Based on Christopher Paolini's huge bestseller, begun when he was just 15 years old, the film version of Eragon tells a familiar fantasy story. The title character is a 17-year-old boy raised by his uncle in the small town of Carvahall in the kingdom of Alagaesia. When he stumbles upon a remarkable blue stone that turns out to be a dragon's egg—and its winged occupant suddenly hatches right in front of him—Eragon quickly realizes he and she (Saphira) share a telepathic connection.
Eragon seeks answers from a local storyteller and soon-to-be mentor named Brom. But before he can get very many of them, the two humans and their dragon pal must run for their lives when Galbatorix, the evil and wrongful king of the land, sends powerful and maggot-faced Ra'zacs to kill the newly discovered dragon rider.
On their journey to join forces with the Varden, one of the last remaining groups still resisting the king from its hidden mountain fortress, Brom trains Eragon in the history of the dragon riders, sword fighting, and the magical words of incantation from the ancient language of the elves. Then Eragon takes a detour to rescue Arya, a beautiful elf connected to him through his dreams and held captive by an evil sorcerer, or "shade," named Durza, a servant of Galbatorix. Before it's all over, there's a massive, underground battle between the Varden and the king's army of Urgals—and a final face-off between Eragon and Durza.
Just as Neo and Frodo did before him, Eragon struggles (successfully) to accept his role as the long-awaited champion of his people. He, Brom, Saphira and many others risk their own lives and safety for the good of others. They stand against an evil king and seek to restore justice in their land. Similarly, those who acknowledge Eragon's hero role are willing to sacrifice themselves to see him succeed.
Eragon slowly learns to respect Brom and value his teaching as an older, wiser man. Brom teaches Eragon that it takes wisdom and self-control to use one's power successfully. Likewise, Eragon and his cousin, with whom we see him living briefly at the beginning, both express great respect and love for the man who has raised both of them. The cousin, when he leaves home to make his own way in the world, tells his father, "Your blessing is all I need."
Eragon's world is full of the supernatural. "Good" magic, practiced by elves and dragon riders, faces off against evil magic, employed by sorcerers. Telepathic connections are common. Dragons and their riders communicate by reading each others' thoughts, and both the elves and shades can seemingly enter others' minds and/or dreams. In one scene of divination, a fortune-teller's eyes cloud over as she casts dragon claws and cryptically reveals Eragon's future. Incantations result in displays of both "white" and "black" magic, generating energy pulses, explosions, etc. Shades can teleport themselves.
Dragon riders are said to derive magical powers through the connections with their dragons and to exercise that power with the use of magical, elvish words. Eragon does so regularly, manipulating trees, fire, and performing healing acts. Durza, meanwhile, is said to be "possessed by demonic spirits," giving a clue that all the evil power in the story flows from some satanic source. The only hint of any divine spiritual source is Brom's suggestion that Eragon "pray to heaven."
Thus, we're left to guess at what supernatural energy source the good guys tap into for their magical and telepathic abilities. Is this a universe similar to that of the Harry Potter and Star Wars sagas in which supernatural energy is simply available for good or evil purposes, depending on the "darkness" or "lightness" of the user? Or does Paolini's Alagaesia have more in common with J.R.R. Tolkien's world in which good power flows from a pure (and God-like) spiritual place and evil power flows from an evil source? Precious little in this first film, of what will likely be a trilogy, speaks to this issue.
And just when you think you might have figured it all out, you learn that neither good nor evil nor incantation nor potion nor spell is credited for bringing Saphira to Eragon. Fate seems to be responsible for that.
We briefly see a hint of cleavage and leg when Arya is captured.
Although the muck-covered and brutish Urgals dress in black, grunt a lot and carry pointy weapons, most of the plentiful battle scenes are bloodless and indistinct. Explosions, fire, arrow-shooting, and sword-fighting result in flying and scattered dead bodies (generally seen briefly or from a distance). One character is fatally wounded by a spear to the chest, resulting in a little blood.
Although he barely touches her, Durza appears to torture the elf Arya with his mind; she squirms and grimaces in response. He also poisons her with some kind of dark magic. In addition, Durza kills one or two of his minions with his mind (and/or his creepy black fingernail) and jabs a sharp weapon into an Urgal's foot (out of camera view). At one point, Durza is shot in the forehead with an arrow, but we learn he can be fully dispatched only by a sword to the heart.
The dragon Saphira knocks over and munches bad guys, as well as setting them aflame (seen from a distance). In the climactic battle that's more flash and dazzle than grim or disturbing, Saphira is bitten and bleeds when she's attached by some sort of supernatural beast.
Crude or Profane Language
None. (Unless it's in one of the elvish languages. I don't speak elvish.)
Drug and Alcohol Content
Old guys appear to be drinking at a small-town watering hole. When we first meet him, Brom may be drunk (or he may be acting tipsy to maintain his cover).
Other Negative Elements
All of the baddies are gross and scary-looking, especially Durza and the two Ra'zac. They might be too much for some kids. Of more concern is the fact that Brom teaches Eragon the old saw, "It's better to ask forgiveness than permission." Eragon takes the lesson to heart. "One part brave, three parts fool" is deemed the right recipe for a successful leader.
The book Eragon is nothing short of a publishing phenomenon, as is its young author Christopher Paolini. First published by his parents' small private press in 2002, when Paolini was just 18 years old, the book was picked up by Knopf and has set up shop on the New York Times bestseller list for, well, years. It's sequel, Eldest, the second of a planned trilogy, isn't far behind.
Although the books have received mixed reviews for a storyline heavily influenced by Star Wars, Lord of the Rings, and even the King Arthur legend, the appeal to younger readers willing to march through their lengthy contents is undeniable. And the personable Paolini is a virtual poster boy for the home-schooling movement, whose members sometimes cite his success after graduating at the age of 15 as additional evidence for the value of such a focused and personal education. However, some parents have also expressed concerns about the books' violent scenes and heavy emphasis on magic. (More on that in a moment.)
Paolini has made it clear that he had very little to do with the construction of the movie version of his story. That's to his credit. It's not a surprise to learn that first-time director Stefen Fangmeir has spent the bulk of his career providing visual effects for a wide variety of blockbuster films, seeing as how Eragon feels like a B-movie with A-movie CGI. Its dragon is fully realized and believable in thrilling flight sequences and battle scenes, especially in the film's last act. With support from both Industrial Light & Magic (the company responsible for making Star Wars shine) and Weta Workshop (Lord of the Rings), the quality look of these moments makes sense.
It's in the overwrought script, choppy editing, low-budget sets and clumsy plotting that Eragon fails to take off. For starters, large chunks of the book are sacrificed to the film's 100-minute running time, leaving the final act, especially, vulnerable to a series of sudden character introductions and abrupt actions sequences. It's unclear, though, that more minutes would make for a more watchable film. Several scenes provide unintentional humor, especially those featuring John Malkovich as the evil king in his throne room who opens the film with the words, "I suffer without my stone! Do not prolong my suffering!" Even the talented Jeremy Irons can do little to save his screen time from awkward lines and "no surprises" character development.
That said, the filmmakers' choice to pursue a PG rating for the book's young fans is laudable. Given Paolini's text, Eragon could have easily been developed as a much darker, more gruesome and more violent spectacle. However, the issue of the magic still proves to be a sticking point. In one sense, it's helpful that the film acknowledges the demonic as a source of evil power, but without an opposing, strong and loving God to provide power to the "good magicians"—and a scene of fortune-telling divination straight from Paolini's book—fantasy fans and their families will be forced to wrestle with some of the same dilemmas created by the Harry Potter stories.