Sony // 2007 // 90 Minutes // Rated PG-13
Reviewed by Judge Dennis Prince (Retired) // January 12th, 2008
You say "dragon," I say "laggin'." Let's call the whole thing off.
It seems that every 500 years a battle between good and evil ensues and, by chance, the cameras in South Korea were rolling when this one heated up. Dragons (called "Imoogi") serve as the combatants in these conflicts. As the legend goes, a young girl will be born with a glowing magic orb within her, a prize to be afforded to whichever representative of the opposing moral points can snatch it away. When the girl turns twenty, she is sacrificed to whichever side prevails -- it's all been favoring the good side but now, in modern day Los Angeles, the conflict wages on as nubile Sarah (Amanda Brooks, Flightplan) is the bearer of the coveted orb and hack journalist Ethan (Jason Behr, Happily Ever After) learns it is his destiny to protect her from evil's grasp. There's a hefty amount of Eastern mythology thrown about by antique dealer Jack (Robert Forster, Alligator), that divulged to Ethan when he was just a boy but little of it seemed to stick since neither Ethan nor Jack have prepared for the impending standoff. It doesn't really matter anyway because L.A. is duly besieged and destroyed over the course of a dragon battle where hordes of flying serpents dismantle the city in search of the orb. The military just mucks things up and it appears that the goodness of civilization rests on the wiles of Ethan and Sarah. A long shot -- you bet.
Do you remember the days when, as a kid, you were absolutely dazzled by the television commercials for sugary breakfast cereals that promised a super-cool toy, free inside the box? Seeing the great close-ups of the toy, the way it performed flawlessly in front of your eyes, and the absolute satisfaction on the faces of the kids playing with it, you knew you'd be bugging Mom to buy of box of the stuff to get your prize, too. Reality set in when you extracted this little gem from the box of Wacky Puffs (or whatever) only to find it was less than a quarter of the size seemingly shown on the commercial and its assembly was a jerry-rig at best, the ultimate injustice dealt when the damn thing simply didn't work and didn't entertain to your expectations. That said, Dragon Wars: D-War is one of those cheap cereal toys. It looks mighty nifty in the trailer. It even looks teasingly compelling in its cellophane-wrapped point-of-sale state. But it all falls apart when you play with it (that is, insert it in your player), leaving you to wonder how a touted $70 million budget could result in this made-for-Sci-Fi-Channel fare.
The acting is cringe-worthy, especially carried on the soft shoulders of the disappointing Jason Behr. He seems to have been channeling Matthew Borderick from 1998's Godzilla; bad choice. Cult character actor Robert Forster provides complimentary ham to Behr's cheese, but not much else. Token female duties go to Amanda Brooks and her performance is just that -- dutiful. But what about the dragons; how do they stand up in all this? Well, the CG-rendered serpents are real hit and miss in their presentation. In some scenes, they look quite fun and relatively convincing but most often the fail to realistically mesh with the other composited elements, usually looking flat, out of perspective, and phony. This is a shame since the entire film relies on competence here to carry the show and, sadly, it doesn't work. Again, some scenes look compelling (as when a creatures raises from the water to confront an aircraft carrier) while others look crappy (as when a dragon clings to an in-flight fighter jet and wrests it to the city streets below).
Although Dragon Wars: D-War clearly doesn't provide entertainment value to any viewer beyond the age of seven years old (and they'll just want to skip to the "dragon parts"), it still warrants a level of cautious commendation for its attempt. While it doesn't deserve the proverbial "'A' for effort," it does garner a 'C-minus' for some of its attempted scenes and scenarios. The notion of full-sized dragons going up against mankind's military might is fun, especially when the creatures have intriguing mobility far beyond the pedestrian plodding of the aforementioned Godzilla redux. And, as mentioned, some sequences do actually work. Alas, there's not enough consistency of execution here to earn the effort much more than a "nice try, maybe next time" consolation.
As for this new Blu-ray disc, the HD image transfer is sharp and striking, competent in its presentation. Detail is very crisp (and revealing of every CG flaw within the feature) and color levels are well represented. Black levels look good but there were a few instances of crush. The source material is pristine, as you should expect from a current-day production. On the audio side, the Dolby TrueHD 5.1 track is bombastic, to say the least. When the dragon action ensues, the entire soundstage erupts. Normally, this would be highly commendable but, because of an overactive sound design, the proceedings become quite noisy. Your sound system will get a workout but you'll notice the lack of precision in what you hear. Extras on the disc seem to be of the obligatory sort, including an 18-minute featurette, 5,000 Years in the Making, that tells the tale of writer/director Hyung Rae Shim's five-year plight to get the film completed. After this comes a slightly interesting Animatics offering followed by a conceptual art gallery.
When the dust settles, Dragon Wars: D-War isn't completely abysmal, just largely miscalculated. There's certainly a kernel of potential within this melee, one that should have easily accomplished delivery of the sorts of dragon-versus-city spectacle strangely avoided by 2002's Reign of Fire. But, after five years and a boatload of money, this one doesn't hit its mark.
Guilty yet offered reduced sentence for its absence of malice.
Review content copyright © 2008 Dennis Prince; Site layout and review format copyright © 1998 - 2013 HipClick Designs LLC
Scales of Justice
* 2.40:1 Non-Anamorphic (Widescreen)
* TrueHD 5.1 Surround (English)
* TrueHD 5.1 Surround (French)
Running Time: 90 Minutes
Release Year: 2007
MPAA Rating: Rated PG-13
* Featurette: "5,000 Years in the Making"
* Animatics: From Storyboard to Screen
* Conceptual art gallery
* Official Site (Korean)