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You Get What You Deserve – The Epistler’s Report on Eragon: The Movie Edit

Greetings from the eighth circle of Hell (home of liars, hypocrites and bad writers). The Epistler apologises to those who were awaiting this article, and hopes his readers will forgive him.

Due to his bungling of Epistle the Sixth, the Epistler has been condemned to leave the ethereal plane of the dead and spend some time in Hell. He spent last night enduring unbearable torture (it involved burning books), but today was able to take a break from this in order to visit the Cineplex of the Damned, where, sure enough, this movie was showing (along with other such gems as Gigli and Battlefield Earth). The Epistler viewed it, and can now offer his report.

His brief assessment of Eragon: The Movie? Two hours and four minutes of nothing.

In the Epistler’s opinion, there are three points on the spectrum of bad movies. At one end is Offensively Bad, the kind of bad which makes viewers angry. In the middle is Innocuously Bad, the kind of bad that provokes nothing but boredom. And on the other end is Hilariously Bad, the kind of bad that makes the viewer laugh. Eragon: The Movie hovered between Hilariously Bad and Innocuously Bad. The Epistler had expected to be angered by watching it, since it does, after all, represent the sum of over one hundred million dollars blown on adapting a book that didn’t deserve it, but he wasn’t. He didn’t even feel annoyed. In the end, this movie is simply too flat to rouse any kind of passion in those who watch it. In fact, on leaving the Cineplex for the fiery plains outside it, the Epistler found himself struggling to remember any of it. Fortunately, he took some notes to jog his memory.

Most of the things the Epistler noticed in the movie have already been spotted and pointed out by others, but he has done his best to provide some further criticisms of his own. The movie is bad. Very bad. Badly paced, appallingly scripted, boringly directed and atrociously acted. However, the Epistler has this to say about it: in terms of movie adaptations, he has never in his unlife seen one so utterly and beautifully appropriate to its source material. In fact, he would say that this movie matches all the flaws of the book beat for beat, and even throws in a few more for good measure. Paolini hides the lack of substance in his works with chronic overwriting and flowery descriptions. The movie does the same using impressive CGI and some nice cinematography.

Like the book, the movie is flat and emotionless. Like the book, it tells rather than shows. Like the book, it has stilted and unrealistic dialogue, a contrived plot and terrible characterisation. And finally, as expected, it’s a ripoff. The book ripped off the plot of Star Wars and the setting of Lord of the Rings. Unbelievably, not only does the movie make no attempt to hide the stolen plot and setting, but it actually has the chutzpah to include shots and sets that instantly stand out as having been lifted wholesale out of Peter Jackson’s Lord of the Rings. We have sweeping aerial shots of snowy mountains, we have a place that looks an awful lot like the Cracks of Mount Doom, we have the sub-villain standing on a high place, looking down at an army of Expendable Lackeys… we even have a scene of said Expendable Lackeys making and sharpening their weapons, the framing of which was so familiar to the Epistler that he became genuinely confused for a moment and wondered if the reel had accidentally been spliced with a few frames from The Two Towers. Utterly astonishing.

The rest of the movie resembled a cut-price 80’s fantasy flick, which it made no attempt to avoid resembling, and there, too, the Epistler recognised things. Not from Lord of the Rings, however. There were blatantly obvious plastic props, suspiciously seamless armour, costumes that were painfully recognisable as having been machine-sewn, and plenty of night scenes in small villages with things burning for no particular reason. All familiar features of an 80’s fantasy flick.

Some of the locations were fairly good. The village of Carvahall, where the movie begins, for example, actually does look like a dirt-poor farming community. There are no “porches” in sight, and Eragon’s home is small and shabby, with very little furniture (like a real medieval peasant, he sleeps on the floor). And the village of Daret, built on wooden platforms over a lake, looks pleasingly realistic. Although, unfortunately, it looked strikingly similar to the “pig-herder’s” village in Dragonheart. This is more or less par for the course, however, in a movie completely bereft of creativity.

The rest of the sets and locations look phoney and slapped-together, and there are some blindingly obvious matte paintings on display. The costumes are bizarrely mixed – to begin with, we have mostly medieval-looking outfits, though for some reason our hero wears what look to be a pair of leather bondage pants, and a rather natty leather vest with metal fastenings (now where in the world did he get those from? Not to mention the metal eyelets on those pants, which looked an awful lot like they were made from vinyl and were also nicely dyed). Toward the end, when our zero meets the Varden, we find that half of them look like they stepped out of the middle of cinematic Africa – what with the flowing robes (also dyed a variety of improbably bright colours), veils and spangly gold coifs. The result was that the people and places of Alagaësia (apparently, it’s pronounced “Ala-gay-shah”) ended up looking both confused and thoroughly artificial. And that is without even mentioning the horrible wigs worn by both Robert Carlyle as Durza and Djimon Hounsou as Ajihad, or the fact that both King Galbatorix and Durza wear the Plastic Press-On Nails of Evil (hilariously clichéd, and dated to boot).

