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  Dragonslayer Fire And Brimstone
Year: 1981
Director: Matthew Robbins
Stars: Peter MacNicol, Caitlin Clarke, Ralph Richardson, John Hallam, Peter Eyre, Albert Salmi, Sydney Bromley, Chloe Salaman, Emrys James, Roger Kemp, Ian McDiarmid, Ken Shorter, Jason White, Yolanda Vasquez, Douglas Cooper, Alf Mangan, David Mount
Genre: Historical, FantasyBuy from Amazon
Rating:  5 (from 1 vote)
Review: The elderly sorceror Ulrich (Ralph Richardson) sits in his room casting spells to see his future, but the news is not as good as he would have hoped. When his apprentice Galen (Peter MacNicol) walks through the door, he finds his master in a trance, but snaps him out of it only to be told by Ulrich that he has foreseen his own death. There are visitors at the door, however, and Galen persuades him to go down to meet them and find out what they want. Led there by the young Valerian (Caitlin Clarke), they implore the wizard for help in ridding their land of a fearsome dragon - but perhaps not everyone wants the beast destroyed...

Yet another Disney flop of the early eighties, there are signs that Dragonslayer was not made for children despite its fantasy trappings. This is because the film is so dour, so grey and damp looking, that the bright colour associated with the Disney brand appears to have been bled out of the frames to leave a stark tale of Dark Ages superstition where magic, and dragons for that matter, were perfectly real. If it's the winged and firebreathing lizard you're here to see, you'll have a long wait, for he doesn't show up until the last half.

Scripted by director Matthew Robbins and producer Hal Barwood, there may be humour in their film, but it's not especially amusing and mainly involves Ulrich's retainer, the equally elderly Hodge (Sydney Bromley), having his clothes ripped off in the early stages. Thankfully, the storyline tends to dismiss such levity the longer it goes on, but there's definitely a sense of fun missing here and more a feeling that you must take this all incredibly seriously. This is underlined by Ulrich being killed off by an agent of the scheming King in the first fifteen minutes, which doesn't exactly get the plot off to a swinging start.

This also leaves Galen as the only man who can stop the dragon, but there's a conspiracy afoot to prevent him getting that far. Along the journey, he discovers that the young man who has led the expedition is in fact a young woman, just like in Summer Holiday, and Valerian promptly fills the romantic interest role thereafter. Yet that King (Peter Eyre) has forged a truce with the dragon, superbly named Vermithrax Pejorative, that he will enjoy a sacrifice of virgins from the kingdom every so often, though the lottery to decide this is fixed so that the Princess (Chloe Salaman) is exempt, although she doesn't find that out until later on.

The land where Dragonslayer occurs is one where the old ways of sorcery and dragons are going out of fashion, and both Vermithrax and Galen may well represent the last of their kind. Christianity is making its presence felt and as the people put their faith in that religion, there's a changing of the guard tone to the narrative. Not that Christianity will protect you from dragons, as the priest finds out to his cost. The fiery creature is really the best aspect of the film, brilliantly imagined by Industrial Light and Magic as a stop motion marvel, just when computer graphics were beginning to make inroads into the industry. Yet elsewhere, the gravity with which you're supposed to regard all this works up little more than respect, without much zing or excitement to accompany it. Music by Alex North.
Reviewer: Graeme Clark


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Review Comments (4)
Posted by:
Andrew Pragasam
22 Jan 2008
  Another movie I first saw at school. My friends loved it, but I've never been as keen. I remember the Princess being eaten was quite a shock. Do you suppose Ralph Richardson got involved because this resembles the Earthsea project he was developing with Michael Powell? Apparently, Pauline Kael considered Dragonslayer a masterpiece.
Posted by:
Graeme Clark
22 Jan 2008
  I think Ralph was thinking of his paycheck, to be honest. It has garnered some great reviews over the years, but I find it chilly and unloveable overall. Great dragon, though.
Posted by:
Paul Shrimpton
21 Jan 2013
  Watched this yesterday. Where it fails for me isn't that the script is bad, or that the effects are dated, or that it's pretty clear to everyone except the cast that Valerian was a girl. It's that Peter Macnicol's performance is so insipid. There are very few movies of this ilk where you find yourself rooting for the dragon over the hero, but this is certainly one. Macnicol is no Christian Bale, that's for sure. hell, he's not even Ken Marshall. I feel I need to watch Krull now as an antidote to Dragonslayer.
Posted by:
Graeme Clark
21 Jan 2013
  Crikey, that's a bit drastic, I don't think Krull is much better. MacNicol's forte was really comedy, I think, it's always odd to see him in a serious role like this.

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