Eragon (2 stars)
Director: Stefen Fangmeier.
Stars: Ed Speleers, Jeremy Irons, Robert Carlyle.
Rated: PG. Opens Friday.
Well, it's finally here: It took a little while thanks to the long cycles of Hollywood production on big-budget epics, but the first major Lord of the Rings ripoff has hit theaters, in all its grandiose-dialogue-spouting, word-inventing, trilogy-setting-up glory, only minus the genuine wonder, excitement and creativity of Peter Jackson's monumental franchise. Eragon, based on the first in the Inheritance trilogy of books by young author Christopher Paolini (he began writing Eragon at age 15, and had it published when he was 19), is a rather sloppy mix of well-worn high-fantasy clichés, most of which were born in J.R.R. Tolkien's Rings trilogy in the 1950s.
Tolkien's books spawned an entire subgenre of literature, but in film fantasy like this is much rarer, so Eragon looks even more like direct plagiarism without a legion of similarly derivative products to hide among. It's equal parts LOTR and Star Wars, with its fresh-faced farm boy Luke, er, Eragon (Ed Speleers, channeling early Mark Hamill blandness) discovering that he has been chosen to defeat an evil empire personified by an angry, snotty old dude (in this case, John Malkovich, no doubt paid handsomely for three scenes as the nasty king of the film's fantasy realm).
After finding and bonding with the world's last known free dragon (voiced in a rather inappropriately erotic fashion by Rachel Weisz), Eragon teams up with the poor man's Obi-Wan Kenobi, a local crank played by Jeremy Irons, forms a fellowship of the, um, dragon, and sets off to save the world, or at least make one incremental step along the process of saving the world, so as to have some sense of accomplishment but not actually do enough that the inevitable sequels seem unwarranted.
Elizabeth Taylor and Richard Burton Film Collection (4 stars $49.98) Never mind the panty-phobic Britney Spears; Elizabeth Taylor's famously turbulent romance with Richard Burton likely sold more newspapers and magazines than any other scandal in Hollywood history. This boxed set contains four of the dozen films in which they appeared together: Who's Afraid of Virginia Woolf?, The Comedians, The Sandpiper and The V.I.P.s. Of these DVDs, by far the most significant is Edward Albee's scabrous cautionary tale about the dangers of mixing booze with a bad marriage. Apart from the still powerful performances by Taylor, Burton, George Segal and Sandy Dennis, the two-disc Virginia Woolf set is enhanced by commentaries from directors Mike Nichols and Steven Soderbergh, plus biographic material and featurettes.
Visual effects supervisor Stefen Fangmeier, whose name sounds like it ought to belong to a character in the film, makes an inauspicious directorial debut, predictably emphasizing effects over character and story, both of which are given a rather perfunctory treatment, and exhibiting an alarming over-reliance on sweeping aerial shots of people riding over mountains on horseback that are lifted wholesale from Jackson.
And then all of the wooden dialogue and generic hero-questing doesn't even lead to much of note, merely setting up a sequel that may never come to pass. If it does, though, it'll probably be able to blend in more easily with the coming onslaught of quickie fantasy epics.