DVD Review: Eragon (Two-Disc Special Edition)
Release Date: March 20, 2007
Distributor: 20th Century Fox
· Stefen Fangmeier
· Ed Speleers
· Rachel Weisz
· Jeremy Irons
· Sienna Guillory
· Robert Carlyle
· John Malkovich
· Djimon Hounsou
· IMDb: Eragon
by R.J. Carter
Published: March 19, 2007
Stefen Fangmeier's adaptation of the novel by wunderkind author Christopher Paolini has all the trappings of a mythic idyll: there's the Campbellian reluctant hero with unknown parentage who must answer to his destiny; there's the evil king who has successfully conquered all the lands and now lives in constant paranoia of threat to his rule; there's the elven princess in need of rescue; and there's the dark wizard who commands monstrous creatures.
And then, of course, there is the dragon, Saphira (voiced by Rachel Weisz), who hatches early in the film, and who later grows to her full size in the span of a few moments, gaining not only size, but years of knowledge and the ability to telepathically communicate with Eragon (Ed Speleers), the young farmboy who found her egg.
Fortunately, the audience already knows what this portends, thanks to the opening narrative: In the bygone days, the world of AlagaŽsia was protected by dragon riders who were sworn to protect and serve. Sort of like Law & Order: Pern. One rider -- Galbatorix (John Malkovich) -- went rogue, killed all the other riders, and made himself king. In those opening segments, we see the Elven princess Arya (Sienna Guillory) on the run with the egg, pursued by King Galbatorix's sorcerer, Durza (Robert Carlyle). She magically makes the egg disappear, and it reappears far away in front of Eragon as he hunts in the forest.
From that point, we see how the villages are all ruled with an iron fist, with the king's men forcibly conscripting boys into the army when they become of age. Eragon's own cousin announces that he is going on the run before they come to get him.
When Saphira hatches from her egg, Eragon touches her and magic happens. His hand is branded with the mark of the dragon riders, while simultaneously Galbatorix, Arya, and Durza all become aware of what has happened. Handy stuff, that magic. Cuts through all kinds of red tape. The king quickly delegates the matter of Eragon's demise to Durza, who in turn calls up a horde of Ra'zac to interrogate and demolish the village. And they almost killed Luke Skywalker while looking for the droids, but he was busy asking questions of the local village nutcase, Obi Wan, and failed to get home before the stormtroopers killed his uncle Owen.
Um... "Almost got Eragon", "looking for the dragon", "village nutcase, Brom", and "before the Ra'zac killed his uncle wossisname." Didn't mean to confuse anybody there.
Of course, the reason Eragon didn't get home to save his uncle was because Saphira swooped in and saved him from danger instead of letting him run headlong into a fight he couldn't win. So Eragon wisely blames his uncle's death on Saphira, and sends her away. That lasts a few minutes.
Trained by Brom (Jeremy Irons), a former dragon rider himself, Eragon learns the ways of Elven magic and how to become one with his dragon, as well as the things he needs to be cautious about. Brom is leading Eragon to a Zion... er, the Varden... because Eragon's appearance satisfies a prophecy about the return of the dragon riders. But Durza uses the captive Arya to tap into Eragon's dreams and lure him to Gil'ead (where there is no balm) in a rescue attempt. Brom forbids it, Saphira warns against it, so naturally Eragon does it anyway, and actually succeeds in temporarily defeating the sorcerer, saving the princess, and acquiring a new roguish traveling companion in the process.
It all builds up to an encounter with the hidden city of the Varden, led by the King of the Elves, Hrothgar (Gary Lewis) and his aide, Ajihad (Djimon Hounsou). Cue the wizard Durza and a few hundred thousand CGI warriors, bring on the attack, pick now to be the right time for Saphira to be mature enough to breathe fire, and you've got a fight to the finish of the first act of a trilogy. Avril Lavigne can sing "Keep Holding On" now through the scrolling credits.
Who's Afraid of Cornelia Funke? Eragon becomes the
new dragon rider, with help from Brom and Saphira.
Now, that's not to say that the roles weren't well-acted, or that the effects weren't brilliantly done. But it all just seemed a bit too... familiar. If you went for eye candy, or just needed one more excuse to wear your "Lord of the Rings" garb to the theater, "Eragon" suffices nicely (and you'll get to wear the outfits twice more, no doubt.) But the story lacks (thus far) any surprises.
