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DVD Reviews

HTF REVIEW: Dragonslayer

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#1 of 65 OFFLINE   Scott Kimball

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Posted October 15 2003 - 12:03 PM

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Studio: Paramount

Year: 1981

Rated: PG

Length: 109 minutes

Aspect Ratio: 2.35:1, Anamorphic

Audio: DD 5.1

Subtitles: English
Release Date: October 21, 2003

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.

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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...

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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.

The Video
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 Audio
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.

The Extras
There are no extras.

Final Thoughts
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.


#2 of 65 OFFLINE   Steve Christou

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Posted October 15 2003 - 12:33 PM

Nice review Scott. Another film I've never seen in widescreen, so I'm really looking forward to having this. No extras, oh well I'm just happy to have Dragonslayer released on dvd with good picture and sound. The 'go-motion' effects were state of the art at the time and still hold up today, one brief scene I remember where the dragon is crawling thru it's cave towards camera was incredible, superb animation, Vermithrax looked far more real in that scene than the cgi Draco in the whole of Dragonheart.

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#3 of 65 OFFLINE   Antony James

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Posted October 15 2003 - 01:10 PM

I checked this DVD out last night, and yes, the animations still kick ace. The only thing that lets them down is the so-so bluescreening. You get a lot of flat images with no contrast, but hey...it's a clasic.

#4 of 65 OFFLINE   Dan Rudolph

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Posted October 15 2003 - 01:15 PM

For good dragon movies, does The Hobbit count? I rather liked it.
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#5 of 65 OFFLINE   Todd Terwilliger

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Posted October 15 2003 - 01:23 PM

Nice review. Can't wait to pick it up Posted Image
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#6 of 65 OFFLINE   David Lambert

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Posted October 15 2003 - 02:14 PM

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#7 of 65 OFFLINE   Eric F

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Posted October 15 2003 - 03:40 PM

There's a better Rankin & Bass film than the Hobbit- it's called Flight of Dragons, and it's one of their best. Hopefully that will come out on DVD one of these years.

So you can now make that two good dragon films.:wink:

#8 of 65 OFFLINE   Todd Schnell

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Posted October 16 2003 - 03:07 AM

Nice review Scott! I too can not wait to finally see this film in widescreen OAR. It would have been nice to have a few extras, but hey I'll take a good transfer, & solid 5.1 audio. Todd

#9 of 65 OFFLINE   Michael Martin

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Posted October 16 2003 - 04:06 AM

Thanks for the review, Scott. I haven't seen this movie in OAR since seeing it in the theater during its initial run. All subsequent viewings have been in P&S. Posted Image

I wish Paramount had taken the trouble to clean up any bad matting, but that's just pie-in-the-sky thinking. And they couldn't even stick the trailer on it?

Oh well. I will be picking this up, as I can't see it getting any kind of special treatment in the foreseeable future, if ever.

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#10 of 65 OFFLINE   Carlo Medina

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Posted October 16 2003 - 04:42 AM

AWESOME REVIEW! I had forgotten this was coming out next week! Woo-hoo, Indy and Dragonslayer! On a side note, I do love Sir Ian and Chris Lee in their LoTR roles, but the late Sir Ralph Richardson would have been an awesome wizard had LoTR been made during his time. Imagine if we could have transported him to present time and had him star with the other two--perhaps as Radagast the Brown. I loved his character in Dragonslayer!

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#11 of 65 OFFLINE   Chuck Mayer

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Posted October 16 2003 - 05:09 AM

Easy purchase. I also dream of an SE, but just having the film in OAR is really enough.

Can't wait to spin it Posted Image

Thanks for the meat and potatoes review.

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#12 of 65 OFFLINE   DaViD Boulet

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Posted October 16 2003 - 07:34 AM

Just can't wait!!!

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#13 of 65 OFFLINE   Jalil


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Posted October 16 2003 - 07:34 AM

Hmm never seen or heard of this before.. sounds like i must make a blind purchase on this one.
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#14 of 65 OFFLINE   James L White

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Posted October 16 2003 - 08:06 AM

[quote] sounds like i must make a blind purchase on this one. [quote] I'll be euying this too, hopefuly when I go to pick up the Indy Box set this will be in stock Posted Image
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#15 of 65 OFFLINE   Ron-P



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Posted October 16 2003 - 09:31 AM

Great review Scott, a must-buy for me. I love dragon movies, even Reign of Fire which has a spot on my DVD shelfPosted Image

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#16 of 65 OFFLINE   ChrisBEA



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Posted October 16 2003 - 11:44 AM

Excellent, Haven't seen this since I was a kid. Probably have to pick this up too. BTW, I liked Reign of Fire.:b

#17 of 65 OFFLINE   Steve Lockwood

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Posted October 16 2003 - 12:31 PM

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#18 of 65 OFFLINE   Dan Hitchman

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Posted October 16 2003 - 04:40 PM

Yeah, Paramount should have let ILM fix the spotty optical composites on this title. It would have made it look a hell of a lot better... but, since this is Paramount we're talking about I guess it's the best we'll ever get. I'll buy it on a really good sale. Dan

#19 of 65 OFFLINE   Michael Martin

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Posted October 17 2003 - 12:24 AM

Those of you who liked Reign of Fire (and I'm sort of in that group), Vermithrax is going to look very familiar to you. It's my guess that the dragons of RoF were modeled after Vermithrax as an homage. And those of you who have not seen seen Dragonslayer...you're in for a treat. I'd put it up as the best fantasy film, right after the Lord of the Rings movies. Yep, even better than Conan the Barbarian, which would be just behind Dragonslayer. Dragonslayer, while not a perfect or perhaps even great film, is a very good. It doesn't wink at its subject matter, the acting and writing are solid, and the story moves along logically and without padding or extraneous plots or fantasy elements. And CGI or no CGI, it's still the best damn dragon in any movie. Period.
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#20 of 65 OFFLINE   Scott Kimball

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Posted October 17 2003 - 12:25 AM

[quote] Yeah, Paramount should have let ILM fix the spotty optical composites on this title. [quote]

Perhaps so... but if they did, you know there would be voices of dissent... changing the film as it was made. Not to mention that a catalog title like this wouldn't see enough sales to pay for a restoration.

Damned if you do, damned if you don't.

Personally, I would prefer that revisionist cleanup of films be limited to print issues, not production issues.


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