"I suffer without my stone," complains John Malkovich, playing King Galbotorix, whose name sounds like some newly marketed medication from the wizards of Merck or AstraZeneca.
His stone, you see, is a very large, blue capsule -- think of a giant-sized blue fire extinguisher -- that sounds, when you thunk it, like an empty fire extinguisher. It turns out to be an egg.
And, a few minutes later, it turns out to be the hatching place of a baby dragon whose name is Saphira and who was waiting to hatch when around someone other than a bald, scurvy, pervy king -- someone, say, like young, blond Eragon, a 17-year-old idealist whose hair has been coiffed to perfect medieval disarray by some well-paid movie makeup folks.
Now Saphira doesn't stay a baby dragon very long -- a missed opportunity, if you ask me. After just a few minutes of burbling and cooing and sleeping on Eragon's chest, Saphira flies into a convenient thunderstorm and comes back a big mama dragon (albeit one still so young she can't breathe fire yet).
We're in the Dragons Sans Dungeons world of "Eragon" here, full of all manner of pseudo-mythological names like Durza and Brom and Arya and Ajihad, bad guys called the Ra'Zac and Urgals and taking place in such locales as Alagaesia and Carvahall.
It's an adaptation of the first novel in something called "The Inheritance Trilogy" by Christopher Paolini, his follow-up to Anne McCaffery's "Dragonriders of Pern" books. If all this seems way too deep into the arcane world of fantasy lit for you, think of the movie as a kind of cut-rate kiddie version of a complicated fantasy epic a la "Lord of the Rings" and "Chronicles of Narnia."
I much preferred it, frankly, when it was a just a story about a boy and his pet, even if his pet is a dragon whom he rides for hundreds of miles at a time. Once you get to all the pseudo-mythology of invented creatures and monsters and whatnot, I wasn't, uh, all that enthralled.
It's very much a kid's movie, you see.
The bad guys are Malkovich as bad King Galbotorix and Robert Carlyle (of "Full Monty" fame) as his No. 1 thug, scarred, scary-eyed Durza.
The chief good guy is Brom, played by old master Jeremy Irons, an old hand at providing legitimacy for movies that have none. Another good guy is played by Djimon Hounsou. Edward Speelers plays the teen dragon rider. Sienna Guillory provides the love interest. Rachel Weisz provides the dragon's voice.
It's a pretty silly movie, but if you're the right age for it -- tweens and tween nostalgists, I suppose, are perfect -- it's very engagingly silly.
2.5 stars (out of 4)
STARRING: Edward Speleers, Jeremy Irons, John Malkovich, Djimon Hounsou and Sienna Guillory
DIRECTOR: Stefan Fangmeier
RUNNING TIME: 100 minutes
RATING: PG for violence
THE LOWDOWN: A 17-year-old boy falls heir to the King's Dragon and fights the forces of evil.