Posted by: Gregg | December 20, 2006

Eragon, or, the Cake vs. Icing Theory.

Went to see the film “Eragon” last night. Wasn’t bad, really. Certainly not as bad as the 14% or so it’s currently getting over at Rotten Tomatoes. It’s not bad, but the problem is that it certainly isn’t good.

The film didn’t work for me not because it ripped off “Star Wars” -which it shamelessly does – or that it’s an unapologetic sword ‘n sorcery film that happened to come out after “Lord of the Rings” set the standard so incredibly high. “Eragon” doesn’t work for me simply because the film was all icing and no cake.

Let me back up. Everyone likes cake, right? If you ask a child what they like best about a piece of cake, they’ll immediately say they like the icing. It’s sweet, creamy, colorful, and it’s the first thing you see when you see a cake. Hardly any kid will mention anything about what’s below the icing: the eggs, salt, flour, yeast. Yet those are the most important ingredients in the cake – they’re the things that make the cake actually happen. But they’re hidden, underneath, and not easily visible. Also, it’s not as fun or as colorful or as tasty as the icing, but without it, there’s no cake.

Same thing happens in movies. When you ask someone what they liked best about such-and-such movie, they’ll mention the big special-effects shots, the thrilling climax, or the moment when the leads finally kiss. The icing parts. But what a movie needs to be really successful are the hidden scenes and the little moments between characters. Movies need character development, strong and compelling relationships between those characters, a steady narrative, and a plot that sucks you in. Without those motivations, the high points of the movie mean nothing, reduced to technical exercises in filmmaking. “Eragon” wants to rush through the essential building blocks and get to the “cool!” parts. But the problem is when they do come, those moments aren’t special. The film feels rushed and incomplete and edited.

“Eragon” works best when you think of it as a children’s movie, and I can imagine the audience of the books digging it, but there’s no shot for a crossover appeal of a “LOTR” or “Narnia”, which is what the studio intended. The story’s your basic ‘farmer kid from the boonies is the Last Hope, rescues the princess, and leads the rebellion against the Evil King’. Jeremy Irons does a great job doing the Obi-Wan Kenobi bit, and John Malkovich and Robert Carlyle chew acres of scenery as the magic-wielding bad guys. The fx is good and the film has the look of a big-budget fantasy flick, but without the eggs, flour, and the rest of it, it’s all just icing.



  1. That’s pretty much what it looked like to me from the previews. Plus, the design of the whole thing looked too much your standard 1980s fantasy flick–not the attention to detail and appropriation of historical design that the folks who made Lord of the Rings did.

  2. The folks over at Cinematical completely ripped it to shreds. At least I was trying to be nice…

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