Judge Steve Power failed his saving throw versus nostalgic whimsy.
A thrilling animated adventure from the age of knights and wizards.
There was a time when Arthur Rankin Jr. and Jules Bass were on their way to building an animation empire. Upon the stone-solid foundation of a handful of cherished stop-motion Christmas specials, the pair would churn out a handful of traditionally animated offerings they'd hoped would cement their company as a healthy alternative to the house that Mickey built. Tapping into the Dungeons and Dragons-led fantasy boom of the 1970s, they capitalized on a renewed interest in fantasy and began snapping up properties left and right. Following two ill-conceived Tolkien adaptations—The Hobbit and The Return of the King—came The Last Unicorn and The Flight of Dragons. Circumstances being what they are, the Tolkien outings would probably be lost to the annals of time, if not for Peter Jackson's films, while the latter two languish in obscurity, albeit fondly remembered by those who enjoyed them in their youth. It's probably for the best.
The Flight of Dragons tells us the story of Peter (John Ritter, Three's Company), a 20th century scientist, dreamer, writer, and inventor of board games, summoned to the dark ages by Carolinus (Harry Morgan, M*A*S*H), the green wizard. It seems Carolinus' world is on the brink of death, with the fading belief in magic causing everything to falter. His evil brother, Ommadon (James Earl Jones, Clear and Present Danger) plots to use science against man, blinding them with greed and hatred, thus prolonging the life of the world of magic (which makes no logical sense, I know.) It doesn't take long before Peter finds his consciousness trapped inside the body of a dragon, and several brave followers accompany him on the noble quest to steal Ommadon's red crown, the source of all his powers. Will this man of science triumph over the world of magic?
Your like or dislike of The Flight of Dragons relies entirely on whether or not you've seen the film more than a handful of times in the past. For the uninitiated, you get amateurish animation coupled with a clunky screenplay piling on cheap allegory that's about as subtle as a gauntlet to the face. The character designs are garish things—like something out of Ralph Bakshi's Wizards crossed with Saturday morning cartoons—and the titular dragons look laughable. There's a healthy dose of fantasy action, but it suffers from the same clunky execution. One or two cool sequences do pop up, most notably the final moments of Sir Orrin, but they are washed away by a weak denouement which ties everything up in far too neat of a package. Beyond that, the final confrontation between Peter and Ommadon is at once unintentionally hilarious and also completely embarrassing. Wrap it all up with a stock score and a wonderfully hideous theme song by Don "American Pie" McClean, and you get a complete package that none but those fueled by nostalgia (or some serious devotion to Dungeons and Dragons) could possibly enjoy.
Being on offer from the Warner Archives means that The Flight of Dragons doesn't really give you much in the way of presentation. The standard Archives template adorns the case, the disc has the telltale purple finish of a DVD-R, and the film itself is presented in lackluster fashion, with a generic menu that tells us we can use our forward and backward buttons to skip through the film at 10-minute intervals and nothing in the way of extras. The video is a touch dark and, while there's some dust and grain present, it's a decent transfer. The audio is also standard stereo, a little on the hollow sounding side, but free of hisses or distortion. At 15 bucks, it's definitely overpriced, but it's as good as fans of the film will get, and in truth, it's adequate.
Nostalgia is a funny thing. It can turn even the most repugnant of trash into a thing of beauty. I'm sure fans of The Flight of Dragons, sick of looking at crappy downloads or worn VHS copies, will be satisfied with what's here, but if you didn't grow up with this one, it's best left alone.
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