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Customer Review

114 of 121 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars A monster movie where the monster is well worth the big wait, January 5, 2005
This review is from: Dragonslayer (DVD)
Ultimately, "Dragonslayer" succeeds where the vast majority of monster movies fail, which is the point at which you get to see the creature and it is a big disappointment. Very few movies had really great monsters when I was growing up and you get to the point where you just expect them to be bad. Even when the make up is pretty good, say Boris Karloff in the original version of "The Mummy" or Oliver Reed in "The Curse of the Werewolf," you get shorted on how often the monster actually gets to be on screen. "Dragonslayer" ups the ante because there is a big build up to the point when you finally get to see the dragon. But for my money it is well worth the wait because the folks at Industrial Light & Magic delivery even though we are talking 1981 special effects.

The story in "Dragonslayer" combines a couple of recognizable plot lines from the fantasy genre. First there is the hapless young apprentice, Galen (Peter MacNicol), trying to learn his craft from a great wizard, Ulrich (Ralph Richardson). I am certainly reminded of Mickey Mouse from "The Sorcerer's Apprentice" in "Fantasia," except that Galen is a lot more earnest. Second, there is the fact that Casiodorus Rex (Peter Eyre), the ruler of the land, has been sacrificing virgins to keep the local dragon from leveling the countryside. Young Valerian (Caitlin Clarke) arrives to beseech Ulrich, the last wizard around, to kill the dragon, which is probably the last of its kind as well.

The only problem is that Ulrich has died, which means that young Galen has to become a dragonslayer. Galen wants to do the great deed for the right reasons, but there is also the Princess Elspeth (Chloe Salaman) to consider, along with all the other young virgins forced to participate in the grim lottery. Casiodorus is not thrilled by the prospect of the fate of his kingdom resting on the shoulders of Galen, so he tries to thwart the young man's plans. However, there is somebody who thinks that the rules of the game in Urland have to be changed.

Beyond the Oscar nominated special effects (and musical score by Alex North) what makes "Dragonslayer" work is that it takes place in a grungy medieval world where everybody is dirty and outright despair seems like an appropriate response to each sunrise. In such a world sacrificing a virgin once a year seems rather reasonable, and an act of heroism seems improbable, especially when your hopes rest on the baby-faced Galen. The atmosphere and the special effects fit together just perfectly, and Ralph Richardson's performance as the sorcerer gives the film its memorable performance.

The casting of MacNichol is seen as problematic by some, especially those familiar with his stellar comedy work on "Chicago Hope" and "Ally McBeal," but I think he works well in this particular context. The idea here is that the hero is not somebody who wants to be a great fighter with a sword but a sorcerer using potions and magicks. MacNichol looks like somebody who would be more comfortable with a staff than a sword, so that when he actually has to pick up a spear and shield to fight the dragon he looks really uncomfortable. Then he sees the dragon and he looks scared. We see the dragon, so we completely understand.

Although a lot of the elements are familiar to everyone weaned on Tolkien and excited by the original "Star Wars" films, there are some attempts to be different. I especially liked the fate of the Princess and the ending has a sense of fatalism we rarely get in a fantasy film, with or without a monster. Unfortunately, the DVD version of "Dragonslayer" has absolutely nothing in terms of bonus features (not even the trailer), but at least the film is presented in anamorphic widescreen so you can enjoy all of the Scottish landscape. More importantly, there is the CGI dragon that mandates this one getting five stars because that dragon is that good. When a movie delivers the goods with the monster the way "Dragonslayer" does, attention must be paid.
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Tracked by 3 customers

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Showing 1-7 of 7 posts in this discussion
Initial post: Nov 22, 2008 3:53:10 PM PST
Contrary to the reviewer's comment: the dragon is not a ComputerGeneratedImage.

In reply to an earlier post on Oct 7, 2010 2:39:31 PM PDT
But you'd think the Dragon is CGI, given the amazing and innovative work of Phil Tippet, and the breakthrough technology of Go-Motion animation, which he helped pioneer. In case anyone doesn't know, Go-Motion is an innovation on Stop-Motion, like all the Ray Harryhausen films, or like in the original King Kong. The difference here is that every few frames, a computer moves the stop-motion model ever so slightly as the shutter snaps, giving a slight blur to the frame. That blur mimics (in this case, perfectly) the blurring effect that happens when live subjects are filmed. Ergo, the stop-motion model looks very life-like. That's the basis of Go-Motion, and was first used in Empire Strikes Back for the Taun-tauns. Also, the dragon model was significantly larger than most models up until that time, so the level of detail was much greater.

In reply to an earlier post on Mar 10, 2011 9:25:37 PM PST
R. L. Matsui says:
And Go-Motion could be seen as one of the "linking technologies" between motion control and addition to the blurring effects, the puppet's movements were programmable and repeatable and could be tested and refined before final photography. So the resemblance between Go Motion and CG is very understandable: one idea pointed the way forward to another.

Posted on Sep 12, 2012 5:28:51 AM PDT
I saw this film at its introduction, and one of the reasons was Ralph Richardson - giving a very memorable performance as the Old Wizard Ulrich. I also remember at the time of its release that mention was made of the Go-Motion technology, which was also fascinating in its results. The first Superman (Christopher Reeve) movie proclaimed: "You will believe a man can fly!" Well, it was good alright. But that dragon really holds the honor for believability of a non-organic character! The elements to the discussion about the film are very good. It appealed greatly to a person/or/persons of my generation. Yes, it is indeed a 5-Star film! This is also the kind of film where Blu-Ray would put it through the roof in popularity! Let's give that a try folks! I bugged people like the original studio and TCM about bringing out a Blu-Ray of "A New Leaf" (a comedy favorite of mine) and guess what? You can now have a Blu-Ray of that very deserving film, too! 'Dragonslayer" deserves no less!

Posted on Oct 20, 2012 3:05:08 PM PDT
Good movie. Don't forget the violence, though. Chewed up princess leg is pretty graphic for disney. At least at the time.

In reply to an earlier post on Oct 20, 2012 5:08:09 PM PDT
Good point about the narly leg! However, compared to what is on the screens today, pretty mild stuff. No excuse for gratuitous violence and dismembered bodies. When you look back at the classics, like Robin Hood (Erroll Flynn), Ivanhoe (Robert Taylor), etc., there was no need for anything more than your imagination! Still works for me. I steer away from all horror movies, and the sickening "monster"/"alien" movies out today. To me the real XXX ratings belong to all those movies that show overly-graphic dismemberment, exploding heads, etc. Dragonslayer was far ahead of its time in many areas, and was a grand example of fantasy & Olde World adventure. Thanks for your reply!

Posted on Jan 13, 2014 8:52:13 AM PST
This is an excellent review. I will also add that because the go-motion dragon is so well-done it was a major influence on the depiction of Smaug in the new Hobbit trilogy....
...and finally, as a reference to Bernabo's statement about somebody thinking that the rules of the game have to be changed, I will offer in place of a certain someone...."I volunteer as tribute!"
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Review Details



Lawrance Bernabo

Location: The Zenith City, Duluth, Minnesota

Top Reviewer Ranking: 10,493