Directed by Matthew Robbins
Produced by Hal Barwood
Written by Hal Barwood & Matthew Robbins
Director of Photograpy Derek Vanlint
Music by Alex North
Cast: Peter MacNicol, Ralph Richardson, Caitlin Clarke, John Hallam & Chloe Salaman
1981/109 mins/Color/5.1 DD
2.35:1 anamorphic/English/USA/NTSC Region 1
Review from the Paramount Home Entertainment DVD
If you've been following the recent story concerning the banning of DVD screeners to AMPAS voters, then you know that the MPAA can display some very odd behavior. Let us now look back at the early 80s, to a time before the creation of the PG-13 rating. In that period, films were released which weren't "hard" enough to deserve an R, but contained footage which certainly shouldn't be considered PG material. One such entry is the sword & sorcery epic, DRAGONSLAYER, which is making its debut on DVD.
Set in the medieval past, DRAGONSLAYER concerns the tale of Galen (Peter MacNicol), an apprentice to the sorcerer Ulrich (Ralph Richardson). A group of travelers, led by Valerian (Caitlin Clarke), visit Ulrich, and implore him to visit their land in order to slay the dragon which torments the people, and occasionally gobbles up virgins (who are chosen through a lottery system...they're chosen to be gobbled, I suppose that they were virgins by their own choice...but I digress). When Ulrich is killed while proving his worthiness to fight dragons (?!), Galen steps forward and offers to kill the beast. He travels with Valerian's group to their land to face the dragon. But first, he must get past King Casiodorus Rex (Peter Eyre) and his soldier, Tyrian (John Hallam, who looks a lot like Tom Savini here.) Political obstacles aside, Galen must summon his powers as both a sorcerer and a warrior in order to end the dragon's reign.
Simply peruse the internet and you'll find that DRAGONSLAYER has a huge cult following. And even though the film was backed by two major studios, Paramount and Disney, it qualifies for "cult" status, as it tanked at the box office during the summer of 1981. (I can still remember all of the hype surrounding the film.) But, does it deserve cult status? The answer is no, as DRAGONSLAYER simply isn't a very good movie. For starters, there is zero character development. I honestly felt as if I'd come into the movie late, or I was watching the second film in a series, as the movie never bothers to tell us more than the basics about each character, and you're quite lucky if you catch anybody's name. This lack of character development is married to a script which is all but devoid of story. DRAGONSLAYER is the sci-fi/fantasy equivalent of a porn film, as the "plot" is simply an excuse for the end result, the scene in which Galen faces the dragon. And while the physical dragon effects are impressive, the blue-screen and stop-motion additions look quite dated. And for anyone who watched ALLY MCBEAL on a regular basis, watching Peter MacNicol's incredibly stiff performance here, curly hair and all, is a very surreal experience. Director Matthew Robbins and writer Hal Barwood would team-up again a few years later on the underrated zombie thriller WARNING SIGN.
Now, back to that odd PG rating. DRAGONSLAYER is by no means an "adult" film, and there is no profanity. But, there is some very brief nudity, and a surprising amount of gore and violence. The fact that the dragon fries its victims which its fiery breath is only hinted at at first, but a subsequent attack shows the person getting roasted. And before Galen faces the dragon, he disposes of some minor beasties in a very bloody manor. But, when a character gets their foot bitten off, in very bloody detail, one has to wonder what the MPAA was thinking. Now, I'm not a prude, and I certainly appreciate violent films, but I'm writing about this as an example of how crazy the ratings system is. (Of course, their defense is that they look at the overall "tone" of the film.) The foot-violence in AUDITION was too much, but this amputation wasn't? What's up with that? Ratings issues aside, "Dungeons & Dragons" fans may enjoy DRAGONSLAYER, but this is a prime example of a movie that wasn't that good to begin with and has only gotten worse with age. Still, it's better than REIGN OF FIRE.
DRAGONSLAYER flies onto DVD from Paramount Home Entertainment. The film has been letterboxed at 2.35:1 and the transfer is enhanced for 16 x 9 TVs. This is the kind of movie which I hate reviewing for DVD. The image is clear for the most part, but anytime there is a strong light source on-screen, the image becomes very soft and noticeable haloes appear around the light. The problem? Is this a defect in the transfer, or was this look intentional on behalf of the filmmakers? This effects occurs so much throughout DRAGONSLAYER, that I must assume that it was intentional. The exterior daytime scenes look fine, although the image is somewhat dark. The grain is kept to a minimum (except during the FX shots) and the only noticeable defects is a vertical line which runs through the middle of the screen in some shots. The DVD contains a lackluster Dolby Digital 5.1 audio track. Despite the fact that this is a surround sound track, the bulk of the audio comes from the center and front channels. There is an occasional musical cue or sound effect which emanates from the rear, and the subwoofer action is OK, but to be honest, this is basically a glorified stereo track. There are no extra features on this DVD, and I'm all for concept art, but the DVD cover looks terrible.
No points are given because there is no extras.
This Film Features:
Review by Mike Long. All Right Reserved. 2003. ©