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MOVIE REVIEW

Even dragons can't get 'Eragon' off the ground

"Eragon" is the first in a planned series of movies based on Christopher Paolini's insanely popular fantasy novels, but it already feels tired. If you've seen one flock of digitally animated fire arrows streaking across the night sky, you really have seen them all. And must every hero in the heat of a crypto-medieval battle make an exclamation that wouldn't sound out of place in "Mortal Kombat" before he vanquishes an enemy ? Apparently, yes. In this movie, it's "Let's finish this!"

Paolini started writing the series of books when he was 15. His hero is Eragon, a teen farm boy in the land of Alagaësia, who, with the help of his trusty dragon, becomes a fierce warrior. Young readers (mostly preadolescent boys) of these tales have an intense kinship with the books. They've discovered something new, and the discovery is special. However derivative these stories might be, they do have the sweep of their author's precociously good, if gangly prose.

Presumably, many of these same boys have seen "The Lord of the Rings" films, the " Harry Potter" movies, or "The Chronicles of Narnia." "Eragon" the movie is more of the same only a lot less, even by the low standard set by the video game that was made last year of C.S. Lewis's "The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe."

The whole thing is a rehash right down to having John Malkovich cough up another hissy overlord. Malkovich plays King Galbatorix (the name gives a better performance), and his highness is miffed that the enormous blue egg -- it looks like an extra-strength pill from "The Matrix" -- Eragon (Edward Speleers) found in the forest has hatched. This means the boy will be coming to defeat him.

From the egg pops Saphira, a little blue dragon that will grow to intimidating size and communicate telepathically with Eragon, using the voice of Rachel Weisz, who's stuck with purely exclamatory thoughts. (Speleers makes complementarily big faces; his hair, meanwhile, appears to have been colored and styled at Ye Olde Salon.)

Eragon and Saphira are most powerful when he rides her. There's an intriguing whiff of sexual metaphor in the relationship, although that's a possibility likely lost on the average pre-pubescent. More important: The boy and his new partner resurrect a bygone era of dragon-riding that excites Eragon's crusty mentor, Brom.

Played by Jeremy Irons in fits of fatigue and glee, Brom remembers life before Galbatorix's tyranny. "There was a time when our land flourished without cruelty or fear," he announces. The duo of Eragon and Saphira fills his heart. Happy to vicariously experience his own thwarted dragon-riding glory, Brom tags along to help the revolutionaries stop the king.

But since a showdown with Malkovich has to wait for a future "Eragon" installment, Galbatorix dispatches a bewigged Robert Carlyle, as the evil sorcerer Durza, to hold them off.

Director Stefen Fangmeier is an experienced visual-effects supervisor making his debut behind the camera, and it says a lot that the studio turned the book over to a technician and not a visionary. "Eragon" is a handful of scenes flung at the screen. There's no rhythm or emotion holding the movie together. In three minutes, Eragon goes from the forest at night, to a scene with Irons, to the golden fields of his uncle's farm, to horseplay with his cousin, to two scenes of his cousin's abrupt departure, to a shot of him plaintively staring out at the dusk, to the sudden hatching of that big blue egg.

In hacking Paolini's book to the bone, the movie's three screenwriters use a glut of exposition to drag us to the climactic battle sequence, where sloppy editing prevails. Darn if I could follow it or tell what was at stake or who was who. I did catch Djimon Hounsou standing around a cave looking chic in costumes presumably from Ralph Lauren's feudalist collection.

The mess that's been made with all this money is maddening. This isn't economical moviemaking. It's a deluxe trailer for "Eragon 2."

Wesley Morris can be reached at wmorris@globe.com. For more on movie, go to www.boston.com/ae/movies/blog/.

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