2½ stars (out of four)
Based on the first book in Christopher Paolini's fantasy trilogy about a boy and his dragon, "Eragon" is a bit cheesy, but I rather liked it. It's sincere cheese. The dragon, Saphira, comes with goo-goo eyes that go beyond imposing and end up looking adorably ridiculous. They're matched by the dragon voice, all good sense and maternal fire, provided by Rachel Weisz. The special effects -- which include glowing-eyed heroes and villains, and flights over the mythical land of Alagaesia depicted in "dragon vision" -- are refreshing in their slightly out-of-date air.
Chiefly, "Eragon" has Jeremy Irons in the craggy-mentor role. He's not exactly stealing line readings from Alec Guinness in "Star Wars" or Ian McKellen in the "Lord of the Rings" trilogy. Not exactly. But when Irons, portraying an old cuss allied with the rebels against the evil King Galbatorix, waxes nostalgic about the days of yore and "a time ... of dragons and ... dragon riders," the pauses are exquisite. You could never get the same pauses from an American actor.
The mentor must have a pupil. This one is a simple farm boy, Eragon (Ed Speleers), who becomes the keeper of a dragon egg stolen from the king by warrior Arya (Sienna Guillory). The dragon hatches and the bond between human and winged creature is instantaneous. There is more to the plot, including the menacing sorcerer Durza (Robert Carlyle). But that'll hold you for now.
John Malkovich plays Galbatorix. In his very first shot he poses and glowers in such a way that indicates "Eragon" will not be an enterprise free from camp. Besides which: What's up with that name anyway? Galbatorix sounds like a drain unclogger, not a dark lord of a fabulous kingdom.
Shooting largely in scenic, affordable Hungary and Slovakia, director Stefen Fangmeier does all right with most of his duties, though he's not a man who can show you large groups of marauding hordes without his camera turning to stone. Still, like "The Chronicles of Narnia," which was based on somewhat better material, "Eragon" has the courage of its earnest, borderline-humorless convictions. Paolini was still in his teens when he wrote the first of his "Inheritance" trilogy, and it shows. The movie, which feels big and small simultaneously, is best when Irons is doing his Sean Connery impression or when Eragon takes the dragon out for another thrill ride.
It's all fairly violent (I'd have gone PG-13 instead of PG, which was true also of "Narnia"), but not soul-crushingly brutal the way some kid-aimed fantasies are. At one point, Irons takes care to remind his young charge that "death ... is nothing to celebrate." Yes, well, tell that to "Apocalypto."
Directed by Stefen Fangmeier; screenplay by Peter Buchman, based on Christopher Paolini's novel; cinematography by Hugh Johnson; edited by Roger Barton; production design by Wolf Kroeger; music by Patrick Doyle; produced by John Davis and Wyck Godfrey. A Twentieth Century Fox release. Running time: 1:43. MPAA rating: PG (fantasy violence, intense battle sequences and some frightening images).
Eragon -- Ed Speleers
Brom -- Jeremy Irons
Arya -- Sienna Guillory
Durza -- Robert Carlyle
King Galbatorix -- John Malkovich
Ajihad -- Djimon HounsouCopyright © 2015, Los Angeles Times