The fantasy land of Hollywood now presents “Eragon,” essentially “Star Wars” — with dragons. Or maybe “The Lord of the Rings” — with dragons.
This sword-and-sorcery tale loots its plot points and character archetypes from millennia of standard-issue mythology, old and new. It does offer some striking visual effects and a climactic battle of computer-generated combatants that’s rousing enough, even if it looks like outtakes from the epic clash of “The Return of the King.”
To the movie’s credit, director Stefen Fangmeier has rounded up a top-notch cast, including Academy Award winners Jeremy Irons and Rachel Weisz, along with John Malkovich, Djimon Hounsou and Robert Carlyle.
Adapted from the first novel in Christopher Paolini’s “Inheritance” trilogy, “Eragon” is set in Alagaesia, which would have made a good name for a laxative but is the author’s stand-in for Middle-earth of “The Lord of the Rings.”
Alagaesia is a realm of sorcerers, elves, monsters and dragons, though the latter have become scarce since tyrant King Galbatorix (Malkovich) betrayed the Jedi Knights, er, the dragon riders, humans who ride the flying beasts and maintain peace in the land.
Years ago, dragon rider Galbatorix managed to wipe out his brethren and their fire-breathing lizards — or so he thought. A single dragon egg has eluded him, and through some hocus-pocus, it comes into the possession of innocent farm boy Luke Skywalker, oops, Eragon (teenage newcomer Ed Speleers), who lives a quiet life in a small village with his uncle and cousin.
Resembling a huge blue jelly bean, the egg hatches to reveal the cutest little dragon you’ve ever seen. The wee one immediately bonds with Eragon, who has been chosen to lead the rebirth of the dragon riders and battle Galbatorix.
The dragon reaches mammoth adulthood fast — like, blink-of-an-eye fast, but that’s the problem with dragons, they grow up so quickly. Suddenly, the beastie is able to communicate telepathically with Eragon in Weisz’s classy voice (must be something about Oscar winners and dragons; Sean Connery was the reptile’s mouthpiece in 1996’s “Dragonheart”).
The dragon notifies Eragon that her name is Saphira, and she’s there to take him into the not-so-friendly skies. Tragedy at home sends Eragon and Saphira on the run with Sir Alec Guinness, make that Irons, as Brom, a former dragon rider who becomes the youth’s Obi-Wan Kenobi mentor.
Brom instructs Eragon in the ways of dragon riders while racing to the rebel base, no, wait, the hideout of the freedom-fighting Varden, led by the noble Ajihad (Hounsou).
Meanwhile, back in Mordor, or rather, Galbatorix’s castle, the king and his sorcerer lackey Durza (Carlyle) keep sending their inept monster henchmen after Eragon and friends. Durza has imprisoned the lovely Princess Leia, wait, we mean the warrior princess Arya (Sienna Guillory), who was on a mission to find the next dragon rider and now is being used by the wizard to hunt down Eragon.
Lest Han Solo fans feel their man’s been left out, “Eragon” also includes the wily rogue Murtagh (Garrett Hedlund), who becomes an ally to the good guys despite his shady pedigree.
The story plays out by-the-numbers, with lots of magic, swordplay and some rather intense images for a PG-rated movie. Saphira’s a cool digital creation, soaring eagle-like on wings both scaly and feathery, her expressive face a nice match for Weisz’s stately voice.
Bland pretty boy Speleers is overshadowed by his dragon and human co-stars, with Irons especially impressive despite some very silly dialogue. With really bad teeth and wild auburn-red hair, Carlyle’s Durza is a decently deranged madman. Malkovich is limited to a few scenes, though the movie sets up a clear sequel with a bigger role for the evil king.
Far more interesting than anything on screen in “Eragon” is the back-story of its creator. Author Paolini just turned 23 and was home-schooled by his parents, the family publishing the novel themselves before Alfred A. Knopf picked it up and turned it into a bestseller, along with part two of the trilogy, “Eldest.”
That’s a great fantasy tale, and one that happens to be true.