from. This flick has no shame in it's desire to lift from successful franchise movies).

Things to know about this movie:

1) It is a foregone conclusion that this is the first of a series of movies. There are multiple books, I hear. So it plays a bit like a Saturday matinee serial with multiple dangling threads and an arch-villain who isn't even really inconvenienced in any way by the actions of the film.

2) I cannot think of a single reason this was not a Sci-Fi Channel original movie.

Thirty minutes into the movie, Jamie started inserting lines from Star Wars between the lines of dialogue. Soon we were all jumping in on the gag, no doubt really upsetting the wide-eyed 'tween-age fantasy fans who were there for the showing with their moms.

Jeremy Irons plays the Obi-Wan analog, and throughout the movie I continually pondered how he must have said the wrong thing to the wrong person in Hollywood, or else Dead Ringers really caved his career a lot more than I thought... but it's so sad to see a perfectly good actor slumming with dialogue which, for a reason, feels as if it were written by a fifteen year old. John Malkovich plays The Emperor/ Tarkin, and, unlike Irons, you have to sort of admire his business decision. Malkovich never leaves the staircase of what is clearly a minimally dressed soundstage. He has about six lines in the whole film (one of which sent me into a giggling fit, thus I've listed above). It's the Brando-Superman business decision that, no doubt, got him the Italian marble tub Malkovich had always dreamed of owning, and surely his piece took no more than about an hour to shoot.

Still, he gets top billing and his face on the poster. Well done, Malkovich.

The titular character of Eragon is, as Jason said, "man pretty." He looks sort of like a cross-eyed version of the dude from Blue Lagoon, or a less goofy version of Peter McNichol's character from DragonSlayer (a dragon movie in which dragons were f-ing AWESOME, I might add).

As per the action of the movie, I don't know what this means, exactly, but I leaned over to Jamie about 45 minutes into the movie and said "Is it just me, or are things 'just happening'?" She agreed immediately with a roll of the eyes.

I think what I meant was this: Not only does every single character in the film seem to lack a motivation of any sort, but motivations they SHOULD have seem cast aside so the paces of Star Wars can play out in full. Most odd is that it feels as if huge portions of the movie were scrapped at some point... characters meet and instantly refer to each other's recent history without any possible discussion time shown, nor even hinted at. There were odd bits like Obi-Wan telling Luke "Look, you're a Dragon Rider. This means you must join the resistance you've never heard of." "Quite right!" Luke replies. "That will really advance our paper-thin plot! People will completely expect that beat since the narrator talked about those guys in the prologue! But they WILL be surprised when I run off mid-movie, hollering about a vision (this movie's "You're our only hope..." hologram), so that we can have our "infiltrating the Death Star" sequence, complete with a slain Obi-Wan (who has the fastest horse. Ever.)."

Another sequence in which time and reason sort of collapses centers around the dragon, who magically grows from a puppy-like rat-catcher weighing about fifty pounds to a 2-ton flying behemoth in a magical burst of... I guess Super Dragon Puberty. She suddenly has a name, vast knowledge of the world, dragon history, biology and a pretty good bead on our cross-eyed hero. I kept waiting to find out that dragons reincarnate into other dragons to explain all of this... but, no...

Oh, and before I forget... look, Rachel Weisz is foxy. But she doesn't have a particularly memorable voice. Perhaps because she is also a mid-level actress who is happy to take fantasy roles, somebody offered her the part of the dragon's telepathic voice. I kept thinking back to the "sending" from Elfquest comics I read in fourth grade, but mostly it just felt really awkward as the dragon would sort of blurt out master-of-the-obvious dialogue.

The Dragon is also fairly meek and mild for a 2-ton killing machine. I don't really understand why they went this route (ie: making Valcor look like a raging bad-ass compared to Eragon's dragon), but it certainly doesn't lend much to the film. There are also logistical problems, such as the dragon complaining about carrying 300 pounds of extra weight in one scene, and then suiting up in 800 pounds of steel armor about 3 scenes later.

