Nine-year-olds with no knowledge whatsoever of any of the six "Star Wars" movies may find the movie version of "Eragon" the most original fantasy movie they've seen. Since it's impossible to imagine such 9-year-olds anywhere in the known universe, one can assume that what will draw them to "Eragon" are the popular Christopher Paolini novels on which they're based.
Whatever their reasons for seeing the movie, kids can at best expect to find a barely serviceable replication of the story of how the title character - a terminally callow farm boy (Ed Speleers) - is called upon to become a Dragon Rider, heir to a once-proud, all-but-eviscerated fraternity of high-flying knights defending peace and freedom.
It takes awhile (though not as long as one might suppose) for such commitment to find our hero - who, to be honest, comes across through most of the movie as a well-meaning, gilt-edged meathead. He must first trip over a sapphire "stone" swiped by a fugitive princess (Sienna Guillory) from a malevolent dark-clothed ruler (John Malkovich).
The "stone," of course, turns out to be a dragon's egg whose occupant grows to full size after one flight above the clouds. (She comes back to Earth talking exactly like Rachel Weisz.) The ruler sics ogres and a wizard (Robert Carlyle) on Eragon, whose kindly uncle is murdered.
The kid reluctantly runs off with a seedy-but-wise old vagrant named Brom (Jeremy Irons), who turns out to know a lot about dragons and swordsmanship. The only thing missing from all this is The Force, though there are a lot of magic words flying around and melting things.
Not even the computer-generated dragon is all that original for those who remember (there must be some) 1996's "DragonHeart." Still, the fact that director Stefen Fangmeier's background is in visual effects and digital projection ensures a handsome-looking dragon and lots of swooping and dipping in the skies. After awhile, though, it occurs even to those who don't play video games that they might find similar thrills in front of the set.
With most of the work going into the tech stuff, the actors seem left pretty much on their own.
Irons assumes the once-mighty mentor routine with assurance and grace, and Carlyle bares his fangs with admirable restraint.
Copyright © 2007, Newsday Inc.
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