The acting is as sub-par as expected, and was a major contributing factor toward the thing this movie has no clue about: the suspension of disbelief. The world of this movie simply fails to come to life. It never feels real. Watching it, the Epistler did not at any point forget the fact that the characters were just actors reciting lines from a script, that the castles and mountains were matte paintings and that the dragon was CGI’d into existence. It meant that, in spite of all the effort put into making the movie, it simply rang hollow. Even the book had a hint of spirit to it – in spite of his complete lack of creativity, the author did manage to show from time to time that he cared about what he was doing. The movie, however, has no such thing. It feels insincere; like a giant celluloid lie. In fact, the dearth of conviction involved meant that the many action sequences in it actually managed to be outright boring.

At the risk of going on for too long, the Epistler has decided to divide the rest of his review into subheadings, so that he won’t forget the address every aspect of the movie.

Eragon

Amazingly, first-timer Ed Speleers captures Eragon’s “personality” quite well. He’s whiny, arrogant, demanding, angsty and annoyingly self-centred and impulsive. In fact, in the movie, when Brom dies it’s very clearly Eragon’s fault. But, as in the book, nobody acknowledges it. He falls for a blindingly transparent trap, directly opposing Brom in order to do so and in fact outright insulting him in the process, and nearly gets himself killed as a result. However, Brom jumps in the way at the last minute and is fatally wounded. Eragon manages to get to safety with him, but doesn’t show even a hint of guilt over what happened to him, instead, more or less, sulking over his inability to heal him. Brom dies after one last line which is not only clichéd but pathetic – to wit, he thanks Eragon for giving him his life back and pretty much tells him he’s the last hope of the world and that he’s proud of him, etcetera. That’s awfully forgiving of him, given that he’s only dying because Eragon refused to listen to him and ran off into danger like a moron after actually shoving him out of the way. The Epistler died cursing those responsible for his death. Evidently he just isn’t as nice of a person as Brom but, frankly, there are limits. And does anyone tell Eragon off for getting his mentor killed? Take a guess. You won’t need three goes.

It’s difficult to say whether Speleers is actually a bad actor. Plenty of good actors have given bad performances – for example, John Malkovitch, Rachael Weisz, Djimon Hounsou, Jeremy Irons, Robert Carlyle and Garrett Hedlund are all excellent actors, but none of them managed to save this movie. A bad director generally gets bad performances out of his actors, and it’s entirely possible that Speleers is far more talented than he has had the opportunity to display so far. Either way, his debut is hardly promising. He’s bland and inexpressive here, and Eragon as played by him fails to be either sympathetic or realistic. He’s either whining or moping, and that’s about the extent of his characterisation. Amusingly, on being told he’s just killed his first evil minions, he gets this “awesome!” look on his face, and then looks sulky when Brom tells him that killing is nothing to be proud of. He also, just like his written counterpart, puts on airs because he’s a rider and orders people around as if it’s his due and has been all his life. He has none of the down-to-earth good sense or humbleness of someone brought up as a farmer. But, again, Eragon in the movie is a dead-on representation of Eragon in the book.

And let’s not forget the unforgettable shot of him watching the sunset outside his house. The Epistler kept wondering where C3PO was.

Saphira

The Epistler found the portrayal and characterisation of Saphira utterly hilarious, and not in a good way.

In the movie, Saphira is Eragon’s servant. Really. The movie makes no bones about it: Saphira serves Eragon. They’re not partners; he’s the boss of her. Why? Because. The amusing thing about this is that, as Epistle the Fourth pointed out, Saphira as portrayed in the books is Eragon’s pet, not his partner. The books repeatedly pretend that she is his equal, but she patently isn’t, and the Epistler laughed out loud when he realised that he was not the only one to spot it – the filmmakers did too. In the movie, there are lines talking about how Saphira is loyal to Eragon, and Saphira actually tells him that it’s better if a dragon dies than his or her rider. It’s also revealed that a rider will survive the death of his dragon – not might, will – whereas if the rider dies, the dragon’s death is certain. How’s that for an equal relationship? And, in the movie, Eragon tells Saphira what to do and she obeys. She puts up no more than the vaguest hint of resistance, even when he’s clearly in the wrong – when Brom is urging him not to run off into the obvious trap, she remarks that he’s right but still lets Eragon get on her back and carries him off to certain death. And, unlike in the book, she does not take it upon herself to tell him off and, instead of being a second mentor, she becomes… well, a nothing character. She never, ever asserts herself. Much of the time she’s barely present, even when she’s on the screen. She makes a few remarks, she carries Eragon around, she roars a bit and kills a few soldiers, and that’s about it. Incredible. Saphira was one of the main selling-points of the book, and of the movie as well, but she’s treated like a prop. She has about as much personality as the horse Eragon rides. The Epistler will admit it, however – Saphira the hatchling is indeed cute. Just as she was in the book. We see a few scenes of Eragon getting to know her and becoming fond of her, and, frankly, it’s adorable. And then, just when the audience is starting to connect with her, Saphira suddenly jumps to being an adult, and immediately loses all her personality.

