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2012/01/15

Dragonslayer

by Tony Ramos

The film Dragonslayer is an all time favorite of mine (and not just because I was born on April 23rd). The thing is, I have always been a lover of anything related to fantasy worlds that include swords, sorcery, and, of course, dragons. This film includes all of these elements and is like most, if not all fantasy stories, a hero's journey or coming of age tale, if you will. It is a fantasy/adventure film which will take you on a journey with a young man far from home. It is a journey where a young, naive hero named Galen (Peter MacNicol) will face many dangers and humbling experiences only to discover in the end that he really is stronger than he thought.


Dragonslayer is a 1981 film directed by Matthew Robbins, who also co-wrote the screenplay with Hal Barwood. With the film being made in 1981, one might assume the special effects, especially Vermithrax the dragon, would look dated, but I feel they do not. Of course, the dragon itself does not even appear until late in the film, but when it does, you can see Industrial Light & Magic did an awesome job bringing it to ferocious life.

The score by Alex North is another exciting element of the film. Let's just say it can suddenly be intense and in your face before coming to a calm. Take, for example, the music at the beginning of the film. It practically roars at you before the credits or title even appear on screen. It makes you sit up and pay attention, like a dragon announcing its presence.

The film stars Peter MacNicol as Galen, a young sorcerer's apprentice, while the late Caitlin Clarke plays Valerian, the character who originally has the idea that a sorcerer is needed to slay the dragon. The script/story itself is very much a tale similar to the legend of St. George, the patron saint of England (thus my reference to April 23rd earlier), and the film comes in at about 108 minutes.

Galen (Peter MacNicol) and Valerian (Caitlin Clarke)
The film begins with an entourage of villagers traveling far from their homeland, Urland, in search of a sorcerer named Ulrich (Sir Ralph Richardson). This group of villagers is led by Valerian (Caitlin Clarke), and they seek an audience with the powerful wizard to ask him to battle and put down their homeland's menacing dragon. At first, Ulrich's servant, Hodge (Sydney Bromley), denies them this audience. Ulrich, however, after witnessing a vision of the future pertaining to said dragon, Galen, his apprentice, and even his own death, decides he will see them.

Despite Ulrich already knowing they will ask him to battle a dragon, Valerian (in disguise as a boy since birth) explains to Ulrich that her village's king, Casiodorus Rex (Peter Eyre), has a lottery in place that keeps peace with the dragon. Within this lottery, the name of a young virgin maiden from the village is chosen. This young virgin is offered as sacrifice to the Dragon and, in return, the monster does not burn their villages or crops. Ulrich decides to take on this challenge but before the group can even take the road, he is killed by Tyrian (John Hallam), the king's captain of the royal guard. Having lost his master and knowing that those disheartened villagers are still in need of a someone to defeat the dragon, Galen overconfidently takes it upon himself that he can slay the beast. Thus he joins the group back to their homeland of Urland, where he will face not only the the dangers of the dragon, but also those of the king's men and the king himself.

Vermithrax the Dragon and Galen (Peter MacNicol)
I enjoy many things about this film, but one thing that really stands out for me is that in the case of young Galen, the Buddhist proverb of "When the student is ready, the master appears", seems to be opposite. Of course, the young apprentice was already training under Ulrich, but it seems that just as Galen is about to learn the most important lessons from his master, he dies/disappears. That Galen grows and learns the most about arrogance, fear, and humility while his teacher is not even there physically during difficult times makes this a great film about self-discovery and learning by experience. Perhaps his master knew there was no more Galen could learn from him and that the rest of his learning would be on his own.

Still another theme that runs throughout Dragonslayer is that of the passing of the torch; the ending of an era and the beginning of a new one. In this story, Ulrich and the dragon are the last of their kind, and it is referenced quite a few times by different characters that the old ways are dying; that things are changing. A good example of this type of change can be witnessed by how Christianity is about to be introduced to the villagers of this fictitious world when a holy man, Brother Jacopus (Ian McDiarmid of Star Wars fame), appears in the village around the same time Galen and his magic show up.

Having said that, as I originally stated in my opening paragraph, I love fantasy filled worlds containing dragons, swords and sorcery, and this film showcases them well. There are not many battles of the sword on sword kind, but the battle between Galen and Tyrian just outside the dragon's liar in the climax of the film is well done. The dragon itself is a nasty one, and one of the best to ever be filmed, despite its limited time on screen. Let's just say it looks really cool when it soars through the sky or breathes fire on its prey/enemies.

Galen (MacNicol) and Ulrich (Sir Ralph Richardson)
These were the film debuts of both Peter MacNicol and Caitlin Clarke, and I feel they each did a wonderful job respectfully. MacNicol plays Galen very well, being able to appear and act arrogantly and over confident in certain scenes while easily expressing a look of defeat and humility in others. The best look MacNicol gives in the film, I feel,  is when he sees the dragon for the first time lumbering above him. His surprised look is one for the ages as he instantly knows he's in over his head.

Caitlin Clarke (who passed on September 9th, 2004) plays essentially two characters with Valerian. At the beginning of the film she portrays a boy, but later on she is revealed to be a young lady, her father having hidden her gender to protect her from the lottery. Let's just say she does both very well. Her character is strong and stubborn, yet the relationship she builds on screen with Galen has a lot of warmth and quiet determination. I'm sure the acting world misses her, as they do Sir Ralph Richardson, as well. Sir Ralph Richardson plays Ulrich's smaller, but pivotal role, with a wisdom and intelligence that perhaps only a real life great wizard might possess.

 
Despite Dragonslayer being co-produced by Walt Disney Pictures, it is not your typical Walt Disney film. It is a darker film, but it also has its humorous moments, believe it or not. Of course there is a little romance, but who am I kidding; the real stars are Galen and Vermithrax. I'm sure, however, that it will please any movie lover, especially fantasy/adventure loving film buffs. So thus, for anyone seeking to be swept into a fantastic story adventure for about two hours because they feel they are ready, Dragonslayer will surely satisfy.

For more information visit there IMBD page: http://www.imdb.com/title/tt0082288/

1 comment:

  1. As fantasy films go, Dragonslayer has earned the title of "classic." Respectable special effects, especially for the time (1981), excellent storyline, and quality performances. My god, Sir Ralph Richardson as a wizard! Makes you wonder how he would have tackled Gandalf, courtesy and respect of course to Sir Ian. If you've never seen this film in its entirety, I urge you to see it... with your kids.

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