Gallant knight, Sir George (James Purefoy) returns from the Crusades, eager to settle down on a small plot of land and rear cattle. In exchange for this meagre reward, George promises King Edgar (Simon Callow) he will rescue Princess Luna (Piper Perabo) from the clutches of the world’s last, fire-breathing dragon. Accompanied by Luna’s betrothed, the ruthless Lord D’Gurney (Patrick Swayze - yes, really), her faithful servant (Bill Treacher), and plucky, young archer Rin, George tangles with bloodthirsty Picts and a murderous mob of cutthroats led by the black knight, El Cabille (Val Kilmer - er, sort of. Read on…). But when George finally finds - and falls for - the lovely Luna, he is more than a little perplexed. Instead of slaying the dragon, she wants his help to protect it.
George and the Dragon is a very odd mix of historical romp, fantasy adventure and Monty Python-style comedy antics. Amiably goofy at times, the wackiness ranges from a peasant repeatedly falling through his thatched roof, Father Bernard (Jean-Pierre Castaldi) escaping an angry mob on his newly-invented skateboard, George introducing the dining fork to medieval England (“It looks like the devil’s pitchfork. That’s what I’ll call it, a pitch!”), and several amusing out-takes lain over the end credits. The eclectic cast will seem a strange sight to British eyes. Aside from Michael Clarke Duncan (essaying yet another tedious, jolly giant), Patrick Swayze (quite good as a grizzled baddie despite, or perhaps because, he doesn’t change his accent) and French comedy actor Castaldi, we have Joan Plowright as a helpful nun, Bill Treacher (from TV’s interminable misery-fest Eastenders), and comedy legend/ornithologist Bill Oddie as a grubby innkeeper. Val Kilmer filmed his single scene while on a break from Renny Harlin’s Mindbenders (2004) shoot. Most of the black knight’s scenes are filmed with his helmet on, while a late hour twist renders Kilmer’s cameo completely pointless.
Throughout the eccentricities, square-jawed James Purefoy exudes wry heroism mixed with hints of chivalry, while the appealingly feisty Princess Luna proves a fine fit for perennially underused Piper Perabo (who displays a fine English accent). Curiously, the legend has been rewritten into a kind of dragon conservationist fable, enlivened by the Han Solo/Princess Leia type banter between George and Luna. Typical of the humorous touches is how the pair bond over their mutual loathing of D’Gurney’s favourite confectionary: liquorice. A nice touch has George discover Luna’s decision to marry D’Gurney is born of a selfless duty similar to his own chivalric code. Though the script is annoyingly vague as to exactly why she wants to save the man-eating monsters, Perabo sells us on Luna’s “unique understanding of creation.”
Filmed in France, Belgium and Scotland, the locations offer a nice balance between muddy, medieval realism and fairytale fancy. The swordplay is fast-paced and well executed, yet while the three-way duel - where George, D’Gurney, and the chief brigand can’t make up who is fighting whom - is amusing, it’s conclusion is muddled. It’s somewhat galling when the world’s most famous knight can’t slay a mere brigand. It’s ultimately a slight, aimless tale, but lifted by an enthusiastic cast.