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ERAGON – Patrick Doyle

December 15, 2006 Leave a comment Go to comments

Original Review by Jonathan Broxton

The back story of Eragon is an interesting one. It was written between 1998 and 2002 by teenage author Christopher Paolini, and is the first book in a projected three-book cycle called The Inheritance Trilogy. A sword and sorcery fantasy featuring dragons, warriors, elves, dwarves and noble quests, it has been criticized in some quarters for being little more than a mishmash of ideas from other, better sources – and not a very well-written one at that. However, such has been its enduring popularity with young adult readers that the story has been adapted into a multi-million dollar movie by 20th Century Fox and debutant director Stefen Fangmeier, who previously worked as a special effects technician, and received Oscar nominations for his work on Twister, A Perfect Storm, and Master and Commander.

The plot concerns a young boy named Eragon (Edward Speelers), who lives quietly with his aunt and uncle on a remote farm in a kingdom of Alagaesia, which is ruled by the evil, uncompromising King Galbatorix (John Malkovich). When Eragon inadvertently finds an un-hatched dragon egg in the mountains near his home, his life changes forever: soon thereafter two Ra’zac warriors, sent by Galbatorix to find the egg, kill Eragon’s uncle and burn his home. Vowing revenge upon those who slew his family, Eragon and the now-hatched dragon (named Saphira) join forces with a wise storyteller named Brom (Jeremy Irons), and together the trio set off into the world to confront their destiny… The film also stars Robert Carlyle, Joss Stone, Djimon Hounsou and Garrett Hedlund.

If all this sounds like the plot summary for the original Star Wars movie, transposed into the geographical setting of The Lord of the Rings, you wouldn’t be too far off the mark. But irrespective of the obvious parallels and plagiarisms, the story is a wonderful opportunity for a broad, heroic film score – and Eragon’s composer Patrick Doyle doesn’t disappoint, writing probably the most exciting adventure score of his entire career. Doyle, of course, isn’t well-known for massive themes or complex action writing, even though he has touched on them in scores such as Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein, Carlito’s Way, and last year’s triumphant Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire. In many ways, Eragon is a natural progression on from that latter score, and although it never quite reaches the emotional and dramatic heights of Goblet of Fire, Eragon does present itself as a worthy accompaniment, a score filled with pulsating action music and anchored by a soaring, triumphant main theme.

The opening “Eragon” ushers the listener into the fantastical world with a truly enormous concert-arrangement of the main theme, performed perfectly by the massed ranks of the London Symphony Orchestra, and with enough power and dramatic intensity to satisfy the most discerning listener. The theme is grand, noble, free-flowing, and expansive, conjuring up notions of the exhilarating feeling of flight and freedom, of heroism and bravery, and of a sense of impending destiny. On the whole, it’s probably the most musically satisfying main theme Patrick Doyle has ever written for a film – and that includes such memorable pieces as Henry V and Much Ado About Nothing.

The theme is pretty much omnipresent throughout the rest of the score, re-occurring with pleasing regularity in later cues such as the slightly downbeat and reflective “Ronan Leaves” (which contains a viola motif that threatens to head off into a rendition of Jurassic Park), the solemn-sounding “Passing the Flame”, which has a sense of finality and noble sacrifice in its French horn/trumpet-driven refrain, and the important-sounding “Saphira Returns”. Probably the best presentation of the theme actually comes in “If You Were Flying”, which seems to simply overflow with a sense of unbridled exhilaration, although “Together” does feature a quite delightful, almost Edda dell’Orso-like vocal performance of theme which is very pleasing.

But this is not to say the Eragon is just a main theme repeated ad nauseum. Although the theme is always prominent, there are a number of sub-motifs dotted around, notably a huge brass fanfare for Saphira, the dragon herself, which first appears in “Saphira’s First Flight” accompanied a bed of swirling strings. Dark and threatening action music, underpinned by an enormous percussion section and obviously based on the dragon-fighting and Voldemort-confronting parts of Harry Potter, appears in “Ra’zac” and “Burning Farm”. The “Fortune Teller” has an exotic woodwind theme, accentuated by eerie tones on a glass harmonica, before segueing into another thunderous action sequence, this time complete with choir, while the evil “Durza” is characterised by menacing dissonance.

The 9-minute set piece, “Battle for Varden”, is as well-rounded a piece of action music as you are ever likely to find, building from a dark, thrusting, tumultuous percussion sequence overlaid with the Saphira motif, picking up the choir, and eventually exploding into fast, dense, battle music for the full orchestra, and punctuated with stirring recapitulations of the main theme. This action music is just fantastic, very cleverly-layered and orchestrated, and the percussion is just mesmeringly complex.

The two songs tagged on to the end of the album appeal to the film (and book’s) core audience of teenagers: Canadian skater-punk songstress Avril Lavigne belts out the wannabe-inspirational “Keep Holding On” to fairly decent effect, while Welsh vocalist Jem Griffiths lends her throaty, mellow tones to “Once In Every Lifetime”, which was co-written by Doyle. I wouldn’t be surprised to see Lavigne’s song picking up an Oscar nomination.

If one was to make any kind of criticism of Eragon, it would be that it’s simply too relentless and unyielding throughout its running time. The orchestra plays at absolute full blast for length of the entire score, which occasionally makes it a little overwhelming to sit and listen frequently. In terms of energy and earnestness, though, Eragon is a mighty accomplishment, and one of the best scores of the year in terms of sheer enjoyment. It may not be subtle, it may not have much real depth, and it may not quite reach the high water mark set by Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire, but I absolutely guarantee you’ll enjoy every moment of your listening experience.

Rating: ****½

Track Listing:

  • Eragon (4:12)
  • Roran Leaves (3:22)
  • Saphira’s First Flight (2:12)
  • Ra’zac (2:48)
  • Burning Farm (3:08)
  • Fortune Teller (3:56)
  • If You Were Flying (2:55)
  • Brom’s Story (2:53)
  • Durza (2:20)
  • Passing The Flame (3:05)
  • Battle for Varden (9:59)
  • Together (2:18)
  • Saphira Returns (1:49)
  • Legend of Eragon (2:08)
  • Keep Holding On (written by Avril Lavigne and Lukasz Gottwald, performed by Avril Lavigne) (3:57)
  • Once In Every Lifetime (written by Patrick Doyle, Jemma Griffiths and Lester Mendez, performed by Jem) (4:17)

Running Time: 55 minutes 31 seconds

RCA Records 704850 (2006)

Music composed by Patrick Doyle. Conducted by James Shearman. Performed by The London Symphony Orchestra. Orchestrations by Patrick Doyle, James Shearman and Geoff Alexander. Recorded and mixed by Nick Wollage. Edited by Joe E. Rand, Graham Sutton and Christopher Benstead. Album produced by Patrick Doyle.

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