No, the Epistler is not speaking metaphorically. In the book, Saphira grows up in a ridiculous six months. In the movie, she grows up in twelve seconds. She flies into the air, glows with magical sparklies, and comes down as an adult. With a voice. It was such an obvious and pathetic cop-out that the Epistler actually groaned out loud in the cinema. Would it really have been so difficult to have a montage of Saphira growing up? But, no, it seems the filmmakers didn’t want to waste time on trivial things like character development. On with the “exciting” stuff. And never mind whether it makes sense or whether the audience has had a chance to become emotionally invested in any of it.

Saphira is voiced by Rachael Weisz – badly. So badly, in fact, that the Epistler would not have recognised her at all if he hadn’t already known she was in the movie. On the face of it, Rachael Weisz would have been a perfect choice. As she demonstrated in The Mummy and The Mummy Returns, she is perfectly capable of sounding motherly, playful and fierce – all parts of Saphira’s cut-price personality. In the movie, however, her lines are flatly delivered and free of all expression – she sounds half-asleep most of the time, and puts very little emotion into what she says although, admittedly, it would be very difficult to put emotion into lines like “this wound saps my strength”, and “better a dragon dies than her rider”. The voice work for Eragon’s CGI pal is about as generic as it gets, and it could not be more plain that Weisz took the part because she needed work, and didn’t give two hoots about trying to get into character – probably because there wasn’t really a character to get into in the first place. It’s difficult to say why they bothered paying for Weisz’s services, when any woman with a British accent could have done the job as well.

As in the book, the Eragon/Saphira relationship is supposedly the emotional core of the story but fails to be so because it is shallow and badly developed, and because the personalities of both characters are too vaguely defined. They barely speak to each other, and when they do, their exchanges are short and inane and delivered in a distractingly goofy-sounding voiceover with (of course) an echo effect. Seeing it in a visual format reveals just how silly and unnecessary the dragon/rider telepathy is, and just how easily it could have been removed. There isn’t even an attempt at any development here – their conversations are purely functional; they talk about whatever is happening to them here and now (for example, discussing whether Brom can be trusted), but they never talk about themselves or their feelings, which gives the unintentional impression that they don’t actually have any to discuss, or that they don’t care enough about each other to share them. As relationships go, this one appears to be quite dysfunctional. It also means that, later on, when the filmmakers try and wring some emotion out of Eragon’s attempts to heal her and save her life, it rings very false indeed. The Epistler, seeing poor Speleers trying to look desperately worried and determined to save the life of his dragon to the sound of some manipulative music, felt outright offended that he was being expected to give a toss about either of them when, quite frankly, they had barely even been introduced. And, given that Eragon spends the entire movie telling Saphira to go here and do this and carry him right into danger when he’s patently in the wrong, it seems a little odd that he suddenly cares about her so much.

Saphira has no feelings. Draco from Dragonheart was also a CGI character (one of the first ever made, in fact), and in spite of the fact that he was created over ten years ago Saphira only manages to look half as convincing, and has only a fraction of his personality and charisma. Draco was wise, intelligent, witty and sad. Even though he wasn’t real, he felt real. Saphira, on the other hand, does not. And since the movie (and the book) succeed or fail on the basis of whether the audience can buy into the “boy and his dragon” aspect, it’s safe to say that the movie failed at it even more appallingly than the book did.

