I’ve been on something of a movie review kick lately, talking about some big and small screen adaptations of books that I’ve loved since I was a kid and now here we are with the 2006 movie adaptation of Eragon by Christopher Paolini. I promised it in my review of the adaptations of the Alex Rider series by Anthony Horowitz which you can check out here and here and also the adaptation of the Artemis Fowl series by Eoin Colfer which you can check out here. Full disclosure, as much as there were issues which I will expand upon below, I really liked this movie as a kid and it was nostalgic and strangely gratifying to rewatch it again for the first time in years.
Also quick note for the reader, I despite massive evidence to the contrary am a pretty good editor but occasionally things slip past me. Also my phone where I write up the first draft of posts has a bad habit of autocorrecting words so if at any point it says Aragorn instead of Eragon please blame my exceptionally capricious and evidently Lord of the Rings obsessed Autocorrect system.
Okay, now before moving on to the actual review I’ll share a little bit more about the film. Eragon stylised as eragon (all lower case) so they can do a cute design with the E which resembles a dragon is a 2006 action/fantasy film directed by Stefen Fangmeier (in his directorial debut) who has worked on a variety of films as a visual effects supervisor such as Lemony Snicket’s A Series of Unfortunate Events, Saving Private Ryan, Terminator 2: Judgment Day. While Eragon was his first time directing a movie himself, he was the second unit director for Galaxy Quest and Dreamcatcher. The screenplay for Eragon was written by Peter Buchman (known for writing the screenplays to Jurassic Park III, the two part biopic based on the life of Argentine Marxist revolutionary Ernesto “Che” Guevara and The Foreigner) and is based on Christopher Paolini’s 2002 book of the same name.
The film has a very strong cast, Ed Speleers (noted for his roles in Outlander, Downton Abbey and Beowulf: Return to the Shieldland) as Eragon, Jeremy Irons (noted for his roles in The Man in the Iron Mask, Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice and Watchmen) as Brom, Sienna Guillory (noted for her roles in Resident Evil, Lucky Man and Luther) as Arya, Robert Carlyle (noted for his roles in Trainspotting, The World Is Not Enough and Stargate) as Durza, Rachel Weisz (noted for her roles The Mummy franchise, The Lovely Bones and Black Widow) as the voice of Saphira, John Malkovich (noted for his roles in Being John Malkovitch, RED and Con Air) as Galbatorix, Garrett Hedlund (noted for his roles in Troy, Tron: Legacy and On the Road) as Murtagh, Chris Egan (noted for his roles in Home and Away, Kings and Dominion) as Roran, Djimon Hounsou (noted for his roles in Amistad, Gladiator and Shazam) as Ajihad and Caroline Chikezie (noted for her roles in As If, Footballers’ Wives and The Governor) as Nasuada.
Okay now that we’ve got that out of the way let’s get started with the review properly. The film was not perfect, even with nostalgia goggles and rose tinted glasses and any other metaphorical eyewear designed to obscure the truth I can still say that. It does not however deserve as much hate as it got. Does it simplify plot elements from the book? Yes! Does it remove, change and or add elements not present in the book? Again Yes! But did I enjoy it when I watched it as a kid and then again as a slightly stunted 26 year-old earlier this week? That’s another big yes right there.
First off it’s okay in my books just by existing. It brought the rich, colourful world of Alagaësia from the pages of a book and from inside my head to the big screen. It has to be applauded for that, sure the book to movie adaptation Harry Potter kind of paved the way, bringing out a steady release of movies every 1-2 years from 2001 until 2011. It seemed like the time was perfect for turning a children’s/young adult book into a movie. I mean the same year that Eragon dropped, the Alex Rider movie, Stormbreaker came out (interestingly enough the lead in that was actually in talks to lead this film instead but declined as he is afraid of flying and so could not travel to Central Europe where filming took place) and I actually think that these movies struggled for exactly the same reason.
While as a logical person of somewhat sound mind and body I understand that it simply isn’t feasible to make an exact remake of a book. To use Harry Potter again, I would say it is an incredibly successful and largely faithful adaptation of the works it is based upon and even it still gets flak for what it didn’t include or what it did change. Eragon, Alex Rider and Artemis Fowl changed too much. They followed a rough outline of the world, characters and plot present and the result was something that is wholly serviceable (maybe even good) in a vacuum is a sad representation of the book upon which it is based.
