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Page to Screen: Eragon

Updated on July 22, 2015


Often cited as one of the absolute worst page to screen adaptations ever released, the cinematic Eragon has few fans. Many point to first-time director Stefen Fangmeier as the culprit. Other reasons are numerous: bad casting, complete disregard to the source material, weak reveals to stand in for the strongest moments of the book and series.

This commentary will have a slight focus on why this page to screen adaptation failed the way it did in capturing the original plot, characters, and setting.

Film Poster


The Film

Released 3 years after its source material was published, the page to screen adaptation of Eragon made it to movie theatres in 2006. Directed by first time Stefen Fangmeier (although Fangmeier has been associated to a great number of special effects in large scale films). While loosely based on its subject material, it was a critical disappointment despite being modestly successful financially. It features a large cast of recognizable names such as Jeremy Irons, Robert Carlyle, Sienna Guillory, John Malkovich, and Djimon Hounsou.

The majority of fans of the original work, as well as the larger sense of community who read the books some movies are based on, have stated that this adaptation is one of the worst of its kind for various reasons.

The Novel

Published in 2003, the first book of the Inheritance Cycle was written by 15 year old Christopher Paolini. It follows a young boy who discovers a dragon egg in the forest which soon hatches. Forming a telepathic bond with the creature, he raises it for quite some time before Imperial soldiers cause distress in his home, causing him to lose his adoptive father and follow an old storyteller who speaks of dragon rider legends. The boy, Eragon, soon becomes embroiled in a national conflict where his and his dragon become the cornerstone.

While not particularly being boasted as a unique story, Eragon was widely praised and added to many popular children's reading lists.

Book Cover


The Adaptation

Urgals vs Dirty-Looking Barbarians
In the books, Urgals were really little more than orcs with honor and horns. They really didn't get a lot of love aside from their physical description which was impressive. Most striking were their great height (6-9 feet tall) and their horns. In the film were literally only received the stereotypical dirty bandit man with bad teeth. There's a striking scene in the books where Eragon's sword catches in their horn, but in the film they're nothing but cannon fodder.

Understandably, this comes from a poor budget, but when a self-proclaimed fantasy epic film arrives on the heels of the Lord of the Rings films, expectations run high.In the end, the production displays boring, cliché, and worst of all, disappointing versions of Urgals.

Similarities between their novel and film versions are as follow: they kill Garrow, fight Eragon and Brom, and are associated with insects. That is it. The film versions portray disposable Nazgul filled with insects instead of the bird-like race that fears the sunlight and water. While watching the film for the first time, most readers react poorly when not only is Brom supposed to die during their battle, but both Ra'zac are killed instead of surviving until the next installment.

The Character of Eragon
Eragon is a bit of a snot in the film to be honest. He's constantly arguing with Brom and never experiences a defining moment where his archetypal rebellious attitude is ever resolved. The film is not a hero's journey story. Aside from being trained by Brom, Eragon conquers all of his issues with little to no help from anyone else. He kills the Ra'zac where in the book Murtaugh scares them away while Brom ends up dying. Eragon 'wounds' Durza during their first encounter when it's Murtaugh who succeeds in landing a blow.

Worst of all is the final battle. Eragon soars around on Saphira (who already breaths fire apparently) during the climatic moment where eventually Eragon and Durza go head to head. Durza is riding an impossible magic monster instead of the mano y mano fight on the ground. Durza and Eragon struggle evenly until the Dragon Rider uses some physics-defying fling to stab Durza through the heart. In the book, Eragon is nearly killed before Saphira distracts the Shade, allowing the young man to stab Durza in the back.

Each of these seems like a small change but they mean something differently to the character of Eragon. He is almost immediately as talented and powerful in the beginning as he is in the end. Eragon never really learns humility, which when coupled with his early reckless and rebellious attitude, makes him far more unlikable than was original intended.

King Galbatorix
Doesn't appear at all for a very long time in the books, and his reveal (since at the time he remained more of a force behind a word than an actual individual) made his short appearances lackluster. The cost to hire John Malkovich and animate a dragon, as well as the screen time of the individual scenes, could have better been spent putting horns on the Urgals.

The Length
Still, possibly the most egregious of errors was the length and compression of the plot. The book had the advantage of taking as long as needed to. The film, which was under 2 hours, omits much of the time Saphira grows up and bonds with Eragon, many characters that become instrumental to Eragon's journey in later books are removed entirely from the film, and other supremely important characters (namely Murtaugh) are hardly given any focus whatsoever.

Frankly this is boiled down to its timing and budget. First time directors don't bring a big budget, and being one of the very few live action fantasy films at the time, it can't help but be compared to the titanic Lord of the Rings series. Still, taking shortcuts with the plot when already facing these odds is a very unwise action.

Fan-Made Trailer for Eragon

Closing Thoughts

To be straight up, I am also in the majority of of those who were greatly displeased by the film. In fact, I quite clearly remember seeing it in theaters as the audience groans aloud and complains at various and poor delineations. Many consider it to be a quick way to make a buck, driving on the excitement and anticipation of the Lord of the Rings films, as well as the rather short run time for a fantasy epic.

It is worth noting that the author, Christopher Paolini, admitted that he enjoyed the film particularly praised the actors who portrayed Eragon and Brom respectively.

Whatever my feelings towards the rest of the Inheritance Trilogy Cycle and even giving some leeway for the limitations already present before filming this adaptation, I can't help but agree with the majority that this is possibly one of the worst page to screen adaptations of all time. There are adaptations that do the original work well, either by sticking true to it, compressing it to fulfill the overall story, or even presenting something akin to a 'What-If?' scenario where all characters are present and begin as they would in the original story with only some changes, or even some artistic affect from the director themselves.

As a Page to Screen adaptation, Eragon was sure to hit it big at the box office as the original novel already possessed a sizable and dedicated audience. The production team could have gone a long way of serving the original story right. Instead, we receive a quick entry with little heart.

Book vs Movie

For those of you who read the book and watched the movie, what did you prefer?

See results

Further Reading

You can read more Page to Screen adaptations if you click here.


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