Juno DVD: Review By Brian Gallagher

A marvelous supporting cast of veterans, but the rookies Ed Speelers and director Stefen Fangmeier really steal the show. We get some outstanding special features too in this two-disc set.
  • OVERALL
    4.0
    GREAT
  • Feature
  • Extras
  • Replay Value
THE GOOD
A marvelous supporting cast of veterans, but the rookies Ed Speelers and director Stefen Fangmeier really steal the show. We get some outstanding special features too in this two-disc set.
THE BAD
I don't know why they made the flick so short, and it would've been nice to see more than one special feature WITHOUT Stefen Fangmeier.
THE FEATURE
I don't think so many newbies have pulled off a movie so nicely than the cast and crew of Eragon. Well, not the whole cast, of course, with a marvelous ensemble of supporting actors like John Malkovich, Djimon Hounsou, Robert Carlyle, Garrett Hedlund, Jeremy Irons and the voice of Rachel Weisz. But while this talented supporting corps are all at top form, it's the newcomers who truly impress in this slick new fantasy tale.

The tale of the novel's author, Christopher Paolini, has become almost as good a story as the one he wrote, mainly because of how damn young he was when he wrote it. Young Paolini started writing this book at the tender age of 15, after being home-schooled and graduating from high school correspondence courses at that age. The book was self-published by his parents until it caught wind of the major publishers. Now, it's a huge success and while the movie might not have been quite as big a hit with moviegoers ($74.8 million domestic), it is a fine fantasy flick that hopefully will catch on more if they make the other two adaptations.

Ed Speelers was only 17 years old when he beat out 180,000 other actors for the title role, his first professional role of any kind, and his performance is just as impressive as the way he won the role. Speelers shows some surprising range for a lad his age and especially with no experience, and his swoon-inducing looks don't hurt things either. He's not the next Brando or anything, but it's quite an impressive debut, especially as the lead actor in a $100 million movie. Young Speelers will certainly be an actor to keep an eye on in the near future.

But there were some newcomers behind the camera as well, with director Stefen Fangmeier, a longtime visual effects superviser making his directorial debut, and screenwriter Peter Buchman, who only had one screenwriting credit prior to this, with Jurassic Park III. Buchman does keep a nice solid flow throughout the movie, pacing it briskly, but you're almost surprised when it ends at 104 minutes, not because it wasn't finished well. It was, quite well, actually. But this sort of movie has an epic, longer-than-an-hour-and-44-minutes feel to it, especially since there is such a clear influence from Tolkien in this story, and Tolkien wasn't exactly a shortwinded fellow. I'm sure there was much left out of Paolini's 544-page book with Buchman's adaptation, and it would've been nice to get more, maybe 45 minutes more or so out of this movie, because it's just the type of movie you expect a meaty runtime from. Buchman does craft the characters nicely, using some slick dialogue and the script overall is rather good. I just wanted more of it.

Fangmeier has a deft touch himself in the directors chair, and with all of the special effects on this movie, and his extensive background in that department, it's no wonder he did such a great job here. He doesn't have an over-the-top, Stephen Sommers approach to directing and special effects, and the effects and his direction are both done splendidly.

I hope the disappointing grosses for Eragon won't prevent Fox from adapting the rest of the Inheritance Trilogy, because Eragon is a marvelous start to this series, shortwinded as it may be.
THE EXTRAS
Man, they certainly do NOT skimp on the special features here. They're broken down into a map of the land of Alagaesia, with a different features menu in each part of the map.

Carvahall

We get two features here, and the first one is a doozy. Inside the Inheritance Trilogy which is broken down into chapters, but it all runs together nicely. First here is a prologue Storyteller's Scroll which features Paolini and Buchman discussing their own stories of how they worked on this story. We hear Paolini talking about his original conception of the trilogy and Buchman talking about what he needed to do his job as well. It's rather interesting to see how these different types of writers take to their work.

Next is Chapter 1: Realizing Alagaesia. In this one, we hear mainly from director Stefen Fangmeier about the conceptual work done in pre-production. It was rather interesting that Fangmeier talks about how he wanted to have as many physical sets as possible, and not a lot of bluescreen/greenscreen sets, especially given his background. It's nice to see someone taking that approach to realism, even though he paid his rent before by creating digital worlds.

Chapter 2: The Destined Roles goes through the casting process, but it isn't quite as in-depth as the other chapters so far. They just gloss over their casting choices and we get tidbits from Speelers along with Sienna Gullory, Garrett Hedlund and Jeremy Irons. Nothing too special here.

Chapter 3: From Carvahill to Farthen Dur starts out with Fangmeier talking during the first day of shooting, with Fangmeier discussing the first sequences. We get an interesting reaction from Speelers too, as he describes how he cried during a scene where a person was dead before him, as he was going through his own emotions during the take. We get a great part where they talk about the opening sequence and the "ring of fire" deal and how they actually did that for real. It's weird how the visual effects guru keeps wanting to do stuff for real. Interesting... We go through many many different sequences and scenes here, all with Fangmeier and Speelers and Irons and many others giving their own takes on certain aspects. This is by far the longest chapter, and we get some really in-depth stuff here, throughout the whole shooting period.

Chapter 4: Hatching the Dragon talks about the actual digital creation of the dragon Saphira. We get some good stuff from the visual effects team about different designs they were pondering for the dragon and a really cool part about the "Happy Flight" sequence. They go through the whole sequence, with Speelers on a mechanical rig against a bluescreen for his movements, and then all these different layers of animation and real photography that all blend together into one great shot. It's really quite amazing.

