Length: 109 minutes
Aspect Ratio: 2.35:1, Anamorphic
Audio: DD 5.1
I’m going to go out on a limb, fellow genre fans, and say that Dragonslayer is not even in my top 50 favorite films. That is not to say that it isn’t a good film, because it is. Were I to consider only fantasy films (a genre lacking in quantity), it would rise very nearly to the top of the list. If you consider only films about dragons, it hits the number 1 spot... of course, how many good films have been made about dragons? Well now, lets see, there was.... erm... Dragonslayer.
Yeah, I know there was DragonHeart, which was decent for what it was - and has a spot on my DVD shelf. Then there was Reign of Fire, which will never find a spot in my DVD collection. Then there’s the ones for the kiddies: Dragonworld and Pete’s Dragon. Sure, there are others, but for really serious dragon films, let’s face it: there’s not a lot of competition. That is why Dragonslayer has a special place in the heart of fantasy movie-lovers. For those who are not genre fans, the film has limited appeal.
Dragonslayer takes a low-key approach. The titular dragon doesn’t even make a full-bodied appearance until quite a ways into the film. This isn’t necessarily a bad thing, mind you. It’s nice when a filmmaker doesn’t play all his cards up front. This story is about the slayer anyway - not the dragon.
Galen (Peter MacNicol) is a sorcerer’s apprentice - called upon before his time when his master is killed. Galen has great confidence in his abilities - unfortunately, he is the only one with confidence in his abilities. With great enthusiasm and a magic amulet to channel his sorcerer’s magic, he manages to cause a landslide and bury a dragon’s lair - saving a village from continued ritual sacrifice to the resident dragon.
Or so everyone thought...
The dragon manages to escape it’s entombment, and takes it’s wrath out upon the Kingdom, angering the king, who has managed, until now, to keep his daughter from the lottery which chooses the sacrificial virgin. This, in turn, creates hostility toward Galen, who must disobey the king while finding the strength and magic to defeat the dragon.
Along the way, of course, Galen falls in love with one of the villagers, who has also been spared entry into the sacrificial lottery over her lifetime.
This film evolves slowly, and is more a character piece than adventure. I never would have considered MacNicol for the role of a hero, but that’s precisely why he works so well in the part. His performance, and the stop-motion work of Phil Tippet, are what make the film work. The stop-motion animated dragon, while looking somewhat dated today, is a fine example of classic effects work.
The DVD offers such fine video quality, that we can see areas where the effects don’t stand up to the tests of time. We can see matting lines and other artifacts of the special effects processes of the time. Heck, that’s part of the charm of watching old, effects-laden films.
One of the nicer things about Dragonslayer is the lush photography. The film was shot in Scotland and Wales. There is lots of scenic eye-candy, here. It’s a pretty movie to look at.
Dragonslayer is offered up on DVD in an anamorphically enhanced, 2.35:1 transfer. The picture is quite sharp, with some grain in darker sequences from the original photographic process. Colors are adequately saturated. There are many dark scenes in the film, and shadow detail is usually very good, suffering only occasionally. There is an occasional spot of dust, but there are no major scratches or other age-related artifacts. Black levels are generally very good, but occasionally take on a deep brown appearance. All in all, for a 22-year-old film that hasn’t undergone any digital restoration, this looks very good.
The Dolby 5.1 mix is as good as you could expect for a film of this age. Frequency response is good, with bass that is strong but not muddy, and highs that are well defined. Dialog is consistently clear, and pinned to the center channel. LFE is not aggressive, and neither are the surrounds - providing more of a springboard for the music mix than for sound effects.
There are no extras.
Fans of fantasy films are well served by this little adventure story, and Paramount provides a great transfer of this film on DVD. Those who are not genre fans may not appreciate what this story has to offer... but it is a nice story - and a well-produced film.