Intended as the first instalment of a trilogy based on the novels by Christopher Paolini, Eragon is an old-fashioned sword and sorcery epic that cowers in the shadow of Peter Jackson's Lord of the Rings films.

Comparisons between the two series are inevitable. Unfortunately, Stefen Fangmeier's modest effort looks cheap and cheerful in comparison, lacking the grandeur, spectacle and intense emotion that characterised the odyssey through Middle Earth. At times, Eragon seems to be using the Tolkien films as its template, with myriad aerial shots of the adventurers on horseback, galloping across the mountainous realm to Patrick Doyle's rousing orchestral score.

A soporific voiceover from Jeremy Irons sets the scene.

Many years ago, the Dragon Riders reigned supreme over the kingdom of Alagaesia. Blessed with the power of ten men, these fearsome warriors took to the skies on their dragons, ensuring peace for everyone in the realm . . . until warrior Galbatorix (John Malkovich) used his gift against the other riders and seized power, plunging Alagaesia into darkness. While rebel forces, the Varden, fled to the Beor Mountains to escape Galbatorix and his evil sorcerer, Durza (Robert Carlyle), the people of the land succumbed to the new king's might, dreaming of a day when dragons would return.

So it comes to pass that young farm boy Eragon (Edward Speleers) from the village of Carvahall chances upon a dragon egg in the forest, which has been hidden by the beautiful warrior Arya (Sienna Guillory).

The egg hatches and Eragon forges an unbreakable bond with the dragon called Saphira (voiced by Rachel Weisz), embarking on a perilous quest to restore harmony to Alagaesia, aided by the sage, Brom (Irons).

The initial five minutes of Eragon do not bode well, introducing Malkovich's pantomime villain with the camp opening gambit: "I suffer without my stone. Do not prolong my suffering!" Peter Buchman's screenplay is an embarrassment of such riches, while littered with unintentionally hilarious dialogue like when Eragon questions his mentor's wise words, "How do you know all this?" and Brom responds, "Because I've been about a bit." Edward Speleers as Eragon has the classic pretty boy looks - a gratuitous topless scene confirms his status as teenage poster boy of the week - but his acting isn't wholly convincing. Malkovich and Carlyle trade sneers while beautiful warrior Arya (Sienna Guillory) squeezes herself into a series of figure-hugging bodices which draw attention away from her expressionless face.

Action sequences are competently directed and the computer effects are seamlessly integrated. with the live action but the editing renders some scenes a blur and director Stefen Fangmeier's penchant for long shots of the battle at Farthen Dur lessens the impact.

A tantalising final shot neatly sets up the second film, Eldest, but with the reported $100m budget of this film, which is unlikely to be recouped at the box office, Eragon's journey may very well end here.

"The time of dragon riders will come again," says Brom confidently. Doubtful.