Sunday, May 29, 2016

Dragonslayer


   I guess I'm on a fantasy kick now? Worse things have happened. Anyways, standing in almost stark contrast to DragonHeart, the Disney/Paramount fantasy flick, Dragonslayer is darker, bloodier, bigger, and ultimately... better. When I think of dragons in movies, the mental images that my mind conjures up are exactly the kind of things on display in this movie. I've never seen in before, but that hardly mattered. Dragonslayer is a movie that will be intimately familiar to anyone who grew up on Disney movies, and the odd Barbarian flick on the side. It's Disney for grown ups- and in this movie, that actually means something.
   The dragon in this movie isn't a misunderstood old soul. It's a violent and bloodthirsty creature that exists because the world is still full of magic, good and bad. But, at the same time, magic has been dying out in the world for a long time, and this is a very old dragon. One that knows nothing but pain, constant pain. This is not your average Disney tale, and yet at the same time... it totally is. A young sorcerer's apprentice must take his late mentor's place and set out on a quest to slay a dragon, saving a nearby kingdom. There's magic, high adventure, a few good laughs, a damsel in distress and a naive princess. This is the bread and butter of Disney fantasies.

   At the same damn time, this movie is surprisingly grim, and also doesn't shy away from violence and bloody. Dare I even say gore? Those who face the dragon are always met with a surprisingly graphic fate. A priest is burned alive on screen, people get slashed at, and we see the remains of a half-eaten corpse- which, given that it's a character that one wouldn't have expected to die... it's pretty shocking. At times, Dragonslayer looks gritty and elaborate enough to adorn the cover of an old Heavy Metal album. I think that could almost be a sub-genre of fantasy movies. A criteria if you will. "How metal is it?" Dragonslayer is very 'metal'.

   It's a vibrant movie, with stunning scenery, great cinematography, and awesome visuals. Epic in the true sense of the word. The tension and atmosphere that's built up around the dragon would've petrified me as a kid. I can't remember the last time I felt that a dragon in any movie was actually scary. Kudos to Dragonslayer. And, speaking of the dragon- the special effects work behind it is fantastic. The dragon was a model, that was animated with a more advanced form of stop-motion called go-motion. All the dragon's movements are animated by a computer, smoothing the motions and adding a natural motion blur. The effect is... well, great! I was shocked at how good the dragon looked.

   Peter MacNicol is the perfect blend of awkward and brave as the endearing hero of the movie. I'd heard that he was embarrassed of the movie though and refuses to list it on his CV. I think that's kinda dumb because he's been in way crappier movies, but as a familiar face it was a lot of fun to watch him in the kind of role he'd never be in again. At this point, he could probably play the old wizard, and bring the whole thing full circle! I'd pay to see that. The movie is a big ball of fun and it's production value is pretty exceptional. I don't know why he has a problem with it.

   The plot is more or less straightforward, and the characters are endearing. The movie isn't non-stop action, but there's a timeless concept of adventure to the whole movie, and lots of magic and sorcery. The effects are on point, and the visuals are consistently eye-catching. The movie subverts expectations and conventions where necessary, but for the most part it sticks to a classic formula here. Which isn't a bad thing at all. Genre fans shouldn't miss this one at all. There are bigger and better movies out there, but as far as dragon-centric flicks go? This is top five material. I'm quite pleased I've found a new genre favorite. I fully recommend Dragonslayer.

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