Dragonslayer (1981)
Dragonslayer (1981)

Genre: Adventure and Fantasy Running Time: 1 hr. 49 min.

Release Date: June 26th, 1981 MPAA Rating: PG

Director: Matthew Robbins Actors: Peter MacNicol, Caitlin Clarke, Ralph Richardson, John Hallam, Peter Eyre, Albert Salmi, Sydney Bromley, Chloe Salaman

 


 

A

s old warlock Ulrich (Ralph Richardson) recites incantations and brews a magic potion, a group of villagers approaches his castle. Servant and aspiring sorcerer Galen Bradwarden (Peter MacNicol) readies Ulrich for his guests as the elderly wizard speaks of his own looming death and an important undertaking that will engage everyone in the kingdom of Urland. “There’s a great task needing to be done.”

Young warrior Valerian (Caitlin Clarke), who leads the ragtag assemblage of questers, presents Ulrich with dragon scales and a sizable tooth. The boy requests that Ulrich slay the dragon, whose appetite for destruction is quenched each autumn equinox by a pact made by the king: virgins are selected by a lottery as a sacrifice so that the mighty beast will leave the crops and villages unburned. But just as Ulrich takes up the mission of unlikely conquering, the king’s skeptical soldier Tyrian (John Hallam) interrupts the gathering to block the road with his troops. He demands a test of fortitude from the white-haired senior, who obliges by having Galen fetch a special knife, which is then used by Tyrian to stab Ulrich through the heart. The magician dies – but it’s all part of his plan.

Shortly thereafter, apprentice Galen and fellow assistant Hodge (Sydney Bromley) jaunt into the forest after the discouraged villagers. With a newfound confidence, Galen expects to take the place of his former master and vanquish the dragon himself. But every step of the way is thwarted by Tyrian and his men, almost as if they secretly wish to keep their gruesome traditions and the dragon’s despotic control unchanged.

“Dragonslayer” doesn’t have the largest budget, but it doesn’t disappoint in its presentation of the great monster. The first sacrificial victim (Yolande Palfrey) is terrorized by an oversized though rubbery claw, as well as a lengthy yet clunky tail, before succumbing to a ball of fire. Little is shown of the practical creature, dually generating curiosity and concealing the limitations in building a full-sized, winged monstrosity. The special effects for the wider, full-body shots are much less appealing (a mix of green screen and stop-motion), though baby dragons (puppet-like hellions that contribute to a bit of bloody gore) and the showdown in the dragon’s watery lair (which finally reveals the oversized head built for the film) provide economical entertainment value.

One of the major problems with the film, as is the case with many swords-and-sorcery and fantasy pictures, is that Galen’s abilities are never defined. Exactly how powerful is he? What is he not capable of? Another problem is with the pacing; the action isn’t consistent or frequent enough, while the humor and the romance subplot aren’t strong enough to make up for the downtime. And decent sets, standard costumes, and meager fight scenes can’t compensate for the slowness either  – even when the storyline presents a modest touch of cleverness, such as when the results of the lottery are altered to change the mind of the corrupt king, or when he opts to reinstate Galen’s mission rather than to remain a ruthless tyrant. Unfortunately, no single element of “Dragonslayer” truly stands out; nearly everything about it is average, flat, and too routinely constructed, as if manufactured from the most generic of templates. Even the magic and the activities of the dragon are dreadfully dull. This is the kind of uninspired project that possesses an intriguing title, yet an utter deficit in visualized excitement.

– Mike Massie

  • 2/10