Brom

The Epistler is almost saddened to say that Jeremy Irons does manage to bring his character at least partway to life. Unlike his catastrophic performance in Dungeons and Dragons, he makes an attempt to do his job in Eragon: The Movie and portray Brom convincingly. To his credit, he manages to sell some of the truly heinous dialogue Brom is saddled with, which is no mean feat – one every other actor in the movie signally fails at. On his first appearance he embarrasses himself by trying – and failing – to impersonate Captain Jack Sparrow; attempting to talk his way out of a corner with some “clever” and “amusing” banter which actually made the Epistler wince. He also, for some unknown reason, uses a ridiculous cockney accent in this scene, which disappears in all subsequent scenes. Perhaps Brom was simply pretending to have said accent to make himself look stupid? It’s not really certain, but would tie in with the idiotic yokel-speak which both he and Eragon use in the book while trying to look inconspicuous. Irons’ normal speaking voice is infinitely preferable, and he does manage to come off as a lonely, bitter old warrior stricken by guilt who barely dares hope that new Jedi – sorry, Rider – could come and save the world. He also, at one point, somehow manages to make a saddle for Saphira in the space of an hour or so, using some leather he got from who knows where. Clever. The Epistler did manage to care about him to some degree, but remained unmoved when he died (although the manner of his death – riding on Saphira’s back, at her suggestion – was a genuinely sweet and sad moment that deserved to be in a better movie). And in the scene where he desperately tries to persuade Eragon not to rush off into the obvious trap, his fear and frustration feel genuine – which has the unfortunate effect of making Eragon look even more unsympathetic than before.

The Epistler respects Jeremy Irons, and was saddened to see him stuck in such a terrible movie. His talents should have earned him far better.

Murtagh

The Epistler will probably make himself some enemies by saying this, but he never really got Murtagh’s appeal. As portrayed by Garrett Hedlund, Murtagh is indeed darkly and angstily attractive. And although he gets very few scenes and virtually no character development, he still manages to be more interesting than Eragon. Movie Murtagh has a Scottish accent… part of the time, anyway. Hedlund, though easy on the eyes, has some trouble faking an accent, so it tends to come and go. His part in the movie is a small one; he is very obviously being set up for some more development and a bigger role in the second movie, which may well never be made (the Epistler intends to petition the gods themselves if he has to in order to stop it). As it is, his inclusion in the movie comes off as somewhat puzzling; he conveniently shows up, acts mysterious, makes Eragon look even more bland and boring than before, gets locked up, breaks out, takes a few names and then vanishes again. When it is revealed that his father is Morzan, the only response from the viewer is “so what?”. Morzan has been mentioned exactly once in the movie so far, and most viewers will probably have forgotten about him by this point. Nor do we have any reason to hate him, or be surprised by the fact that he had a son.

Murtagh is a symptom of the overly contrived plot which, like the book, is full of convenient coincidences and things which just happen because the writer says so, and although he beings some much-needed angst and black leather into the proceedings, he still fails to save the movie.

Durza

The Epistler was pleased that, at the very least, Durza had much more of a presence in the story and more or less took the place of the Ra’zac. In the movie the Ra’zac (who have somehow become partly decayed ninjas) are magical creations of Durza’s and directly under his command. It is Durza rather than the Ra’zac who is responsible for Brom’s death, and the Ra’zac are actually killed off partway through (far, far too easily – so easily, in fact, that it makes Brom’s talk about how dangerous they are look slightly comical in retrospect), leaving Durza to do the villain-ing. The viewer is treated to frequent scenes of him pointlessly killing various minions and sending others out to suck and fail at capturing our zeroes. Honestly, it’s about time evil overlords started being honest about that sort of thing. The end result is always the same, so why not be a little more up-front about it and just say “now, I’m going to send you out to bungle an all-important mission which I’ll kill you for screwing up. Meanwhile, I’ll be catching up on the crossword. Have a good trip!”.

Well, maybe not. The movie is devoid of any sense of humour, and it badly needs one. Carlyle’s performance isn’t howlingly bad, but it doesn’t stand out much either. Although the Epistler did rather like it when, on first meeting Eragon, he sneeringly remarked that he was expecting “well… more”. So were we, Durza. Naturally, when Eragon finally kills him, he repeats that line back to him in an attempt to be macho and whatever. Does the Epistler really need to point out that it doesn’t work?

King Galbatorix

If you will indulge the Epistler for a moment: AAAAAAAAARGH!

Thankyou.

It seems the filmmakers thought it would be a good idea to actually show the King at some point in the movie, which it was. At least, it would have been if the King was in any way intimidating, which he isn’t. Galbatorix has the first non voiceover line in the movie and, fittingly, it’s one of the stupidest. To wit: “I suffer without my stone. End my suffering”. The Epistler couldn’t help it: he laughed.

