Covering the Front and Back Pages of the Newspaper
December 17, 2006
POP CULTURE: Eragon
Yesterday I took my 9-year-old son to see the film version of Eragon. I read to him every night, and in between the six Harry Potter books, the Hobbit and (currently) the Fellowship of the Ring, we did Eragon and its sequel in a proposed trilogy, Eldest.
The Eragon books are well-done, and certainly an impressive achievement for a teenage author. My son enjoys them, and while they are perhaps not books I would bother to read on my own, Christopher Paolini keeps the story going well enough to keep my interest.
That said, they aren't the most original things in the world. Some people have suggested that they are a Tolkein knockoff, but they are more accurately described as a Star Wars knockoff transplanted into a Tolkein-like universe:
*Ancient order of guardians of peace and justice reigns for a thousand years, gets done in by the treachery of one of their own.
*Ignorant farmboy who lives with his uncle discovers that he is the last heir to the order, is guided by old bearded hermit type who used to be one of them after the bad guys toast his farm and his uncle.
etc., etc., etc. The parallels grow stronger as the story goes on and into the second book (for any of you who may read the books or see the movie without having read both books, I'll keep the spoilers below the fold). What is stolen from Tolkein is more the world this takes place in - Paolini's elves and dwarves are almost entirely indistinguishable from Tolkein's, for example.
The movie wasn't terrible, taken in its own right, but I had a couple of specific problems with it. The most baffling problem was that the filmmakers systematically eliminated all of the plot elements that tied the story to its sequel, including eliminating key characters (Katrina, Jeod, Elva, Solembum, the dwarves, the Twins, the Cripple Who is Whole) and even appearing to kill one other character who survives to the third book. I assume they made this movie without either reading Eldest or consulting with Paolini, because the sequel will make far less sense without an explanation of how the threads of the story connect. Either that or they just assume that no sequel will be made.
A second problem is that the film changed all sorts of things big and small that did not need to be changed, and in many places by doing so removed the elements of Paolini's book that were original, or at least were cribbed from sources other than Tolkein, Peter Jackson and George Lucas. The Shade, for example, is a very vividly distinctive character in the book, with pale skin and red eyes to signify the extent to which he is possessed by evil spirits. In the film his skin doesn't approach that hue until the end, and his eyes are normal. But other characters, the Urgals, have red eyes. And about the Urgals: unlike Tolkein's orcs, they aren't supposed to be simply misshapen but rather are almost minotaur-like, standing taller than humans (the tallest breed run some eight feet tall), broad-shouldered and with horns. In the movie, no horns, and they are basically just ugly men with bad makeup, and look like rejects from a Peter Jackson casting call.
Specifically, the film appears to kill off one of the Ra'zac, the Nazgul/dementor-type horrors whose pursuit remains a theme into the third book.
I also thought some of the more theatrical scenes in the book had been undone unnecessarily - a classic example is the scene where Eragon is grievously wonded by the Shade (a wound that is a key element of the second book's plot) but is able to kill him when Arya and Saphira break the dwarves' treasured stone, distracting him. In the movie, no wound, no stone, no Arya, just Eragon defeating Durza in an aerial battle. Ajihad also suffers - Djimon Honsou plays him as a proud tribesman rather than the savvy politician he is.
Anyway, I could go on, but the basic point is that the film stripped away the epic sweep that allows us to see how Eragon becomes not only a warrior but also a leader, one who learns to understand the vast consequences of each of his acts and decisions. All that is left is the knockoffs.