'Star Wars' meets 'LOTR' in latest fantasy

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Newcomer Ed Speleers plays the title role in "Eragon."

By Sharon Eberson, Pittsburgh Post-Gazette

Been there, done that. That's "Eragon," from start to finish.

As each scene unfolded, the game became: Match that Moment to "Star Wars." After Jeremy Irons' voiceover narration replaces "A long time ago, in a galaxy far, far away ...," the movie is off and running as a "Star Wars" in Middle-earth knock-off.


Starring: Ed Speleers, Jeremy Irons, Robert Carlyle.

Director: Stefen Fangmeier.

Rating: PG for fantasy violence, intense battle sequences and some frightening moments.

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It seems obvious that Christopher Paolini, who famously began writing the best-selling novel "Eragon" as a teenager, had a proper pop-culture education and barely changed the characters' names to protect the obvious derivation.

Even the choice of first-time actor Ed Speleers to play Eragon will draw comparisons to Mark Hamill as Luke Skywalker, right down to the blond Beatle hair and a scene where the young Jedi -- I mean Dragon Rider -- stares off into a sunset. Urgals and Ra'zacs double for "Lord of the Rings' " Orcs and Urk-hai; the evil Durza, a "Shade" with a sorcerer's powers, displays shades of Darth Vader and "LOTR's" Saruman.

After Irons' voiceover cues the audience on the evil doings afoot in the land of Alagaesia, we meet Eragon, a poor farmer living with his uncle (isn't that how we first met Luke?). He resides in the kingdom of the nasty Galbatorix, the barely seen John Malkovich, who years ago defeated the heroic and benevolent Dragon Riders, killing off their dragons in the process, and keeps his subjects under his strong-arm rule. Irons is Brom (think Obi-Wan), a villager who tells dangerous tales of the king's treachery.

Interrupting Eragon's near idyllic life is the plight of a young woman, Arya (think Leia), who is chased through the forest by Durza. Before she is captured, she dispatches what the bad guy is after, a blue "stone" that magically finds its way to Eragon. The stone turns out to be an egg that hatches what would seem to be the kingdom's last dragon, with Durza and his minions in hot pursuit.

Eragon learns the dragon has chosen him to be her rider. He shares a telepathic relationship with the winged wonder, a female named Saphira (voice of Rachel Weisz), as he learns how to use the magic (re: the Force), in the language of the elves (more "LOTR"), that goes with his newfound power.

It's all oh-so George Lucas meets Peter Jackson, so that even the seamless computer-generated Saphira -- the work of Lucas' Industrial Light & Magic and Jackson's WETA effects companies -- won't be much of a wonder for jaded audiences. Even in the hands of first-time director Stefen Fangmeier, whose background is the visual-effects realm, it just seems so matter-of-fact.

Eragon's task is to hook up with the Vardan, rebels who have been awaiting the next Dragon Rider and the chance to challenge Galbatorix's rule. Their leader, in a wasted cameo, is "Blood Diamond's" Djimon Hounsou.

In its favor, "Eragon" is a fast-paced fantasy adventure with nothing to keep the kids away and enough action to keep them engaged. And it smartly borrows from the best -- a kind of trivia test for genre fans.

How "Eragon'" fares may be a matter of how much of a preteen heartthrob Speleers turns out to be. The teen, while not quite up to the task of going toe to toe with the estimable Irons, has a natural charm that might be the one thing in this film that was all his own.

Sharon Eberson can be reached at 412-263-1960 or seberson@post-gazette.com .


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