While the first disc of this two-disc set may not have enthralled me, the second disc... well, it flat-out annoyed me. The screen is a map, with all the locations that pepper the world (or country, I'm never sure which) of AlagaŽsia. You have to click on one of these to find out what the featurettes are behind each one.
We start with CARVAHALL, behind which we discover two special features. The first, "Inside the Inheritance Trilogy: The Magic of Eragon", is nearly an hour in length, divvied up into a prologue and five chapters. Here, author Christopher Paolini is interviewed on how and why he wrote Eragon (he'd ran out of books at the local library that he hadn't read), and the time that went into plotting the trilogy and scripting the first arc of the adventure. Director Stefen Fangmeier is interviewed, as is screenwriter Peter Buchman, who had to swear to secrecy about the plot of the second and third books before he could adapt the novel into a working screenplay. We'll follow the search for the actor to play Eragon, resulting in the selection of Ed Speleers, and parallel the mentoring relationship between Jeremy Irons and Speelers with Brom and Eragon. Speleers, Irons, Guillory, Hounsou and others all get little bits of interview time, before we close out the session by visiting the different sets that were built and seeing how the Saphira segments were animated.
The second featurette behind this particular bit of geography is "Eldest - The Fist Two Chapters", which is a point-and-browse through the text -- handy for a reviewer who doesn't know how to spell "urgals" or "ra'zac" while taking notes on a film.
The next stop on our trip is DARET, where we get a twenty minute featurette, "The Inhabitants of AlagaŽsia". You can click on images of The Dragon Riders, Saphira, Arya, Durza, The Urgals, and The Ra'Zac (or simply click "Play All"), and director Fangmeier narrates each character description.
Leaving behind scenic DARET, we find ourselves travelling into THE SPINE. If you look to your left, you'll see a four and a half minute segment, "Arya's Ambush - Original Animatic Sequence". If you'd like, you can turn on the commentary with director Fangmeier. To your right is "The Vision of Eragon: Conceptual Artwork Gallery". No simple slideshow, this is a three minute featurette where Fangmeier narrates over the first visual presentation he gave to Fox to pitch the film.
Around the next curve, we enter GIL'EAD, where the producers have stored seven deleted scenes -- a little over twelve minute's worth. Readers who wondered what happened to Katrina, the butcher's daughter who runs off with Eragon's cousin, or the Varden priests who put Eragon through the Vulcan mind meld, this is where you'll find them.
GIL'EAD is a small town, and it's abutted right against TEIRM. In TEIRM, you find a much-needed Pronunciation Guide, original storyboards ("Saphira Hatches", "Raising the Ra'zac", "A Hard Journey", "Durza's Scouts", "Brom's Tale", and "Battle in the Sky"), and the lost storyboards that didn't make it into the film ("Hearing Voices", "Smashing the Hut", "Name Your Dragon", and "Catch the Bird".)
Fill your water skins, because we're going to now trek across the HADARAC DESERT. Which isn't nearly as big as you'd think a desert would or should be. It's a mere two minutes of "Saphira's Animation Guide", narrated by Fangmeier.
URŘ'BAEN hides a four minute segment, "Eldest - Christopher Paolini Interview". The BEOR MOUNTAINS are home to the Teaser Trailer, Theatrical Trailer, a three minute making-of documentary for the "Eragon" video game, and a montage of Fox DVDs.
Which brings us to FARTHEN DŘR (look it up in the pronunciation guide back in GIL'EAD; we'll wait) where a nicely done forty-four minute documentary waits for you. "The Secrets of AlagaŽsia" focuses on visual effects supervisors Michael McAlister and John Van Vliet. You'll see several scenes done in wireframe and blue screen, as well as how the same scenes appeared in their finished forms.
The main feature can be played with a commentary track by Stefen Fangmeier. The audio can be set to English 5.1 DTS, English 5.1 Dolby Digital, Spanish Dolby Surround, and French Dolby Surround, with optional subtitling in English or Spanish (pity the deaf French.)
Previews on this disc include "Night at the Museum".