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Rant #9: In Which the Author Discusses His Flavor of Fantasy

OK, let's not beat around the bush. The reason for this particular rant is Eragon. Well, not precisely Eragon in and of itself, but rather the thinking behind it, and what it represents.

Eragon, in case you haven't been watching television, movies, the internet, or the face of the moon lately, is the latest attempt at a fantasy blockbuster for the holiday season, one that hopefully can scoot in under the radar whilst Aslan, Harry Potter, and Gandalf are busy elsewhere and plunder the (and forgive me for this) phat l00t of the yuletide moviegoing season. It's got big-name actors, special effects, and a lead actor from the Young Anakin Skywalker school of tousled blonde surliness, all of the ingredients of something perfectly calculated to lure the youngsters while simultaneously convincing their parents that it Can't Be That Bad Now, Can It? I mean, John Malkovich is in it. Surely there must be something serious going on.

Oh. Wait. I forgot. There's a dragon. A telepathic one, which I suppose makes sense, because dragons don't appear to have lips and thus would probably have a hard time with any dialogue involving sibilants. But I digress.

So. Eragon. The big fantasy release of the holiday season. I, as a dyed-in-the-wool fantasy geek, should be seriously (for lack of a better word) geeked about it, right? In a movie season of uplifting holiday cheer and grim Oscar contenders, a rooting, tooting dragonriffic throwdown ought to be right down my alley. I ought to be getting out my old t-tunic, strapping on ye olde boffer sword, and sojourning down to the multiplex, there to do battle with the beast of the popcorn stand.

And yet, it's not happening. Instead, I saw the trailer and thought to myself, "My God, it's a Sci-Fi Pictures Original." I swear, if I squinted just right, Malkovich (here apparently channeling Ben Kingsley's rent-paying performance in Bloodrayne) had turned into Mansquito.

Honestly, my reaction puzzled me. So, I poked around the net, found the trailer, and watched it again. The second time, however, I wasn't bored. Instead, I got mad. And I thought about it, and watched it again, and got madder. That's when it finally made sense.

I have no problem with Eragon itself. I haven't read it and probably won't, but that's not the point. The creation of the book is a great story - more power to any teenager with the willpower to put together a 550 page book. At that age I was writing Villains and Vigilantes campaign notes, not a coherent manuscript, and I applaud the author's being able to harness his particular muse in that way. I'll leave judgments on the quality of the book to others; right now, it's not my interest.

No, what's getting me geek-mad is the movie, and the presentation thereof. It does not feel like a movie called Eragon. It feels, just from the trailers and commercials and omnipresent CGI bumps during football games and God knows what else, like someone looked at the last few fantasy/geek hits and made a checklist of what they thought were the important elements, then filmed and packaged the movie like they were shopping for groceries. Dragon? Check. Horde shot reminiscent of Helm's Deep? Check. Slow-walking, slow-talking bad magic-user in robe chewing the scenery? Check. And so it goes, with all of it slabbed, steaming, onto a plate and shoved in front of us with a cynical "Trust us, you'll like it." It's not a movie, it's an event and a construct and a Frankenstein monster, bolted together like a mouse designed by committee and looking a lot like an elephant.

If, of course, that elephant had wings. And breathed fire. And were a dragon.

It shouldn't get me mad. It really shouldn't. But in the wake of the obscene success of the Lord of the Rings films and the Harry Potter series and the first stab at Narnia, it should be nicely proven that good fantasy movies can make money. That fantasy is a viable film genre, and that there is a wealth of strong material to be adapted out there. Give me a filmed version of a Vlad Taltos novel, or Amber, or one of Glen Cook's Garrett mysteries, or a Charles DeLint urban fantasy, or…well, you get the idea. The list, it goes on and on. The market is primed for good fantasy films because we've been blessed with so many. The ground is fertile to grow the genre into an evergreen, with just a little care and attention to something besides the FX budget.

Instead, we get Eragon: the breakfast cereal. Speaking strictly as a fan, it's easy to envision Eragon and a few others like it rendering that ground fallow, burning out enthusiasm for fantasy and discrediting it in the eyes of those who'd been lured into giving it a shot because so many of the recent stabs at it had been just plain old good.

But hey, it's got a dragon, and the marketing surveys say people like dragons. And if they don't like them next week, that's someone else's problem, right?

Well, yeah. But I'm that someone else, and if you're reading this, you might be, too.




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