Monday, December 15, 2014

Father of Father of Mother of Dragons

Did you know George R.R. Martin once ranked 1981's, Dragonslayer ahead of Monty Python and the Holy Grail, Pan's Labyrinth, La Belle et la Bete, and Raiders of the Lost Ark in a top ten list of fantasy films? His description of the film on the list contains a major spoiler so read at your own risk but I'll quote this bit:

It's surprisingly dark, and delivers some nice twists and turns along the way. Vermithrax Perjorative is the best dragon ever put on film (the dragons in Reign of Fire are a close second) and has the coolest dragon name as well.

I suppose Vermithrax may have been the best dragon created on film to that date though I found the variety of techniques used to create the monster--switching between different models and stop motion animation--and the brief space of time in which the dragon actually appears in the film sabotage attempts to establish the dragon's personality. I would certainly say Maleficent in dragon form in Disney's Sleeping Beauty was more impressive. But Dragonslayer is also a Disney film--co-produced with Paramount--surprising perhaps because of the relative darkness of the material Martin mentions. This was before Disney had Touchstone or Miramax so graphic, bloody violence and a scene establishing that Peter MacNicol is rather well hung were a bit jarring to see in a film bearing the Disney name. It is interesting for its moral ambiguity but unfortunately it fails for its lack of solid characterisation.

A problem particularly apparent in MacNicol who plays the Luke Skywalker-ish lead, apprenticed to a dying wizard played by Ralph Richardson. We can take the film as a coming of age story only by default. When MacNicol takes up the mantle of wizard he does so without hesitation and his self-confidence never seems to be challenged. He's sort of a blank.

More interesting perhaps is his costar Caitlin Clarke who plays a peasant daughter of a blacksmith who lives her life disguised as a boy in order to avoid the lottery which demands virgin women be sacrificed to the dragon periodically. When it seems MacNicol's character has vanquished the beast, she comes out as a women in a scene that's kind of sweet.

The film also features some gorgeous location shots form North Wales and Scotland.

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