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The fantasy novel


gained fame for the youthfulness of its author Christopher Paolini who was fifteen when he began writing his tale of a boy and his dragon. Now


(opening December 15 throughout San Diego) arrives on the big screen and Fox is hoping it will tap into the youth market as kids begin their winter break.

Eragon is the first part of what Christopher Paolini has planned as his Inheritance Trilogy . The second book, Eldest , has already been published and the final installment is yet to come. In his first book, Paolini introduces us to a farm boy of fifteen named Eragon (played by newcomer Edward Speleers). Eragons mother left when he was young and he now lives with a kindly uncle and the uncles son. While hunting illegally on the property of evil King Galbatorix (John Malkovich), Eragon comes across a large, shiny blue stone. He takes it, hoping he can trade it for food or other necessities. But the butcher will have nothing to do with an item taken from the kings land so Eragon brings the stone home. But the object is not a precious stone but rather a dragon egg.

Edward Speleers and Jeremy Irons in Eragon.

The egg hatches and Eragon finds himself with a pet dragon. The dragon is named Saphira (voiced by Rachel Weisz) and she quickly grows from a cute pet to an imposing creature. Saphira has also chosen Eragon as her rider, and this creates a bond that apparently cannot be broken and that comes with a preordained destiny that Eragon is not sure hes ready for. Eragon meets up with Brom (Jeremy Irons), a mysterious man who seems to know quite a lot about dragon lore. He explains that dragons and their riders did exist, and they had helped keep order in the kingdom. But one of the ridersthe man who would become King Galbatorixbetrayed the others and had the dragons exterminated. Legend, however, has it that a dragon and a rider will rise again to challenge the evil king and reclaim the kingdom for the people. And apparently Eragon is that rider of legend, and destiny has chosen him as the one to lead a rebellion.

The Eragon novel has been extremely popular with young readers. Not quite up there with Harry Potter or Lord of the Rings but definitely with a strong following. Part of the attraction is that Paolini was the age of both his character and many of his readers when he began writing his story. Eragon definitely has elements that would appeal to young boys: swordplay, dragons, a fantasy setting, humor, big battles and just a hint of romance but with the girl being a fighter rather than a damsel in distress. My thirteen year-old-son is a fan of the novel and came with me to the screening. The film left him with his first the book was better disappointment.

Since I never read the book, I had a more favorable response but I do have to confess to having a weakness for movies with dragons and mythological beasts. Director Stefen Fangmeier (who comes from a visual effects background) doesnt create his fantasy world with the same meticulous detail that Peter Jackson invested in the Lord of the Ring Trilogy. As a result, Eragon creates a less vivid and compelling fantasy world.

Tha dragon Saphira in Eragon.

Based on my sons enthusiastic book report, I would have to conclude that the film trims back the novel to its bare essentials, reducing most of the characters to fleeting supporting roles and scaling back the battle scenes. There's little time for Brom to mentor Eragon, and Eragon's learning of magic is definitely pushed aside. Fangmeier and screenwriter Peter Buchman try to keep the film moving at a good pace but they neglect to pause for detail or character development. Yet despite some shortcomings, Eragon is an appealing film with a well-rendered CG dragon that looks convincingly like the one pictured on the cover of the novel. The flying sequences are definitely fun, delivering the same kind of thrill as the pod racing in The Phantom Menace. Rachel Weisz as the voice of Saphira does not endow her dragon with quite as much personality as Sean Connery was able to do with his dragon in Dragonheart . But Saphira is credibly rendered and exhibits enough personality and expression to charm viewers.

The human characters also prove appealing. As Brom, Irons makes a grand old dragon rider, investing him with just the right mix of irony, mentorship and sadness. The young Speleers is earnest and spirited as Eragon. He exhibits some of the same star potential as the young Heath Ledger did in the Fox show Roar . Robert Carlyle makes a fittingly despicable villain but John Malkovich is not very impressive as the evil king who once was a dragon rider.

Visually the film has a clean, well-polished look even when the locales are meant to be dark and dank. This reveals the difference between a well-mounted studio film and a film made by someone whos passionate about the material fueled by a vision for bringing it to the screen. The latter is what Jackson achieved with Lord of the Rings in which he created a vivid fantasy world that truly felt lived in. Eragon has a pretty and glossy feel to its fantasy world that places it more in line with the recent Chronicles of Narnia. The violence here is never harsh and the danger level never too severe.

Eragon (rated PG) is a pleasing if not inspired adaptation of Christopher Paolinis novel. I suspect that as with my son, most fans of the book will feel shortchanged. Fox plans to bring the other two books to the screen as well and maybe the next installment will take the time to develop the characters more and to detail their world with a little more care.

Companion viewing: The Lord of the Ring Trilogy, Dragonheart, Jason and the Argonauts

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