So, the really big evil villain in the movie, the one responsible for everything Bad, the one all the heroic characters are fighting to destroy, is a middle-aged bald guy with appalling fashion sense who can’t be bothered to go out and fight the rebels himself and instead prefers to wander around his horrendously-decorated throne room and mumble a few shockingly bad lines of dialogue about bringing the hero to him, gathering armies and leaving none alive, and so on ad nauseum. The Epistler really cannot stress enough just how bad the dialogue in this movie is. There is stilted, unrealistic dialogue, really stilted, unrealistic dialogue, and then there’s the dialogue in Eragon: The Movie. And poor John Malkovitch gets the very worst of it. When the Epistler found out that the part of Galbatorix had actually been cast in the movie, he responded positively since, as he pointed out in Epistle the Second, Galbatorix the never-seen and more or less completely unknown arch-villain completely fails to be at all threatening. Actually portraying him on screen looked like a good move.

Unfortunately, it has the opposite effect. In the book we don’t really know Galbatorix. In the movie we do, and he’s pathetic. He isn’t the least bit scary, and he isn’t even insane – instead he’s just a man in an awful outfit who shouts at his lackey, Durza (who somehow manages to travel back and forth from Urû’baen to wherever the action is at a moment’s notice) and wears press-on nails, for the gods’ sakes. Now we have confirmation: yes, Galbatorix is just another lame character in a lame story, and we don’t care about him any more than we care about anyone else. That’s his chance for redemption as a character out the window and into the lake.

It never actually feels like he’s even in the movie, either; we only ever see him in his throne room (which frankly looks like it’s on a soundstage somewhere – which it is), and we never see him actually doing any ruling. We only ever see him shout at Durza. The result is that when he appears, the viewer finds himself wondering what the heck this guy has to do with the rest of the movie. The answer is: pretty much nothing at all. Although, at the very end, we do get a brief glimpse of Galbatorix’s dragon, Shruikan – who lives behind a map in his throne room for no particular reason. Is that really practical? Well, no, but it looks neat.

Verdict: eye-rollingly pathetic and further detrimental to a movie that hardly needed any more lameness and bad acting.

Ajihad, Angela and Others

All the other major characters in the story are more or less reduced to cameos, and most of them appear to be there Because. Eragon meets Angela in Daret, in an utterly useless scene which does not advance the plot or provide any character development and appears to be there purely in order to give singer Joss Stone her chance at movie stardom. Eragon hides from some urgals in her home where he meets her – unlike in the book, the movie has gone for a sexy, mysterious look for Angela. As in the book her name sticks out horribly in a story full of Eragons, Broms, Rorans and Galbatorixes, and as in the book she does nothing more than be needlessly expository and tell the audience things they already know or can guess (although, in the movie, she at least avoids giving away any plot-points ahead of time). She tells Eragon he has a great destiny (ORLY?), and that he will meet a woman who will have an important impact on his life. Well, it’s just as well they cleared all that up for us. For some reason she refers to herself in the third person (OK, the Epistler isn’t touching that one), and it would seem that, unlike Kylie Minogue, Joss Stone should probably stick with singing and leave the acting to actors.

Ajihad too has a very small role in the movie. He appears (wearing a terrible wig and, later, what appears to be a flowerpot decorated with beads), proclaims himself to be the leader of the Varden, and spends the rest of the movie hanging around providing a few reaction shots. Nasuada, who the Epistler is fairly sure wasn’t identified by name, does nothing except reveal that she’s Ajihad’s daughter before she joins her father in ReactionShotVille.

Roran has a brief appearance, wherein he spars with Eragon (which admittedly makes the 1337 sword-sk1lz he later has look slightly less implausible) and then runs off to hide somewhere in order to avoid being press-ganged into the Imperial Army. The Epistler was actually pleased by this, and by other evidence of bullying and harassment by Imperial troops – it makes the Empire actually look evil, which it failed to do in the book. It honestly did. The characters in the book whine about how evil the King is and how the land needs to be set free, but was there any evidence of actual oppression in Carvahall? No. The people are free to live however they like, and Brom openly criticises the King without any retribution, whereas in the movie when he does so he’s immediately threatened and hit by some soldiers. It still fails to make the audience truly hate the Empire, but it’s an improvement. Roran, however, may as well not be in the movie at all. The same goes for his father, Garrow, who never even gets a name before he “tragically” gets killed.

Arya in the movie is just boring. She looks nothing like Book Arya (Liv Tyler must have turned the part down), and spends a lot more time conscious. And, unlike Book Arya, she isn’t a complete bitch and actually smiles at our zero a few times. Could love be in the offing? No duh. Amusingly, although the movie identifies her as the “Princess of Ellesméra” very quickly (right from the opening scenes, actually), it never says she’s an elf, or explains where or what Ellesméra is. In fact, no definite elves or dwarves appear in the movie at any point, although Galbatorix mentions them in one of the earliest scenes. Hrothgar, the supposed King of the Dwarves, appears toward the end, but is obviously just a human with a beard and a Scottish accent. And Arya is very obviously just a human – she does not have pointed ears, and no-one ever refers to her as an elf, which means that Galbatorix’s line about there being elves and dwarves helping the Varden becomes just a throwaway which never counts for anything.

