Below is an article Of Dragons, Magic, Immortality, and Special Effects from my magazine column, QUANTUM CINEMA in M. & Ms. Magazine, March 2007
Two fantasy films are making the rounds of the world’s movie houses this year – Eragon and The Fountain. One is about mythical beasts in a mythical land which looks like medieval Europe. The other is a story of a man and a woman in three different periods – 500 years ago, today and 500 years later. The first is too juvenile in its simplicity; the other is pointless in its complexity.
It has always been my contention that no writer would ever go hungry in America. Anybody who can write a few coherent sentences can go places, especially to Hollywood. If your parents are publishers, you can even have your own book published even if you are just a high school kid. And with luck, your book could be made into a multimillion dollar movie.
Christopher Paolini was “home schooled” and finished high school at 15. When his parents said he should wait a couple more years before attending college, he wrote a story about dragons and dragon riders. When he was 19, his parents, who happen to be publishers, printed his book. A bigger publisher, Alfred A. Knopf, saw the book and re-published it with bigger promotional budget. It was just a matter of time before Hollywood made the kid’s story into a multimillion dollar movie spectacle.
ERAGON is now a big budget movie helmed by first-time director Stefen Fangmeier. The script is presumably like the novel. It is simply, well, juvenile.
If the authors of The Holy Blood and the Holy Grail sued Da Vinci Code’s Dan Brown for plagiarism, it is a wonder why the authors of Star Wars and Lord of the Rings did not sue Paolini. They would have a better case than the accusers of Dan Brown.
The story is about a boy named Eragon whose cousin had to leave the village. Eragon meets an old dragon rider. The old warrior Brom tells him of the time of heroic knights patrolling the world and teaches him magic and swordsmanship. Eragon goes on to rescue Princess Arya, a beautiful Elf, from the clutches of Durza the Shade, the henchman of the evil King Galbatorix. Brom, the old dragon rider, gave up his life for Eragon, the new dragon rider.
This sounds like the story of a boy named Luke Skywalker who meets an old Jedi warrior, Obi Wan Kenobi who tells him of the time of heroic knights patrolling the world and teaches him swordsmanship. Luke goes on to rescue Princess Leia from the clutches of the evil Darth Vader, henchman of the Emperor. Obi-Wan, the old Jedi knight, gave up his life for Luke, the new Jedi
On his way to Star Wars, Eragon made a detour through Lord of the Rings picking up Frodo’s cousin Bilbo Baggins, who had to leave the Shire; the beautiful Elven Princess Arwen; the arch evil magician Saruman and his demons, etc.
But both Star Wars and Lord of the Rings did not have Saphira, the last of the dragons.
This mighty female dragon comes with the very sexy voice of Rachel Weisz. She is the female version of Dragonheart’s Draco, the last of the dragons and who has the very macho voice of Sean Connery.
The dragons of Eragon’s Alagaësia are unique. The eggs hatch only when they have found their “rider”. The dragon and the rider have intertwined destinies. They not only communicate with each other telepathically, their very lives are connected. When the rider dies, the dragon dies with him but not vice versa. This dragon needs only a day or so to transform from a baby dragon to a giant one and a few more days to become a fire-breathing full fledged adult dragon.
ACTORS YOUNG AND OLD
Imitating Star Wars’ George Lucas, Fangmeier got an unknown, Ed Speleers, to act as Eragon. Like Mark Hamill (Luke) and Hayden Christensen (Anakin), he doesn’t seem to know the very basics of acting. If Star Wars had Alec Guiness, Peter Cushing et al to support the neophyte actors, Fangmeier got Jeremy Irons, Robert Carlyle and John Malkovitch to support the young actors of Eragon.
Irons and Carlyle, naturally, stole the show from the younger ones. But Malkovitch was a disappointment. He practically never left his throne the whole show.
Fangmeier’s special effects expertise carried the day for Eragon. Fangmeier was the visual effects director of Master and Commander: The Far Side of the World. The dragon is quite endearing and the final battle between Eragon and the evil shade Durza was excellently done.
Eragon may not win awards like Lord of the Rings which won several OSCARS including Best Picture and Best Director, but with its special effects, it will win the hearts of many youngsters. There may not be any fire-breathing dragons, swashbuckling swordsmen and fighting princesses anymore, but they will forever live in the minds of young boys and girls.
The Fountain is the story of a couple of souls in three incarnations. Tomas is a Spanish conquistador who is chosen by the Spanish queen, Isabela, to look for the biblical Tree of Life somewhere in Mayan territory in Central America. In his present incarnation, Tommy is a medical doctor (oncologist) in the US trying to find a cure for the tumor that is killing his wife, Izzi. In the future, Tom is an astronaut circa 25th century. He lives beside a magical tree in a space bubble and is constantly disturbed by visions of a woman, presumably his wife.
Or, this is a story of Tommy, an oncologist, in search for a cure for his wife Izzi’s illness. Izzi writes a book titled The Fountain about a conquistador chosen by the Spanish queen, Isabela, to look for the biblical Tree of Life somewhere in Mayan territory. Because of the stress of the fear of losing his beloved wife and his untiring efforts to find a cure, Tommy hallucinates and sees himself as an astronaut circa 25th century meditating beside a magical tree (like Gautama Buddha) in a space bubble and is constantly disturbed by visions of his wife.
Hugh Jackman proves once again that he is one of today’s better actors. Whether as a Spanish conquistador or a medical doctor or a yogi spaceman, Hugh Jackman performs with great intensity.
Jackman’s counterpoint is Rachel Weisz, whose melodious voice made Eragon’s dragon quite endearing. While she was merely a voice in Eragon, in The Fountain, she has three characters – the regal Queen Isabela, the sweet and dying Izzi and the ephemeral visitor of the spaceman Tom.
Computer generated special effects saved the day for Eragon. In The Fountain, it is also the Special Effects that are the film’s saving grace. But inst
ead of ordinary computer graphics, The Fountain used special effects in its photography, creating mystical landscapes and emotion-filled images. Although The Fountain is marketed as a science fiction film, its images are more fantastic than scientific.
Eragon and The Fountain prove that films are more visual than verbal. The average person might throw out the book Eragon for being too simple or the script of The Fountain for being too complicated. But the average person can easily appreciate watching on the big screen a fire-breathing dragon battling a ghostly beast or a 25th century Buddha levitating and meditating beside the Tree of Life inside a space bubble.
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Published in Mr. & Ms. Magazine Supermonthly of the Body, Mind and Spirit, Mar. 2007