Based on the first book in the "Inheritance Trilogy," Christopher Paolini's best-selling sword-and-sorcery series, this likable adventure is basically Lassie with scales and should appeal to the books' large audience of adolescent boys. Paolini's epic unfolds in the mythical land of Alagaesia, a kingdom once filled with dragons and their telepathically linked dragon riders. That glorious golden age ended when evil Galbatorix (John Malkovich) seized power by killing all his fellow riders and their dragons. With the help of dark sorcerer Durza (Robert Carlyle), Galbatorix rules Alagaesia with an iron fist. But his dictatorship is threatened when the young elf princess Arya (Sienna Guillory) steals his fiercely protected, capsule-shaped stone and hides it in a nearby forest. The "stone" is actually a dragon's egg, quite possibly the last, but it won't hatch until it's in the presence of its destined rider: motherless Eragon (newcomer Ed Speleers), a teenage farm boy who lives with his uncle (Alun Armstrong) and cousin (Chris Egan). Eragon finds the egg while hunting, and the instant he touches the creature that emerges from it, the coil-shaped mark of the dragon rider is seared into his palm and a lifelong bond is formed. The fledgling creature, named Saphira, returns from her first flight fully grown and capable of telepathic communication (in the voice of Rachel Weisz) with Eragon, who begins to sense his own nascent magical powers. Confused, Eragon turns to grubby poacher Brom (Jeremy Irons) for information and instruction. To all appearances, Brom is nothing but the town fool, but he was once a dragon rider himself. When Brom lays eyes on Saphira, he realizes that Galbatorix's long-dreamt-of downfall and a new age of dragons and dragon riders may be at hand. But Eragon and Saphira must first journey to a distant mountain range and join forces with rebel freedom fighters known as the Varden. Paolini was 15 when he started writing Eragon, and what older moviegoers might find simplistic is exactly what will appeal to younger viewers the clear-cut division between good and evil; the powerful bond between a youth and his animal companion; the sense that an unforeseen destiny will sweep away the doubts of adolescence; and, interestingly in a movie filled with absent or evil fathers, the fact that no man can choose his paternity. First-time director Stefen Fangmeier is a longtime Industrial Light and Magic veteran, so it's no surprise that the effects are state-of-the-art, and that Saphira is so gracefully rendered. Parents of younger kids, however, should be aware of a nightmare-inducing gang of maggoty, mummy-looking creatures, and of Carlyle's take on Durza: Soaring through the air astride a giant devil bat, he looks exactly like a drug-abusing drag queen on the skids, and is very frightening indeed.
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