The Epistler was a little pleased by this. It demonstrates very plainly indeed just how little impact the presence of elves and dwarves actually had on the plot of the book, and how easily they could have been cut, and quite frankly, if the filmmakers had had any sense, they would have removed them altogether instead of leaving in this confusing and ultimately pointless line about two races we don’t get to see (and, bluntly, are better off not seeing. Elves and dwarves became boring stock races a very long time ago, and nobody can claim that Paolini did anything to change that). Movie Arya says and does very little. She is captured at the beginning, just as in the book, after teleporting the egg to Eragon (in the movie, we don’t find out why she sent it there and whether she knew Eragon would be there to find it). For some unexplained reason she and Eragon have a psychic connection – he constantly dreams about her, and she apparently dreams about him too. When Saphira creates the connection between herself and Eragon, Galbatorix, Brom and Arya are all shown reacting – apparently feeling a disturbance in the Force or some such thing. Whereas the magical abilities of the first two characters are explained, Arya’s aren’t – she just happens to be psychic for no particular reason, and nobody ever remarks upon it.

Much to the annoyance of fans, in the movie Arya is quite obviously attracted to Eragon just as much as he is to her. The Epistler was glad of it, and wishes Paolini would cut to the chase as well. Readers already know Eragon and Arya will get together, so kindly stop trying to be coy and just have them kiss already. Or, alternatively, kill Arya off as painfully as possible (all right, so that was just the Epistler’s personal wish). The filmmakers obviously know that Arya is the Designated Love Interest, so they leave out all the tedious arguing and mixed messages of the Arya/Eragon relationship to be found in the books.

And this is more or less it as far as characters go.

Filmmaking At Its Laziest

The Epistler will not beat about the bush: this movie is tripe. It bears all the hallmarks of having been slapped together by a group of people who were in it solely for the money and did not care about whether they were producing quality or not. Just as Knopf cynically pushed a substandard book on a gullible public in order to garner profits, the movie is nothing more than a cheap cash-in which shows open contempt toward the viewer.

The Harry Potter movies, on the whole, were good. Not great. The first two were corny and the other two had their share of silly moments. But all of them still managed to shine in some way, and all of them had at least a semblance of a heart. Eragon: The Movie doesn’t, and the Epistler thinks he knows why: because the makers of the Harry Potter movies cared about what they were doing. They had faith in and admired the source material, and they did their best to do justice to it. But the makers of Eragon clearly held their own source material in contempt, and treated it accordingly. They couldn’t even be bothered to try and hide the ripoffs. As another reviewer very accurately put it, they stripped out all the “fluff” from the books – ie the flowery descriptions and chapters of tedious travelling – in order to make it leaner and more streamlined. The process should have left them with just the meat of the story, but the problem was that there is no meat. Once the source material has been purged of all its cosmetic appeal and its bare bones are exposed, they prove to be very ugly bones indeed: ripoffs (and plenty of them), bad dialogue, a predictable plot and substandard, cardboard characterisation. Plenty of book fans who hated the movie are trying to pretend that the movie missed out all the “substance” and “heart” that the book had, but, quite frankly, it’s very easy indeed to miss something that never existed in the first place.

Sloppiness and evidence of lazy filmmaking abounds; there are continuity errors so blatant that one would have to actively concentrate on missing them in order to not spot them. For example, when we first see Saphira wearing her armour, it looks nothing like the prop armour we saw a few scenes ago (and, amusingly, the movie asserts that the Varden’s smiths somehow managed to whip it up in one night – and even take the time to add some fancy scrollwork while they were at it). And, for some reason, just about every character in this movie has the ability to teleport. Murtagh somehow makes it from Daret to Gil’ead in a few days, even though he couldn’t have had any way of knowing our zero was going there, Brom somehow manages to teleport into the room with Eragon and Durza in Gil’ead, even though Eragon and Saphira flew there and he would have had to follow on horseback, and Murtagh magically appears to help them fight their way out. Durza travels back and forth from Gil’ead to Urû’baen, to the Cracks of Doom and back again in what appears to be the space of a day or so, and the Ra’zac somehow get to Eragon’s house ahead of him in time to kill his uncle and then clear off again for no apparent reason, even though the last time we saw them they were way back in the village and wouldn’t have known the most direct route to the place. And let us not forget Brom and Eragon’s horses, which magically appear and disappear as and when the plot requires them to, much like Indiana Jones’ whip. The Epistler was astonished when Murtagh and Eragon decided to just turn them loose before walking the rest of the way to the Varden – a magical teleporting horse has to be rather valuable.

