MAY 15, 2013 SCREENING: DRAGONHEART (1996)
This film marked the first of a ten day “Dragon movie marathon” I sat through. Ironically, it was one of the few “dragon” themed movies during the marathon that I truly enjoyed. Part of the reason was that many of the movies made about “dragons” seemed to go against their own premise. We expect to see dragons as supporting characters in many fantasy stories, such as The Hobbit. However, they usually appear as minor supporting characters, and often as one dimensional evil monsters. Therefore, films that say “Dragon” in the title itself should take a difference approach and have them as the main focus, right? You would think so, but I found that this was usually not the case. Dragonheart (1996) was a notable exception to the rule, and that’s why I found the movie such a pleasure to watch.
Similarly to how 1978’s Superman promised audiences, “You will believe a man can fly”, the basic pitch with Dragonheart is that you will believe that dragons are real. For the most part, it works. This is not to say that Dragonheart attempts to depict a serious, adult-focused story showing how dragons could naturally evolve in the real-world or anything like that, but rather that it takes the approach as Superman: it is a dynamic and engaging fantasy story with stunning special effects that make the audience feel that the dragon is really physically there.
The storyline of the movie even takes things one step further. Not only are we asked to believe that dragons are real, but the premise of the movie takes place in England in the year 984 A.D., and presents the idea that the dragon encountered in the movie is the last of his kind. As humans ventured out into the the world, dragons were slowly driven away and died out, leaving Draco as perhaps the only dragon left in existence.
Dragonheart milks this concept for all its worth, and we first encounter Draco as only a voice-over. In an inspired bit of casting, the filmmakers choose Sean Connery to voice Draco, and he immediately comes across as a powerful but seclusive figure. At first, we only see his claws. When Draco is finally revealed, I was very relieved that this film was made in 1996, since Draco is not a purely CGI creation. Robotics and puppetry were also used to bring Draco to life, and sometimes it hard to tell which is which. The creature design for Draco was well done and fully depicted Draco as you’d visualize a dragon from countless fantasy stories. One particularly well done scene had one of the character bravely standing in Draco’s drooling mouth as the two engaged in a mental duel. Did I believe Draco was real after seeing this movie? Well, he was as real as the rest of the characters.
Although the film is “family friendly” and contains a number of elements that children will enjoy, it also employs a number of grueling battle sequences, which are particularly interesting since Draco fights along side his human companions (rather than the conventional story setup where we see fire breathing dragons swoop down and set villages on fire by breathing on them). The film also ends on a particularly dour note. I won’t go into details, but if you’ve seen Old Yeller, you’ll know what’s coming for the last dragon. (Strangely, this film spawned a direct-to-video “sequel” anyway, which I’d like to check out but hope it doesn’t ruin the original for me.)
Despite being a great movie, I wouldn’t call this the best fantasy film, or even the best dragon film. However, Dragonheart undoubtedly one of the best made ones, and certainly perhaps one of the best renditions of a dragon that I’ve seen in a live action movie.
*** out of ****