A monster movie where the monster is well worth the big wait
Lawrance M. Bernabo | The Zenith City, Duluth, Minnesota | 01/06/2005
(5 out of 5 stars)
"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."
Truly a Masterpiece
Jeff Winter | 10/20/2003
(5 out of 5 stars)
"I grew up on the works of writers like J.R.R. Tolkien, Jules Verne and the Master of Animation, Ray Harryhausen, and so Dragonslayer was destined to become a favorite of mine because of the superb animation effects. When I saw Dragonslayer at the theater I knew only one thing would ever top it, but it was still a book, until now. My VHS copy is mint because I didn't want to lose this classic as I waited for the seemingly eternal release to DVD. The whole movie from start to finish never loses its appeal for me. The storyline, acting and special effects are all at there best. The locations are a perfect blend of light and dark to set the atmosphere of the tale. The characters are very believable and true to their purpose. Todays CGI world works fine for Final Fantasy or Shrek maybe but, CGI would have destroyed the "feel" of the special effects in this movie. The anticipation for this films DVD release was second only to Tolkien's world recently coming to life. DRAGONSLAYER is the only dragon depiction that has ever been done well and it defines its own period as much as Star Trek and Star Wars defines the galaxies. I will proudly put this one next to the master storytellers in my collection."
At long last ...
OSI Osgood | Mtn. Home,, Idaho United States | 01/08/2004
(5 out of 5 stars)
"I am still amazed that this film still looks and sounds as good as it does. It is a solid entertainment and most of the dragon effects can still stand alongside any seen in "Lord of the Rings", as they were done by ILM. One wishes that there was at least the movie trailer on this DVD, as it has no extra's to it. Perhaps they will put out a deluxe edition some time in the future. Those who write off early eighties fantasy films, (and there are a lot to write off!), as cheesy, really should take a serious look at this. The only time one wishes the special effects were better is in the Dragon's offspring, where they dont have the believability that the main dragon has.This was one of the last roles for Sir Ralph Richardson, and he makes the absolute best of it. His scorcerer can stand alonside Merlin or any other.The period detail is another plus. being made after "Excalibur", (as well as some fine lesser known films of the 70's), the costumes and other effects have a wonderful believeability to them.So, if your looking for a nice distraction in the fantasy film department, you really can't go wrong with this film!"
One of the best fantasy films of all time!
EquesNiger | Prague, Czech Republic | 08/07/2000
(5 out of 5 stars)
"I simply loved this movie when it came out about 20 years ago, and was happy to find it available again. It's a phenomenal story about a young apprentice who misinterprets his Master's final instructions, and whose ensuing arrogance thrusts him into a series of confrontations which he is ill equipped to handle (not the least of which is with the dreaded dragon in the title). However, the young but unlikely hero accepts the responsibility of the repercussions of his actions, and sets out to set things right again, despite being overwhelmed by the tasks. Peter MacNicol is fantastic as the young apprentice Galen, and presents an entirely different character to those played in Ghostbusters (where he became typcast as an effette scholar) and Ally McBeal (where he is being typcast as an effette sexually repressed lawyer). Sir Ralph Richardson is the perfect choice for the aging master sorcerer, Ulrich, and makes you believe in magic in a world where magic is dying out along with the dragons. The scenery and costumes are first rate, with incredible detail to capture the genuine feel of life in the Dark Ages (they even paid attention to the STITCHING on the clothes! ). Finally, this is one of the last films to utilise Ray Harryhausen's special effects, in the days before computer graphics...and his work with the dragon when it finally comes forth for battle is simply astounding and hair raising."
mom2raiandjas | 08/10/2003
(5 out of 5 stars)
"I am in my late twenties, and I remember when this movie came out when I was a young child...I was completely enthralled with it. To this day it is the most realistic dragon I have ever seen in a fantasy film...most newer movies, in my honest opinion use digital special effects TOO much...you can get fast action sequences that way-but you lose the "real" feeling of the dragon. I personally feel that digital characters and sequences are best used with a very light hand for the best effect. In the close up shots of the dragon in Dragonslayer, you see every slimy scale, the facial expressions...and it looks real. This was not a digital image...this was old fashioned puppeteering and sculpting of a creature that looks as if it is really living and breathing.
The story is a good one...with beautiful costuming, breathtaking backgrounds, and a nice soundtrack. There are some very memorable lines, some good action, and the underlying story of magic vs. Christianity. There is also cameo by Ian McDiarmid as well-most often known as the Emperor/Senator Palpatine from the Star Wars movies-where he plays a Christian Holy Man who faces the dragon.
This was a favorite movie of mine as a child, and I actually married a man who ended up being just as enthralled with it as I was...we have our vhs copy viewed to the point of it almost falling apart-I am thrilled that it is finally being released on dvd.
If you are a sci-fi and fantasy movie lover...please add this one to your collection!"