Eragon is one of the best young adult fantasy books to turn up on the literary marketplace in recent history. It has a compelling coming of age storyline, dragons, elves, dwarves, and some genuinely engaging characters. So it was with great hope that I greeted the announcement that they were releasing a film adaptation of the book. However, the film was a massive disappointment that left a sour taste in the mouth, and it’s no wonder that a sequel was never commissioned.
There is nothing offensive in Ed Speeler’s performance as the central character Eragon; indeed he has an ineffable charisma that makes his youthful coltishness charming. He simply does not portray the character from the book on the big screen. Eragon may be a young boy, but there is a troubled strength in him, particularly after the death of his uncle Garrow at the hands of the Ra’zac. His desire for vengeance is muted, and the depths of his character are abandoned which ultimately makes him boring. Similarly the portrayal of elf warrior princess Arya by Sienna Guillory is dull. The firebrand warrior is turned into an insipid damsel in need of rescue who does very little other than lie ill until Eragon saves her from the main antagonist of the film, the ‘Shade’ Durza.
In contrast, Jeremy Iron’s performance as Bron – dragon rider turned storyteller – is nothing short of awful. His brash and over-the-top performance misses some of the subtleties of the character who is conflicted by the emotional loss of his dragon and the destruction of his organisation by the evil king Galbatorix. Instead he spends the film whisper-shouting rushed exposition. Similarly, Joss Stone’s inexplicable turn as witch Angela couldn’t have been more miscast. Instead of a full-of-life mischievous (if mysterious) character she became a weird amalgamation of every fortune teller trope out there. Similarly the terrifying creatures the Ra’zac are diluted down to a PG ‘horror’ creatures.
The writing of the film doesn’t match up to the quality of the text. This is not to say that Eragon is perfect as a book, but it has a kind of nostalgia and charm, specially for those who were teenagers when the book was first released. Christopher Paolini grew as an author through the series, and the final instalment Inheritance showcased his authorial talent. In comparison, the writing of the film was rushed, with exposition and explanations thrown in as a rushed necessity to make the film make sense. Some of the dialogue is cringeworthy – in places, it’s dire. Main characters, such as dwarf Orik who informs Eragon about much of the subtleties of the dwarf clans that support the rebel group the Varden, is dropped completely, which means again that a lot of the political elements of social interaction between the human and dwarf factions are lost. This is to the disservice of the text because it reduces it down to a ‘swords and shields’ battle story, focusing on big battles between magical creatures rather than the political subplots which add some of the flavour to Eragon.
Overall Eragon was a disappointing adaptation which missed so many of the interesting things which made the books so compelling. It just dilutes it down into a pale shadow and a generic fantasy tale.
Eragon is rated PG, and is distributed by Twentieth Century Fox.