Poor old Jeremy Irons. Now I'm a great admirer of a lot of this guy's acting, but he does just seem to kiss his brains goodbye when it comes to choosing which fantasy movie to be a part of. Back in the 80's there were a string on cheesy fantasy movies, but as they were in vogue at the time, films such as Hawk the Slayer, Ladyhawke and Krull gained a cult following and a certain cache. Sadly Jeremy Irons wasn't in them. Several years later after the brief period in which it was OK to like fantasy films was well and truly over, he starred in Dungeons and Dragons a terminally awful attempt to cash in on the geek following the role playing game had (yes I know I was one of those geeks in my teens……and twenties…enough about that). Then we had a brief attempt at it again in the 90's with Willow which did OK but finally in the good ol' naughties, The Lord Of The Rings arrived! Suddenly fantasy is cool again and it's time for Hollywood to churn a few more out. Up pops Jeremy Irons again and Eragon is born. Oh dear, oh dear! At least this time he's not alone in his shame with the likes of John Malkovich and Robert Carlisle also being drawn into the mess. The critics at least seem to let Rachael Weiss off saying her voice over part as the dragon was the only good bit of acting in the movie, but I must admit even that wasn't exactly inspiring.
I think the problem is that in the 80's fantasy was just getting going as a genre and the public (well teenage boys at least) were happy for anything they could get. Now in the 21st century everyone is much choosier about what they'll watch. The Lord Of The Rings worked because Steve Jackson had a passion for the material and gathered around him others with the same passion. He also had a piece of fiction to work with that had been born out of years and years of work by Tolkein to create a rich and complete fantasy world that had it's own coherence. The results were spectacular to say the least.
In Eragon, we have the a Hollywood stampede of "Quick lets get another fantasy film out to pick up the void LOTR left" so we straight away lack the passion for the source material. And the source itself, is a book written by a boy in his late teens who wasn't even a twinkle in the milkman's eye when Hawk The Slayer came out. The, by now, horrendously overused "farm boy becomes hero" plot is the basis for 90% of all fantasy fiction so it has you yawning from the word go, and the villains are just as stereotyped. This is a child’s attempt at writing a novel, and it's been very successful as a novel because the audience it taps into do want more and more of the same stuff. In a book your imagination can flesh the characters out a bit. In the film your left with the same Evil King (our star wars Emperor) with the same sorcerous side kick (aka Vader) on the dark side and the same farm boy (Luke) aided by the same hero of old (Kenobi). The names all change for Eragon but the setup is the same. The added twist of plot is the bond between the Rachael Weiss’s Dragon "Saphira" and our hero Eragon. Unfortunately this departure from a "known" plot device, just smacks of plagiarism for any who know and like the Anne McCaffrey books for which the "Impression" bond between dragon and rider that occurs at hatching and gives the pair their telepathic link, is the central theme of her Dragonriders of Pern series. It is such an obvious rip off it surprises me I've not seen it mentioned before.
So with such flaky source material, a Hollywood push, and no help from a good scriptwriter, the curse of Jeremy Irons doing fantasy has been well and truely established. Sadly I have a feeling that Eragon, the movie may have put a nail in the coffin of fantasy movies for another decade or so.
On the other side of the coin, I do have to acknowledge that a) Jeremy Irons did do the best possible with the woeful material he had to work with, so this post is not a condemnation of his acting, and b) I'm told that the book is much better than the film…well, it couldn't be much worse.