Saturday, December 16, 2006

Eragon - Don't go see this movie

No, seriously, don't. If you loved the book, you'll be seriously pissed off; if you haven't read the book, you'll be confused, bored, and irritated; if you read it and didn't like it, you'll be pissed off you wasted your time.

How in the hell did they screw this one up? The book is a total slam dunk of a movie...

Ok, for those who don't know, Eragon is a book written by, at the time 15 year old, Christopher Paolini, as a lark/ homeschooling assignment. Christopher is a huge SF/F (Science Fiction and Fantasy) fan, and taking what he'd read, and his own creative efforts, smashed it all together and wrote a book.

The book itself is a reasonably well written, quite simple retelling of the "hero with a thousand faces" story. The homages, references, language, geography etc... read like a combination of Tolkien, Brooks, Goodkind, Eddings, Jordan, and McCaffery; wrapped all together and written from the perspective of a 15 year old kid... which actually isn't all that bad if it's done well, which Eragon was.

This is literally the archetypal fantasy story where a boy is born to great (or terrible) origins, which are hidden from him, or disguised. He generally loses his parents and is sent off to live with others, to protect him, but sometimes his parents simply hide things from him. Eventually he accidentally finds a portion of his special powers or secret history, and as a result he is put into danger and must leave everyone he knows. Sometimes those people are killed, or put at great risk. On his quest he is guided by an old man, as his mentor, who usually has something to do with his secret past, and is frequently secretly related to him. This mentor teaches him more of his powers and duties. The boy initially rejects his responsibilities, then is forced to embrace them to protect that which he loves; at which point the mentor is killed. By this time, the boy has usually developed a love interest, an overriding quest, or both. The death of his mentor catalyzes him to complete his quest. He is sent across the wilderness to face hardship without his mentor, calling on the mentors valuable lessons, and grows into a man in the process; then, strong and powerful, the boy returns to complete his quest the end.

Every single human culture, across all time, has this story in some for or another; with minor variations. Jesus Christ himself is an archetypal hero in this mold.

It's also the most common single fantasy or science fiction story, one of the most common historical fiction stories, and there are literally thousands of books and movies with the same basic plot line and characters.

Anyway, as I was saying, Eragon is a basic hero with a thousand faces type story; 'cept with dragons. Dragons are always a big fantasy plus.

How can you screw this up? Hollywood has done this story a million times, they know how to do it?

Well, you give it to a hack screenwriter who doesn't read the book; and you have it directed by a CGI supervisor who's never directed a movie; then you edit it like a music video, or maybe a Saturday morning cartoon.

There was no plot, no story, no character development, no motivation... At any time, if you'd asked a character "Why are we doing this", his only response could have been "because the script said so".

They cut out or drastically cut down perhaps half the book, including several characters absolutely critical to the plot and the story... which is OK, because they weren't planning on having any plot or story anyway...

The dropped characters in with no warning, and no reasoning and pretty much said "Ok, here's your new love interest. Here's your new best friend. You don't know why you're doing this but I'm the directer and we need this for the next shot".

The movie had no internal logic or consistency, but I'm guessing they thought you wouldn't notice because they cut every shot and every scene down to a few seconds at most, interspersed with pretty scenery (I think about 30 of the movies 100 minutes are spent riding horses around Slovakias carpathian mountains), and shots of the dragon.

The CGI in this movie is excellent; which considering the movie was directed by the Visual Effects Supervisor for Industrial Light and Magic is no surprise, but it looks like they spent all of their time, and all of their budget on the dragon, rather than.. ohhh I don't know,telling a story maybe?

What was good about the movie? Jeremy Irons was good, with what little they gave him, the dragon was gorgeous, Sienna Guilorry would have been good if she had any lines (mostly she just sat there and looked pouty), what cinematography wasn't left on the cutting room floor was pretty good, and in general the visual effects were good.

Seriously, that's it. Everything else was a big steaming pile of dragon crap.

I actually thought this movies was worse than Dungeons and Dragons, my previous low water mark for a major theatrically released fantasy movie.

The worst part is though? With a little more time and effort, a better director, and about 45 minutes more (making the move 2 hours 30, which is just fine for epic fantasy), this could have been a GREAT movie. The bones were there in the movie, and the meat was in the book. They could have very easily not cut it for the attention span of a crack addled ferret, and added in those missing story elements which would have developed and motivated the characters. 45 minutes would have been all it took to actually tell the story and develop the plot. I can't understand why they had to cut it down to 104 minutes. Honestly, it looks to me in a lot of places, that they actually DID film some of those missing elements, but then cut them out later for some reason.

So close, but no, they spent all their time and money on the visual effects, and their attractive leads, and absolutely none on just telling a good story.

Go and pick up the book, it's a good light read, and it's really worth reading. The second volume in the trilogy (the third is coming out in 2007 or 2008), Eldest, is a lot better; considering the kid was 4 years older when he wrote it, and actually, you know, expected it to be a real book and all..

If by some chance you do go see the movie after reading the book; be sure not to take any guns with you, because you're going to want to shoot the screen, then find the writer and director, and shoot them both too...

...No, wait, shooting's too good for them... You want to make them watch the movie over and over and over again like Alex in "A Clockwork Orange" until the mere thought of the movie causes them physical pain... then lock them permanently in a room where it plays on an endless loop, until they slowly starve to death, like Fortunato in the Eragon Oubliette...

Or maybe that's just me... I really need to get out more.