Monday, March 25, 2013

Dragonslayer (1981)

Dragonslayer is unique, in that it is a Disney movie, and yet it is a gritty fantasy with gore, nudity, and adult themes. In fact, looking back on it from the perspective of today's media mentality, it is a wonder that this film is rated PG.

The story follows a sorcerer's apprentice who is tasked with slaying a mighty dragon who had been wreaking havoc upon the countryside until the nearest King entered a pact to supply it with a tasty virgin maiden every so often in exchange for peace. Each virgin is chosen by lottery, in a corrupt system where the rich and the noblemen's daughters are secretly spared from danger of being chosen. Naturally, some of the kingdom's residents would prefer that the dragon be gotten rid of altogether, and a sorcerer (or as may be necessary, his apprentice) is the only one with the power (and, perhaps, the courage) to attempt it.

Some of the special effects are, truthfully, dated by today's standards - after all, this movie was made before I was even born - however, the monsters are immaculate. The dragon itself is treated like a horror monster and not a fantasy creature - like it is in many other dragon movies - and is thus effectively frightening (think of the difference between the dinosaurs in Jurassic Park, and the titular monster in Carnosaur). The settings are gorgeous; having been filmed in Wales and Scotland, you get a very foggy Dark Ages kind of a medieval look, in contrast with New Zealand's almost otherworldly beautiful Middle-Earth look that is popular in fantasy today. And the fire lake where the dragon dwells looks totally awesome. It's incredibly inspiring for an imaginative mind like my own, especially one rooted in fantasy and monster-based horror.

The story even manages to evade many cliches, despite how straightforward the premise is. Your heroes are atypical, the wizard rather than the knight faces the dragon, and the princess - well, I'll leave that as a surprise. Plus, there is some very intriguing subtext concerning the decline of paganism - a spirituality that powers the mystic forces of both the dragon and the sorcerer's magic - and the usurping of Christianity, a hollow but powerfully vain and egotistical religion. Altogether I would say that Dragonslayer is most definitely a cult gem of the fantasy genre.

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