Paramount // 1981 // 109 Minutes // Rated PG
Reviewed by Judge Patrick Naugle // November 25th, 2003
The Lord of the '80s.
Take a trip back into the days of magic and mystery: a day of Dragonslayers! When an aging sorcerer (Sir Ralph Richardson) and his young apprentice, Galen (a very young Peter MacNicol, Ally McBeal), are tapped to help a band of villagers destroy a fire-breathing dragon that's been terrorizing the countryside, adventure ensues. But things come to a screeching halt when the young Galen is left to his own devices after his master is suddenly killed. This doesn't bode well for a boy who can hardly get a simple spell right. As he makes his way to the dragon's layer, Galen will meet up with all kinds of medieval folks, including a corrupt king, a lovely princess (Chloe Salaman, her only true major motion picture), a sidekick who isn't what he seem, and of course a big fire breathing dragon who wants nothing more than to make Galen and his friends whole wheat toast.
It's no surprise that Paramount is releasing Dragonslayer at the peak of the The Lord of the Rings/Harry Potter craze. Suddenly and without warning, fantasy movies have become all the rage. Hobbits, dragons, elves, wizards and pixies...it's as if someone's "Dungeons and Dragons" game exploded in midair and the victims are innocent moviegoers. In 1981, almost a full two decades before Frodo and Harry, came director Matthew Robbins' action adventure film Dragonslayer. The story looks like a half hour sitcom in comparison to something like Lord of the Rings; instead of various storylines and interweaving characters, the film focuses on Galen's quest to kill the dragon...and that's about it. Does this make for a good movie? Yeah, sorta -- I found myself strangely entranced by Dragonslayer even though it's not what I'd consider a "great film." The performances, including Peter MacNicol as the wizard's apprentice and Sir Ralph Richardson as his mentor, are all solidly in place (if a bit stiff). MacNicol is especially entertaining as Galen -- there's hardly a trace of the actor who would star in less series stuff like Addams Family Values and Ally McBeal. The set productions are all effectively dreary and dirty, a must in any movie set in the Middle Ages. The real star of the film is -- duh -- the enormous dragon, rendered by the real life wizards at Industrial Light and Magic. For a movie from 1981, the effects in Dragonslayer are far better than they deserve to be: the dragon looks very good considering no computers were used to create effects during this point in film history. Sure, some of the matte shots look cheesy, but maybe that's part of the film's appeal: it's a nostalgic piece of eye candy from a simpler, less bombastic time. If you've only seen Dragonslayer on late night cable stations, 2003 may be the time for you rediscover it before the wizards and warriors craze comes to a screeching halt.
FYI: Fans of the LOTR series may find it fascinating to watch Dragonslayer alongside Tolkien's trilogy for comparison.
Dragonslayer is presented in a lovely looking 2.35:1 anamorphic widescreen transfer. Fans of the film forced to view this on a shoddy VHS pan and scan edition will literally pee their pants (and think, if you lived in the time of Dragonslayer, you wouldn't need to clean up) at this newly minted print. The colors and black levels are all in excellent shape with only the slightest amount of edge enhancement rearing its ugly head. Though this isn't a perfect transfer, it's heads and shoulders above previous versions of the film, and that's great news. The soundtrack is presented in a newly remixed Dolby Digital 5.1 Surround track in English. The 5.1 mix is nice, if not great -- there are a few decent surround sounds and directional effects in this mix, though it's often very front heavy. The dialogue, music, and effects are all free of distortion or hiss. Also included on this disc is a Dolby 2.0 Surround mix in English, as well as English subtitles.
Included on this Dragonslayer disc are three extensive commentary tracks, six documentaries, nine photo galleries, five deleted scenes...okay, so there's none of that. Not even a theatrical trailer. Bummer, but that's Paramount for you.
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Scales of Justice
* 2.35:1 Anamorphic
* Dolby Digital 5.1 Surround (English)
* Dolby Digital 2.0 Surround (English)
Running Time: 109 Minutes
Release Year: 1981
MPAA Rating: Rated PG