Written by Old Bluffer 1st Jan 2007
[For a synopsis of this film, please read Brom's death first.]
Durza is a Shade - an evil wizard posessed by demons who can only be killed by being pierced through the heart.
[He is also played by Robert Carlyle, and it is pretty telling that even with the help of a brooding soundtrack and evil makeup, the character of Durza never manages to get even close to the menace of Begbie from Trainspotting]
Durza has been tasked with finding and killing Eragon for the whole film. The reason for this is that Eragon is the only Dragon Rider left in the realm who could challenge his master, King Galbatorix. Also, due to the way the bond betwixt dragon and rider works in this world, killing Eragon will also slay his dragon. This would be A Shame, because his dragon is female, likeable and voiced by Rachel Weisz.
Despite Eragon being a wholly ordinary peasant boy, Durza hasn't really come close to apprehending him. This is bad news for him, as due to this film's ridiculously rapid pace of character advancement, each minute that he delays earns Eragon about 50,000 experience points.
Towards the end of the film though, Durza's minions track Eragon and Saphira (his dragon) to the Varden Rebel Stronghold (yes, the plot does sound familiar). This hidden fortress was built by dwarves in the books, who reluctantly take in the Varden - a group of freedom fighters who do not recognise Galbatorix' claim to the throne. This means that the humans are beholden to the dwarves, who for their part resent the danger they bring, so there is an uneasy and tense atmosphere as a result.
All of this is ignored for the screenplay however, and in a fantastic demonstration of laziness the dwarves are all portrayed as full-sized scottish people, and the Varden are simply shown as generic Africans, replete with colourful tribal dress. This shouldn't perhaps have been all that surprising, as one of the first characters shown was the elf, Arya - and they didn't bother using any special makeup for her either.
To put this another way, anyone that hasn't read the books are going to be wondering why a Scottish clan and an African tribe are living together in a mountain range.
Anyway, Durza now knows where the Varden live, so the scene is set for a Lord of the Rings style battle sequence, where hordes of Urgal warriors storm the stronghold.
This set-piece is presumably why the whole film was rushed along, so it is yet another disappointment when it fails to elicit any sense of drama.
In fact, one almost feels sorry for the urgals (who in this film are just big humans with warpaint on, no grey skin and horns in this cheapskate movie!). They are forced to charge headlong into a well defended mountain fortress, and just to really make things unfair, there is a bloody great dragon waiting for them which just swoops overhead and incinerates hundreds of them at a time with her fiery breath.
This is all reasonably pretty to look at, but it's nothing we haven't seen before.
The film makers must have realised this, so brainstormed a more exciting ending:
Overpaid Scriptwriters: "We'll have Durza fight Eragon on his own dragon! It will look really cool and we might win a CGI award!"
Hypothetical Naysayer: "But Durza doesn't have a dragon. The whole point of the series is that there is only one other dragon in the world, and that belongs to King Galbatorix."
Overpaid Scriptwriters: "Don't worry about that. We'll just make a *Magic Dragon* - which will look even cooler and allow us to use some totally sick special effects!"
Sure enough, Durza conjures a dragon comprised of Satanic Black Smoke.
This Wyrm of Digitally Rendered Evil chases Saphira above the fortress for just long enough to show that Eragon is in trouble.
However, earlier in the film, there is a one minute sequence where Eragon learns how to ride Saphira, and she tells him that when he gets more experienced he will be able to fight from her tail as well as in the saddle.
With a sense of weary inevitability then, Durza hurls a bolt of magical fire at Saphira's saddle, and then looks utterly confused when he sees Eragon is no longer sitting there. The plucky youngster has of course wandered down to Saphira's tail, where she proceeds to swing him implausibly through the air, allowing him to skewer Durza with his sword.
This allows Robert Carlyle to depart from the film in a puff of Evil Smoke, presumably with much relief.
Editor Film Review
I should point out that I have read the novel and as a huge fantasy fan (including books intended for children) I am definitely the target audience for it. I have to say that I found it woefully derivative though. The characters are all two-dimensional fantasy stereotypes, which in itself wouldn't be a disaster if they were well written and interesting, but they really aren't. The story too is just a rip off of other, superior tales.
Even taking this into account, the movie adaptation is shockingly poor and the book deserved better.
For example, pretty much the only memorable character in the book is Arya, who is a Haughty Elf Maiden archetype. This makes the relationship between her and Eragon more interesting, as she quite rightly treats him disdainfully as he is just a peasant human pup in her eyes. In the film though, she is downgraded to Grateful Minxsome Warrior Woman once she is rescued (Sienna Guillory's presence does provide some very pleasant eye candy though).
Entire swathes of plot have also been entirely ignored, to the extent that any sequels now have zero chance of getting back on track.
I've already mentioned the breakneck speed of the pacing, which at times makes the film resemble cutscenes from a rather dull video game. There is absolutely no need for things to move so quickly either. For example, why replace months of Saphira growing in size with a single magical growth burst? It just smacks of apathy - and it's not as if the time saved was used for anything worthwhile.
The dialogue also shares this extreme laziness. For example, to show that King Galbatorix is unhappy that someone stole his dragon egg, we are shown an Evil Throne Room, complete with moody lighting and noxious gases, and John Malkovich declaims "I suffer without my stone!" (at this point in the film I don't think we are supposed to realise that the egg shaped egg is, in fact, an egg. If anyone should know it isn't a stone though, it is Galbatorix!)
Other completely throwaway, forgettable lines are repeated later on in the film, as if the scriptwriters truly believed they were so good they deserved to be recycled as a verbal motif.
The plot, such that it is, is pretty much all explained by Brom's lectures - another hackneyed narrative device that quickly grows tiresome.
For this film to be a success would have required a vibrant script and time to develop the key characters. Instead we have a disjointed, unoriginal sequence of scenes where a farmboy turns into a Demigod with Dragon in an unconvincing and unsatisfying fashion.