Dragonslayer DVD Review
Theatrical Release: June 26, 1981 / Running Time: 109 Minutes / Rating: PG
Director: Matthew Robbins
Cast: Peter MacNicol (Galen), Caitlin Clarke (Valerian), Ralph Richardson (Ulrich), John Hallam (Tyrian), Peter Eyre (Casiodorus Rex), Albert Salmi (Greil), Sydney Bromley (Hodge), Chloe Salaman (Princess Elspeth), Emrys James (Valerian's Father)
Around the same time, Disney tried something completely new by co-producing two live action films with Paramount Pictures. The first co-production was the critically-clobbered Popeye in December 1980. The following summer, Dragonslayer, the second and last Disney/Paramount co-production, was released to theaters. Critics were a little friendlier to this fantasy/adventure film, but its gross fell short of its $18 million budget at the box office.
Of course, Disney sorted out their issues, with the creation of their more adult-oriented film branch Touchstone Pictures in 1984, the new renaissance of the animation department sparked by 1989's The Little Mermaid, and a resurgance and increase in popular "Disney" family films later in the decade and through the '90s. This return to popular success among live action films did mean Disney would rely more on familiar and traditionally liked topics like animals and fantasy/comedies and less on the inventive and uncertain fare that oftent was more cinematically potent.
Dragonslayer remains one of the films of the early '80s that calls to mind a more experimental style of filmmaking embraced by Disney. Admittedly, Disney's input into both Popeye and Dragonslayer was strictly monetary, not creative. Nonetheless, Dragonslayer feels like a film that Disney themselves might have made at a period when they tried to depart from what had become commonplace and formulaic. It is a movie which those who lament the fact Disney gave up on less certain productions by the end of the decade.
The agreement between Disney and Paramount on these two co-productions gives Paramount the home video rights in America, while Disney releases them abroad with their name.
After he sees his master fail the improbable test of being unharmed by stabbing, a sorcerer's apprentice named Galen (Peter MacNicol) goes off on the journey to help a town be rid of a fiery dragon. While this sounds like it should be very exciting, unfortunately, Dragonslayer is more than a bit dull. This is in spite of a serviceable score, high production values, and quality visual effects. The film contains very few exciting sequences (generally, these involve the towering dragon) and the greater majority in between is solemn and disengaging.
Though Dragonslayer, like all Paramount DVDs, lists a a number of items on its back cover as "Special Features", as with most Paramount DVDs, it is completely bare of special features. This is a studio which considers things like "English Subtitles", "Dolby Digital", and "Widescreen Version" as "Special Features." (I'd really hate to see a Paramount DVD that they consider to not have any special features.
Being a Paramount DVD, just as sure as there's bound to be thirty seconds of a logo and FBI warning screens that can't be skipped, there are certainly no supplements to be found. Of course, that is disappointing, especially when a conglomerate like Viacom (who owns Paramount, Blockbuster, MTV, CBS, Nickelodeon, etc.) can justify keeping retail prices as high as they were for some time. Compare the output to something like tiny Anchor Bay's lovingly packed Watcher in the Woods disc, and you'll wonder why big studios like Disney and Paramount don't consistently do the same.
VIDEO and AUDIO
Where Paramount one-ups Disney is in the film presentation. Dragonslayer is presented in its original widescreen aspect ratio of 2.35:1, and has been enhanced for 16:9 televisions. A catalogue title like this seems prime for a fullscreen-only release here in the states had Disney released it. Though of course, Disney's international DVDs of this title are anamorphic widescreen, a common trend of the studio's European DVD output of live action films to be on the ball.
Video quality is overwhelmingly positive. The film is sharp, crisp, and clear - looking more like a recent film that one that's more than two decades old. Dragonslayer does have a dark look, though I imagine that is the film's original appearance, and not a transfer issue. As a result, skintones are a bit off, at times.
The film is presented in both Dolby Digital 5.1 and Dolby Surround. The 5.1 track is quite lively, and lives up to fantasy film expectations of an engrossing and lively environment. The surround speakers aren't called upon with frequency, but when they are, it is effective. The mix of score and sound effects is especially potent when one considers the age of the film.
Dragonslayer may or may not be necessary to complete your Disney collection, depending on whether or not you consider the film to be a "Disney" film. In any event, though Paramount's DVD release is long overdue and sadly lacking extras, it presents the film gloriously with first-rate picture and sound. That's one thing fans should be glad about, and likely not something we'd see had Disney released the DVD in the United States. If you haven't seen the film, a rental might serve you best to see if the amount of adventure in this adventure is quite enough for you.
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