Thursday, January 04, 2007

Now Playing: Charlotte's Web and Eragon

Among the many things did while on vacation in SC was going to see movies -- actual movies in the movie theater -- with popcorn and everything.

First was Charlotte's Web -- the new live action adaptation of EB White's classic book. I must confess, I thought they were going to botch this terribly. But I liked it a lot better than the cartoon version from the 70s (the cartoon was produced by Hannah Barbera -- and it used the same vocal talent that they used in Johnny Quest and Scooby Doo. I always wondered why Mr. Zuckerman sounded like he was about to say "and I would've gotten away with it too, if it hadn't been for that meddling spider!"). It had just the right blend of sentiment and seriousness about life on a farm. This production also showed us why Charlotte has such affection for Wilbur -- for it was only Wilbur who saw beauty in her (everyone else saw a frightful creature). Beau Bridges does a fine turn as the country doctor who tries to convince Fern's mother that the little girl isn't crazy for talking with animals; he tells her that she's a normal girl and that sadly she'll grow out of it. All said, a fine effort and worth the time.

Eragon was a different story. At first, I expected great things. Then the IMDB comments dissuaded me from going at all, indicating that it was horrible -- worse than the third tier 1970s fantasy efforts like Kull and the Conan series. But brother Jack talked me into going. What we have in this film is basically Star Wars with dragons instead of lightsabers: young orphan boy being raised by his uncle finds himself in posession of an object stolen from the evil emperor by a beautiful princess. The mysterious wise stranger takes young orphan boy under his wing after his uncle is killed by the minions of the emperor's dark and mystical right hand man. As they flee from the faceless hordes of the emperors minions, the wise stranger teaches the boy about the mysterious powers that he has access to and reveals that the boy is the last hope to resucitate an ancient order of heroes. The wise mentor dies while saving the life of the young hero, leaving the boy on his own. The tale ends as the boy takes his place leading the climactic battle in which he confronts the dark and mystical right hand man of the emperor and defeats him. Does this sound familiar to anyone?

Some serious problems here -- the book is 500 pages, the film under two hours. The pacing of the film is all off because they've had to abbreviate and quicken so much of the story. John Malkovich's talent is wasted in his role as the emperor -- his stage direction seems to have been "stand there -- now clench your jaw and try to shout". Similarly, most of the villanous characters seem cut out of cardboard. The hero Eragon is charming -- and the computer graphics dragon is outstanding -- some of the best graphics work I've seen. Jeremy Irons puts in a fine performance as Brom, the wise mentor. All told, this is an average work -- not too bad, but not great either.