But I’m getting ahead of myself, first off what’s good about it. As I said above, without making any considerations for the fact that it is based on the book, it is a thoroughly enjoyable fantasy movie, with engaging action scenes, a strong cast of characters and the perfect vibe and energy for the type of audience who might go see such a film. It’s also a beautiful film, Saphira in particular was an impressively executed concept but also the rich cinematography of Central Europe made for a great backdrop to the movie.
Likewise the soundtrack for the movie was another win, it perfectly backed up the action and especially as a kid was a big part of the overall enjoyment of the experience. Also, and not to keep relating this movie to Harry Potter but apparently the composer for the movie, Patrick Doyle, composed 2005’s Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire. Also a really interesting fact, Avril Lavigne, the pop punk powerhouse, sorry I love alliteration, contributed a song to the soundtrack, specifically ‘Keep Holding On’. Another reason to love the soundtrack of this movie if I’ve ever heard one.
Some cast shone brighter than others, Ed Speleers, Jeremy Irons and John Malkovich really brought a lot to their roles, in fact they were genuine highlights in a movie that otherwise did struggle a little with delivery and tone.
Okay those are some of the good points about the movie, and again I say this all with love, let’s move on to the bad points. I think honestly the true root of this movie’s issues is just in what they changed and how they deviated from the book.
First off, and perhaps my least favourite change, And please do be aware of *Spoilers* Eragon kills the Ra’zac, not only does he do so relatively easily all things considered which robs the movie of some of its intensity, although admittedly in the movie they are something of a minor antagonist compared to the much bigger threat of Durza and Galbatorix but also in killing them we are immediately robbed of a potential sequel undercutting the potential franchise as a whole because later books follow Eragon as he attempts to eradicate the Ra’zac. I get why they did it, we needed a win, something that felt awesome and victorious but nonetheless it was not a welcome change in my opinion. Which reminds me they changed how Brom died, he was killed by the Ra’Zac in the books, and it impacted Eragon’s journey and development, in the books he is killed by Durza. Ironically has they kept his death the same in the movie, having the plot change where Eragon kills the Ra’Zac would be better and would be more satisfying.
I also did not like how much they watered down the character of Angela, sure the actual scenes with her are okay. But she has none of the vibrancy, energy or enigmatic, amusing qualities of Angela. She’s instead a bog standard caricature of a fortune teller. She also doesn’t have an awesome cat. And neither appear later, meaning that likely this version of Angela cannot go on to be involved in future stories like her book counterpart, further undercutting potential sequels. It’s also a load of little stuff, not naming characters, or cutting them out entirely. I mean Roran, Eragon’s cousin is important in the books, he completely separate from his Dragon Rider cousin, leaves Carvahall to earn money so he can propose to his beloved Katrina, and ends up embarking on a journey that results in him saving his entire village, travelling by sea to find The Varden and fighting in several battles where he gains a fearsome reputation for falling enemy soldiers with his hammer. Whereas the movie version leaves Carvahall to escape being conscripted into the imperial army. This essentially neuters the character, removed a core drive present in the book character and once again cancelled out elements critical to a sequel. They also remove the twins who while basically minor characters, have actions which impact other characters profoundly.
To be fair not all the changes were bad especially considering the time frame of the movie, I actually really liked the transitional shot where Saphira ages up quickly, it was enjoyable even if we were robbed off some scenes of her actually growing up naturally. I didn’t like the portrayal of Arya in the movies either, not only was the acting not great overall for the character but she was starkly different from her book counterpart and while the changes are understandable as book Arya is cold and no-nonsense and that would make it harder for viewers to care about her in the movie it still felt like a change that further distances itself from the book.
So yeah, the dozens of changes big and small result in a movie that not only firmly cancels out any sequels which faithfully adapt subsequent books but also creates something that loses just enough of the spirit and efficacy of the books to just not be as good. And I don’t mean that in the stodgy, contrarian, the ‘book is better’ kind of way but in a very real, I am a fan of the books and I liked the movie but can also look at it objectively and say why I think it flopped kind of way. Much like with the Artemis Fowl movie I am forced to ask why they bothered to adapt from a source material if they planned on changing the story so fundamentally, and while Eragon doesn’t change quite as much as Artemis Fowl and is still recognisable and the product of those books it fails in its role as a big screen adaptation.
So in conclusion, I do strongly feel it was a good film, definitely worth a watch. It was fun, easily digestible and gave me hours of enjoyment watching and rewatching as a kid. But it is not a good adaptation, and it changed too much, lost too much if I’m being honest and so it earns a 2.5/5.
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