Christopher Paolini’s story is the stuff of dreams: He is the teenager who wrote a novel and had it published by his parents, only to watch as it became a wildly successful New York Times bestseller. That book was “Eragon”; now, with one sequel down and one more in the works, the first book of the Inheritance Trilogy has been adapted for the screen.

While the book was ultimately unoriginal and derivative, it had a certain charm that made it pleasurable and fun when taken for what it was: light entertainment. The film, however, can only duplicate the book’s flaws.

The movie opens with Eragon (newcomer Ed Speleers), a young farmboy, who discovers a dragon egg while hunting in the forest. The egg hatches into a dragon, and Eragon is forced to flee for his life before he gets captured by the forces of the evil king Galbatorix (John Malkovich, “Art School Confidential”). Accompanying Eragon is wise and grizzled veteran Brom (Jeremy Irons, “Kingdom of Heaven”), who does his best Obi-Wan Kenobi as he teaches Eragon about swordplay, magic and dragon riding.

The worst part about the movie is the screenplay, which is a hodge-podge of familiar visual setups and horrible dialogue. It doesn’t even come close to presenting the original story, and there is no logical reason for the many changes.

For example, Murtagh (Garrett Hedlund, “Four Brothers”), who plays quite an important role in the book, is reduced to a cameo. Ultimately, those who have not read the book will probably be confused as each scene plays out independently of the others – this makes the film at times almost incomprehensible without some prior knowledge of the characters and their quest.

Perhaps worst of all is that this epic story was reduced to a mere 99 minutes. There’s no time to flesh out any of the characters or plotlines.

But the location where the film is shot (mostly Hungary) is breathtaking, and the set production is excellent. The digital effects, no doubt the reason that first-time director and special-effects wizard Stefen Fangmeier (“Lemony Snicket’s A Series of Unfortunate Events”) was hired, are crisp and work well. And Eragon’s dragon Saphira (voiced by Rachael Weisz, “The Constant Gardener”) is among the only places the film matches the magic of the text.

The acting in the film is erratic, even though Fangmeier has an A-list cast including not only Irons and Malkovich, but Djimon Honsou (“The Island”). Speleers in the lead is adequate, though it’s painfully clear he has not had any acting experience when he has to share the screen with Irons.

“Eragon” is most unsatisfying as a movie because of how easily correctable so many of the problems with the film are. It’s just another example of a cheap studio cash-in of a literary phenomenon.

Rating: 1 out of 5 stars

At Showcase and Quality 16
20th Century Fox

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