Chapter 5: Just the Beginning goes back to Paolini and it talks about how this is just the first part of the trilogy, and what the other parts may hold. It's only a few minutes long, but it ends out this 50-minute featurette quite nicely.

The only other feature on Carvahall is the First Two Chapters of Eldest, Paolini's second novel in the Inheritance Trilogy. It's a pretty interesting read, especially considering how young Paolini was when he wrote it, and you get a great glimpse into the next tale in this trilogy.

Daret

The only thing we get here is The Inhabitants of Alagaesia. These are just some slideshows of conceptual artwork and production photos, with some commentary from Fangmeier. They are broken down into certain groups. The first one is the Dragon Riders with Eragon, Brum and Galbatorix and then we have one for Saphira, Arya, Durza, and The Urgals and the Razac as well. These are between two and five minutes long, featuring a number of different pictures and illustrations with some nice insight from Fangmeier as well, as we see these characters from pre-birth, to birth, to life.

The Spine

This one gives us just one feature too, dubbed The Vision of Eragon. They set this up by explaining that Fangmeier had to present his vision of the film to execs at Fox and we get an animatic sequence called Arya's Ambush and a Conceptual Artwork Gallery. The animatic sequence, which you can view with or without commentary from Fangmeier, is from the first few scenes in the movie. These are some of the earliest artwork for the movie, and you can tell how similar they got in some instances, and how different other parts are. It's about 9 minutes long, and it's pretty cool to watch. The conceptual artwork gallery is another slideshow sort of thing, with Fangmeier's non-optional commentary. It's a lot of stuff we've aalready seen before, though, and I'm not sure why they included this. It's only 3 minutes long and you could probably skip it.

Gil'ead

Here we get a bunch of Extended and Deleted Scenes for our viewing pleasure. There are seven scenes in all, which you can view with or without Fangmeier's commentary. He's a talkative one, so I'd watch with the commentary off. The first five are worthless, worthy of deletion, but the last two were rather good, and could've added a few more minutes of screentime.

Teirm

We get three features here. Pronunciation Guide first offers us a list of words used in the movie and books and has the phonetic spelling next to them, so you can know how to say the words when talking to your friends... and stuff. We also get the words of the Ancient Language that Eragon can derive magic spells from. We also get some words and phrases from The Dwarf Language and The Urgal Language. Nothing fancy, but some cool info here that will enhance future viewings of the movie and the book. Original Storyboards gives us six different slideshows of the original storyboards from sequences in the film. Pretty cool, I guess, but The Lost Storyboards might be pushing it too far. These are storyboards for sequences that weren't used in the film, like we'd care. I'm not sure why they'd include these.

Hadarac Desert

We only get one thing here and that's Saphira's Animation Guide that, of course, has commentary from Stefen Fangmeier. It's basically just another slideshow of conceptual art of different parts of Saphira. It's only two minutes long and you start to get the feeling here that Fangmeier is a big commentary whor*.

Uru'Baen

Another solo menu here with just Eldest: Interview with Christopher Paolini. He talks about his book Eldest, the second in the Inheritance Trilogy, and we get some great tidbits as to where the story is going in this next book that hopefully will be adapted to the silver screen. It's about 4 minutes long and well worth sitting through Paolini's nasaly voice to hear about the next part of this story.

Beor Mountains

Here we get some multimedia stuff. There is the Teaser Trailer, the Theatrical Trailer and a feature called Become the Dragon Rider: Creating the Video Game which is what it says. It has Fangmeier and the main designer of the game discussing how they turned the film into the game. It's about 3 minutes long and I guess it's cool if you're a gamer.

Farthen Dur

This is the last menu and we get another solo one with just The Secrets of Alagaesia as the last feature. This feature discusses the creating of the visual effects of the film with visual effects supervisors Michael Mcalister and John Van Vliet and it's probably the first feature in the whole thing that Stefen Fangmeier is nowhere to be found. Crazy. Anyway, we get footage from the movie along with the computerized animatics and we see how certain segments in the film come to be from the computer to the screen. It's some pretty cool stuff as we see certain processes of how they create a small sequence. We get about 45 minutes of stuff in all here, and it's really cool how this is all put together, but I think they don't need 45 minutes worth of this stuff.

Whew. That's a lot of features, folks. While they might have gone a little overboard, especially with Fanmeier in damn-near every feature, we get a great variety of features here that will broaden your enjoyment of the movie.
THE VIDEO
The flick is presented in the widescreen format, in the 2.35:1 aspect ratio.
THE AUDIO
You get a choice with the sound here. You can either have it in 5.1 DTS or in 5.1 Dolby Surround Sound. Either way, the roars and fight scenes are heard wonderfully.
THE PACKAGE
Very simple but very effective. The whole front cover features the dragon Saphia doing that fire-breathing thing, with a title card in the middle. On the back we get a nice critic quote, a nice synopsis and a special features box that, obviously, takes up most of the cover. We also get a shot of Eragon above the features box and the tech specs below it. Nice job here.
THE FINAL WORD
This is just a damn good package, folks. Eragon is a wonderful entry into the fantasy genre, with some great characters that are mirrored by the diverse actors playing them. The only problem I really had with it, is that I wanted more of it. Hopefully if they do a Eldest adaptation, that I'll get more indeed, because this is shaping up to be a great trilogy of movies.

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Comments (1)

  1. Shelley

    I know this film received a ton of bad reviews, but I do not understand why. I thought it was a well written screenplay with good performances throughout.

    6 years agoby @shelleyFlag