Other oddities in the film included a few "non-surprises" which, I guess, were supposed to be a surprise. Obi-Wan is revealed to be a former Dragon-Rider a full hour into the movie. This is after training our young Jedi, telling tales of the Knights of the Republic (aka: Dragon Riders) and doing everything but using sky-writing to inform him of his background. As an audience member, we know EXACTLY what Obi-Wan is in the first 8 frames in which he appears, so, unfortunately, the only effect this has is to make Eragon appear exceedingly dim.

When Princess Leia (oh, yes, she's a princess) finally joins the action, she manages to know a heck of a lot about our hero, or at least is exceedingly comfortable with him. And then she goes through a bit of Frodo's Dark Rider poisoning problem.

And this is just an oddity, but the guy who plays Luke is something like 19, so probably 18 when they filmed the movie. Princess Leia just looks too old for him, if they are going to lead to a romantic interest. So, I looked her up, and sure enough, she's 31. There's some really bad dialogue about Luke's missing mom, so I hope to GOD that this princess is not supposed to be his mom. Because right now that'd be skewing pretty far into the red zone on the Oedipal scale.

I don't have any real reason to think that the girl is supposed to be his mom other than that they went way out of their way to make sure the two never touch and mostly just smile at each other. But I also thought Famke Janssen looked ten years older than James Marsden in X-Men. And, lo and behold, she was. That doesn't mean that Princess Leia can't just be an urban cougar, but the whole thing was just so chaste... And she really, really doesn't look old enough to be his mom, either.

I'm sort of spent. The list of bad goes on an on. The scenery-chewing by the guys playing villains is, at times, priceless. The list of "name" actors who are in the film is a bit surprising, leading me to think that this film's budget was greater than it should have been 9or spent in the wrong places). The villainous army looks like a rejected LOTR concept, completely emulating the Uruk-Hai, but without the make-up budget. D&D/ LOTR fantasy folk such as dwarves and elves are mentioned, but never seen. A lame "chosen one" plot thread is used to bypass any actual training period (one sure fire way of determining this was a 15-year old's fantasy in our world of immediate gratification for kids...)

And, last, but not least... during the Attack on Yavin IV/ Battle at Helmsdeep conclusion to the movie, our heroes have somehow, idiotically, pinned themselves and the entire resistance into an unescapable valley. Then the invading army enters the fray through a single entry point. This would be the exact opposite of laying siege to a castle. This would pretty much allow the dudes you were attacking to just shoot every one of your soldiers as they walked in the door.

So what's good?

There are two very good looking actresses in the film, but one only appears in two scenes. And the other spends a good deal of the movie trussed up in the Detention Block being poked at by the floating sphere robot.

The dragon CG is not too bad. Unfortunately, the dragon does a lot of posing and posturing, and doing seemingly odd things that would scare people, but which make for a well composed shot. (beating wings, roaring, etc...)


I'm sort of at a loss. Even the cinematography was about sci-fi channel original level.

And for some reason Joss Stone is in the movie for, like, 30 seconds.

Eragon could make for a great drinking game, I think. Watch, insert Star Wars dialogue to appropriate scene, or name analog scene or character... rewarded with a drink.

To me, the oddest thing about the movie is that it appears to be aimed at the folks who would like Star Wars and LOTR. But, as I mentioned above, you'd have to be under the age of twelve or an idiot not to note how they've completely lifted every element of this movie from some pretty popular sources. Eventually those kids WILL see LOTR or Star Wars. So any shelf-life this movie might have had to launch a series is going to be relatively short-lived.

The movie genuinely FEELS like maybe it was written by a fairly mature kid. There's no patience for pacing, only jumping to the next set-up. Characters seem only partially evolved and obvious. Character names seem like copies of Tolkeinish names. Elvish words (used for jedi-tricks) seem EXTREMELY Tolkeinish. There is world building going on, but it's a reproduction of a reproduction of a reproduction. One day this kid might come up with a really fresh concept to match his motivation and passion, but for now... it's like getting the grocery-store knock-off of the action figure you really wanted (aka: Spader-Man).

Anyway, Eragon. You are amazing.

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