The fact that the CGI dragon gives the best performance in this film is not going to impede the enjoyment of its intended audience, which is 9-12 year olds. It may, however, make it a bit of a long haul for accompanying family members.
This story has all the strengths and weaknesses of its origin as a best-selling book written by then-15-year old Christopher Paolini. The strength comes from the author’s conviction and enthusiasm for the story but the weakeness comes from its key elements being renamed rather then re-imagined.
Like all classic adventure sagas, it relies strongly on those Joseph Campbell archetypes — the reluctant “chosen one” hero (newcomer
Edward Speleers in the title role), who has no parents but does have (1) a wise mentor/teacher giving Shakespearean line readings to dialogue de(in this case, Jeremy Irons as Brom, a sort of cross between Obi-wan Kenobi and Yoda) and (2) a special force-like innate talent that competes with an impetuous nature, or, as they say in this film, “one part brave and three parts fool.” We have the meanies, lead by John Malcovich as evil King Galbatorix and Robert Carlyle, unrecognizeable under scrofulous make-up, as his even more evil henchman Durza. And we have the rebel forces, led by Djimon Honsou, and the brave but beautiful girl (Sienna Guillory). And we have a whole new vocabulary of not just words but of properties, principles, powers (including a grok-like draco-vision) and limits, which always has a lot of appeal for those young enough to have the brain space to absorb and store it without worrying about whether it will displace the few things they are already struggling to remember. And, of course, we have dragons, or at least one dragon, a devoted mind-melding, blue-eyed sweetheart of a flying dragon with the lovely voice of Rachel Weisz.
Even at 100 minutes, it drags, taking a long time to get going and relying on too much jaw-breaking exposition that even Iron’s velvet tones and Honsou’s quiet dignity cannot bring to life. The perfume-ad settings are lovely but static and the same could be said about the teen-dream cast. Speleers’ idea of acting is a slightly knit brow, an attempted hard stare, neither of which work very well. It was a big mistake to cast pop star Joss Stone as the blind fortune-teller. It isn’t just that she doesn’t make a believeable blind fortune-teller or even a believable middle ages character. She doesn’t make a believeable human being. Garrett Hedlund as Murtagh seems to be able to hold the screen, but it is hard to tell under the meticulously arranged bangs that hang over his eyes, unforunately making him look like a Pokemon bad guy.
Parents should know that this movie has a great deal of fantasy violence and peril with some sad deaths. Characters fight with arrows, swords, fire, and magic.
Families who see this movie should talk about what it means to be one part brave and three parts foolish. What decisions did Eragon later regret? What decisions did Brom later regret, and why? When characters say they expect someone who was more…what were they expecting? Would you believe Murtagh? Why?
Families who enjoy this film will also enjoy reading the books. They will also enjoy Ladyhawke, Dragonslayer, and The Lord of the Rings – The Motion Picture Trilogy.