That those behind the movie didn’t care about what they were doing shows in the choice of both director and scriptwriter – the director was a special effects supervisor called Stefen Fangmeier, who had never directed a movie before in his life, and the scriptwriter was Jurassic Park 3 scribe Peter Buchman. A first-time director and a scriptwriter who had hardly distinguished himself in the field of substance and good dialogue… not the best combination, on the whole. And it’s plain that those responsible for hiring them would have known that neither one was particularly well-qualified for the job. They must have known or suspected that whatever they produced would probably be poor quality, but they allowed them to go ahead with it nonetheless. If that isn’t cynical and contemptuous, the Epistler doesn’t know what else could possibly qualify.

Soundtrack

The Epistler feels he ought to make some mention of the soundtrack here. He acquired a copy of the music before seeing the movie, and listened to it several times. Patrick Doyle, the composer, clearly knows his art. However, the soundtrack failed to impress the Epistler. It had plenty of good harmonies in it, and some tracks were enjoyable to listen to, but it was, somehow, hollow and unmemorable. The kind of music one can listen to a dozen times, but still be unable to hum. It also felt repetitive and, on the whole, just as spiritless as the rest of the movie. And though Patrick Doyle is a good composer, his heart plainly wasn’t in it this time.

Its usage in the movie was noticeably clumsy, as well. The music was edited in everywhere. Silence can be just as expressive as sound, and sometimes more so, but it seems the editors were unaware of this. Scenes that would be far more suspenseful if they took place without musical backing are accompanied by loud and bombastic orchestral cues, and whereas the score in a movie is supposed to meld itself seamlessly with the rest of the action it didn’t in this case. As soon as you find yourself noticing the music in a movie, it means the illusion has been broken. You shouldn’t hear it; you should feel it, just as you shouldn’t notice the words an author uses to tell a story, but instead just experience the story. In this case, the music is used to try and summon up emotion in scenes that don’t have any, and is yet another failed attempt at audience manipulation. If the actors can’t make you feel sad for their characters, then playing some weepy music won’t do the trick. Nor will loud, urgent drums make the audience thrill to a fight-scene involving a bunch of clumsy-looking bald guys with facepaint and a boyband reject wielding a plastic sword. These last-ditch efforts are a further detriment to the film, since while audiences enjoy being manipulated emotionally by a movie, they don’t like being aware that they’re being manipulated. And, generally, they’ll only become aware of it if it isn’t working, which in this case it definitely wasn’t.

Scripting For Morons – By Morons

The script, as hinted earlier, is an abomination. Like the book it’s full of contrivances – Eragon has exactly one scene with Brom where he is told about magic, and two scenes later he suddenly knows a hundred useful spells off the top of his head. He has exactly one lesson in sword-play, and suddenly becomes an expert. And the Epistler thought he learned unrealistically fast in the book. Clearly, one should never speak too soon. The dialogue, as well as being corny and just plain stupid, is also needlessly expository (expository dialogue is a term for dialogue blatantly intended to provide exposition, to the point where characters will stand and tell each other things they both already know, purely for the benefit of the audience). Early in the movie, characters constantly call each other by name, just so the audience doesn’t miss any of them. For example, in his first scene, Roran is called by name five times at the very least. Admittedly this is better than those movies that don’t bother to name their characters (in Battlefield Earth, for example, the hero goes unnamed until about the one-hour mark), but it stands out awkwardly and serves to break the illusion.

The script belabours every plot-point and important piece of information to a ridiculous degree – we are told things not once, or twice, but over and over again, in a variety of different ways, until it becomes repetitive and outright annoying. The movie opens with a completely pointless voiceover from Brom, which tells us the story of the dragon riders and how Galbatorix betrayed them… and then, fifteen minutes later, Brom retells this story in person. Here’s the thing, Brom – we already know all that. You just told us. As if this weren’t bad enough, the voiceover continues for some way into the movie, telling us about Arya and how she’s carrying a “stone” stolen from the King, and how Durza wants to stop her, as if it weren’t obvious enough that the guy with the red clown-wig is after the chick on the horse and that we can probably cope with waiting a while to find out why. Normally, in movies, a touch of uncertainty in the beginning is a good thing because it makes the viewer curious. But with everything spelled out for us as it is here, there is no mystery and, hence, no suspense. And when we first see Eragon leaving his home to go hunting (something that is never referenced again), the voiceover lets us know that young Eragon’s young life is about to change forever. Oh, really? Is that so? Well knock the Epistler down with a feather. He always thought that the lives of movie heroes stayed mundane and uninteresting, but apparently he was wrong.

