Sometimes, even The A.V. Club isn't impervious to the sexy allure of ostensible cultural garbage. Which is why there's I Watched This On Purpose, our feature exploring the impulse to spend time with trashy-looking yet in some way irresistible entertainments, playing the long odds in hopes of a real reward. And a good time.
Cultural infamy: I have to confess, I know virtually nothing about Eragon going in. I know it's got dragons, and that's why I told my friend the TiVo to grab it from HBO for me. I seem to recall it got pretty bad reviews. I don't know if it made any money. I'm going to check. Okay, it looks like Keith gave it a C-, and that it stars Jeremy Irons and John Malkovich. Also, it has "no momentum and no characters to care about," but it does have dragons. And wow, the Metacritic score is 38, and at Rotten Tomatoes, it's a poorly 16 percent "fresh." Even the videogame adaptations got shitty grades. Wikipedia says, "It was the 10th worst reviewed film of 2006, and the 31st highest grossing film of 2006 in the US." Apparently it's based on a series of books, but I don't even read Harry Potter, so I'm certainly not reading this.
Curiosity factor: It's just the fucking dragons. I want to see some dragons, okay? As you can see from the paragraph above, there is really no reason a thinking adult in 2008 should want to spend nearly two hours in front of a TV on a beautiful day watching this. Oh, and one more thing: When I told Keith I might watch it, his eyes lit up a little. I think he wants another grown-up to talk with about how shitty Eragon is. It can't be as bad as Mr. Magorium's Wonder Emporium, can it? It's got dragons, presumably with fire, and armor, and lots of legends and shit, right? Right?
The viewing experience: Mostly wrong. It does have dragons and fire and armor and legends and shit. What I didn't realize going into Eragon is that its legends aren't really its own: It's an insane Star Wars rip-off. And I don't mean only because it's about a farm boy who doesn't know his mysterious father and lives with his uncle. And meets a mysterious bearded stranger who, it turns out, is a member of a secret fraternity and wants to teach the boy about the ways of a mystical force. And who has to make his way to a group of rebels, and then lead them against an empire led by a king who viciously took power. And whose mysterious friend dies teaching him the ways of this mystical force. Eragon even dresses like Luke Skywalker, and in one scene, the Darth Vader character (played by Robert "Begby from Trainspotting" Carlyle) kills one of his own underlings with mystical powers, then gives the underling's job to another underling standing nearby. Remember that scene from Star Wars? Of course you do.
To be fair, Eragon lifts a ton of shit from The Lord Of The Rings as well—orcs and Uruk-hai are represented as, I don't know, two different names I couldn't be bothered to remember. The Eragon people cheaped out, though—their orcs are nowhere near as badass as Peter Jackson's.
Star Wars didn't have dragons, of course, and that's what this whole mystical thing is about. Luke—uh, Eragon—comes into possession of a blue stone that turns out to be—wait for it—a dragon egg. Legend has it that all the dragon-riders were murdered by King John Malkovich, who now stands in his darkened, fiery palace and overacts all day and night. He's afraid that another dragon and dragon-rider might exist, and he frets over it, saying things like, "I am not interested in being challenged." So the egg hatches, and we're introduced to the cutest widdle-biddy dwagon you ever saw; it makes cutie-pie noises and eats a rat and you just wanna snuggle it until you puke your ass off.
So Eragon hooks up with the mysterious Jeremy Irons, who teaches him the ways of the dragon—and returns with him to his uncle's farm to discover that his uncle has been murdered. Then he sets the farm on fire instead of burying the uncle. (No, I'm not making that up.) At some point in here, the dragon magically grows up from a tiny little cutie to a gigantic cutie, voiced by Rachel Weisz, an awesome actress whom I hope got to buy 28 houses with the money she made from this movie.
So blah blah blah, there's a mission, and Eragon has to save a princess whose name is most assuredly not Leia, and he does so only while jeopardizing the mission and his own further training. (If he doesn't learn how to use his magic properly, firing the wrong spell could kill him. What kind of shit-ass magic is that?) At some point in here, we learn that "magic comes from dragons." Jeremy Irons, star of Dead Ringers and, umm, Die Hard With A Vengeance, delivers that line. I wonder if he rehearsed it?
Eventually, a huge battle ensues, and Peter Jackson is all like, "WTF?" because there are orcs attacking, and a guy shooting arrows (sort of like Eragon's Han Solo). Eragon and his dragon have become great friends by this point, and it turns out she's got some incredible bloodlust. This telepathic exchange was awesome: Boy: "Closer, so we can reach his heart!" Dragon: "This time, rip it out of his chest!" So yeah, they kill Darth magician guy, who wears plastic-y black clothes and has a burnt face, but is not Eragon's father. (Turns out one of the bad guys is the Han Solo-inspired character's father, but I couldn't figure out who they meant.)
After the battle, all the bad guys are dead except Malkovich. (Sequel!) And then this amazingly ridiculous, cruel thing happens: Eragon asks Han Solo if his beloved dragon is dead, and Han Solo says, "Some friends can't be replaced… Luckily, some don't have to be!" What a funny joke, telling your friend his dragon is dead when she really isn't!
But I'm laugh-complaining too much. I was bored, but Eragon wasn't a painful waste of time, nor a particularly pleasurable one. There are far worse things to steal from than Star Wars and Lord Of The Rings, and clearly this movie was aimed at children, not film critics. I have no hate in my heart for Eragon.
How much of the experience wasn't a total waste of time? I'm gonna say 26 minutes out of 104, which puts it at about 25 percent, above the Rotten Tomatoes average. Yeah, it was derivative and badly written, but there were dragons and fire. I wouldn't watch the sequel, though. I should probably add in one percentage point for the fact that the dragon wears a saddle, which made me think I want to start a metal band called Dragonsaddle.