RETROREVIEWS #13: DRAGONSLAYER (1981)

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MAY 17, 2013 SCREENING: DRAGONSLAYER (1981)

 

 

 

Dragonslayer deserves due credit for ushering in the era of “modern” fantasy films where Dragons legitimately come across as terrifying, realistic-looking creatures, and for being one the first films produced by Disney to take on a darker, more adult tone with the type of audience it was trying to reach. That being said, the movie itself just didn’t impress me too much.

 

 

Audiences in 1981 seem to agree, and the film ultimately flopped at the box office, grossing $14 million on a $18 million budget. Today, it’s regarded as a cult classic and many people are fond of the film for being ahead of its time,but this didn’t help it when it was originally released.

 

 

I thought the basic premise of the film as very compelling. It introduces us to a dark age era Kingdom called Urland (set sometime in the sixth century after the Roman Empire fell),and the main conflict is that they are being terrorized by a 400 year old dragon named Vermithrax Pejorative. Virgin girls are even offered in sacrifice to the dragon twice a year, to keep it at bay. Of course, this leads to a character coming into play that represents the title of the film – the villagers seek out a dragon slayer who is capable of killing the terrible beast and ending the curse.

 

 

My main problems with the film were that the movie simply wasn’t engaging and it was difficult to watch with its sluggish, boring pace. The events that set up the story are a lot more fun to write about here than they are to watch unfold on screen. A related issue is that the film tries to keep the audience in suspense by showing various glimpses of the dragon, but we only see the dragon in its entirety towards the end of the story. This is also effective at first, but gets tedious as the film unfolds. I would have preferred to see interaction with the dragon more often, rather than just hearing about it (when we do see the dragon in its entirety, the special effects are quite stunning for 1981).

 

 

One aspect that was a nice twist on the usual fantasy story, but didn’t full live up to its potential, had to do with the conflict between paganism and Christianity. At the time the events of the film take place, much of western Europe is in a transitional state between the two cultures. The film prominently plays up this fact and gives some fascinating insight showing how the introduction of Christianity was affecting the culture of the people at the time. One of the most important characters is the village priest, who leads his congregation to confront the Dragon, and denounces it as incarnation of the Devil itself. The film seemed to be going for some type of metaphor, but this also lacked the punch it really needed to sell the story.

 

 

Dragonslayer is a well made film, giving us a dark and dreary world, visually appealing creatures, interesting story, and some intriguing ideas. However, my opinion is that none of this quite came together the way they should, and the movie is ultimately dissatisfying and boring despite everything it has going for it. There’s enough there that I’m even considering screening it again sometime, although I came away disappointed the first time around. Check it out for yourself, and let me know what you think!

 

 

** out of ****

 

 

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