In all seriousness, however, the voiceover is completely unnecessary. The whole point of a movie is that it’s visual – it shows you things. If you have to resort to a tacked-on, expository voiceover because you’re incapable of giving this information more gracefully… well then you just aren’t a very good script-writer. It also comes off as patronising, as if the writer assumed the audience would be composed of morons who would need to have everything spoon-fed to them. Audiences are capable of intuiting things on their own. You don’t have to shove every piece of information in their faces. Characters don’t have to announce exactly what they’re thinking or feeling. A subtle change of expression will do the trick. The Epistler has never made a movie in his life, but he still knows that. So why can’t so-called professionals do it? Was it really necessary, for example, to have Eragon see the “stone” hatching and exclaim “not a stone – an egg!” ORLY?

The pacing is also an abomination. No scene lasts longer than a few minutes, and things that need to be lingered on aren’t. The formula goes something like this: begin scene. Characters talk for a few minutes. Characters do something (sword-fight, light a fire, argue). Characters talk some more. End scene. Much of the time, the “end scene” part happens when said scene feels only half-finished, leaving the audience with the awkward feeling that something important was about to happen but that they missed it. The movie continually promises things – emotions, discussions, character development, wordless reactions – but doesn’t deliver them. Eragon and Saphira are talking, and we think they’re about to have a heart-to-heart and discuss their feelings, and then… end scene and we rush on toward the next big fight. Bad filmmaker! No biscuit!

It’s a bait and switch. You think you’re going to get something of substance, but you never do, and you’re still waiting for it when the credits suddenly roll and you realise the movie finished while you were still waiting for it to start. The entire thing feels like the beginning of a story that never actually happens, a setup without a payoff, actors without characters and a story without a point. In the end, the movie leaves you feeling nothing at all – neither strong hate nor strong love. The Epistler left the cinema shaking his head, still not quite sure that the movie was already over. Two hours and four minutes in which action is substituted for story, and yet it still managed to be boring. The Epistler had hoped that the action sequences would add some excitement, but they didn’t. There were more thrills in Happy Feet which, incidentally, you would be much better advised to watch.

Unfortunately, it would seem that Eragon: The Movie will turn a profit, although not as large a one as it might have given a more aggressive marketing campaign. However, if Eldest: The Movie ever comes to pass, it probably won’t make anywhere near as much. For those very few who don’t already know, this movie has been torn to shreds by antis, fans and detached parties as well. The fans hate it because… well, because it’s a lousy movie which they believe mocks the book they love, which it does. The antis hate it because, put baldly, it’s Eragon and they hate Eragon. And, of course, it’s a bad movie. And unbiased parties hate it as well. Because it’s a bad movie. And because nearly every single one of them spotted the ripoffs involved. Just about every review – even the positive ones – mentions Lord of the Rings and Star Wars. The Epistler’s favourite review (to be found here: http://www.philly.com/mld/dailynews/living/16244970.htm) put it most amusingly: “I left Eragon feeling like I’d just watched a Renaissance Faire stage its own production of Star Wars.”

With this and other reviews, the Epistler is at long last seeing the thing he has longed to see: namely, the media at large acknowledging that Eragon is a ripoff, and not pretending that it somehow doesn’t matter. Some of them mention the age of the source novel’s author, but almost always in a negative context, like the reviewer who said “…It was written by a home-schooled, fantasy-obsessed teenager named Christopher Paolini and published when he was 19. And yet somehow – and this is stunning – somehow the story turns out to be geeky, simple-minded and shamelessly derivative of Lord of the Rings and Star Wars. Why, it’s almost as if ... as if a home-schooled, fantasy-obsessed teenager wrote it!” (http://www.ericdsnider.com/movies/eragon/)

Precisely. Plenty of other reviewers also pinned the blame on the source material, just as they should have. And the Epistler is more than glad. He is tired of seeing Paolini being excused. It was high time the media stopped mindlessly praising him and admitted the ugly truth which was previously left to a group of unpaid teenagers to expose: Eragon is a ripoff written by a hack who, if there was any justice in the world, would be sued into oblivion and have his books taken off the shelves.

The Epistler feels he has said all there really is to be said. A fellow viewer’s assessment was “competently bad”, which about sums it up. The movie looks more or less professional, and that is about the only thing to recommend it, unless you enjoy laughing at stupid movies. Oh, and the credits are accompanied by a song by Avril Lavigne. No good ever came of that.


the Epistles
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