Review by John Larkin
DRAGONSLAYER in 4K UHD is available at retailers everywhere
Being a millennial I had not seen nor heard of DRAGONSLAYER until it was announced for release on 4K. Steeped in a time where fantasy films are over saturated with CGI I get excited at the prospect of discovering older fantasy films that feel very much a product of their time. In that sense alone, DRAGONSLAYER is pure bliss.
As a huge admirer of Peter Jackson's LORD OF THE RINGS films I can't help but think this is exactly what LORD OF THE RINGS would have looked and felt like had it been mounted by a big studio in the 1980's. While the superb tangible production design complete with a plethora of real fire flames and smoke - is one of the films biggest draws - it ironically was one of the first films to utilize early CGI. A type of photography called GO-MOTION involved the use of computer mechanized movements to make the dragon animation more realistic than traditional STOP-MOTION. Speaking of the dragon, it has one of the most peculiar names for a character in the history of cinema - Vermithrax Pejorative. Sounds more like the title for an espionage film than the name of a dragon. The creation of the Dragon by ILM is superb and still holds up impressively to this day. The King of the Dragons himself, George R.R. Martin has even stated that Vermithrax is the best looking dragon ever seen on the screen. As an homage there is a reference to a dragon named "Vermithrax" in the first season of GAME OF THRONES.
DRAGONSLAYER is exquisitely lensed by Canadian cinematographer and ALIEN (1979) DP, Derek Vanlint - one of the most underrated and forgotten of cinematographers. The new 4K transfer by Paramount is as perfect a 4K transfer as I've ever seen - black levels, contrast and grain are all perfectly balanced with no noticeable noise or artifacts. It will easily go down as one of the best 4K's of 2023.
The score by Alex North contains some pieces that were originally composed as part of the score for 2001: A SPACE ODYSSEY but were rejected by Kubrick. Can you even imagine 2001 without Strauss and Ligeti? EXCALIBUR was released the same year and became synonymous with "O Fortuna/Carmina Burana" much like The Blue Danube is with 2001. DRAGONSLAYER feels like the ARMAGEDDON to EXCALIBUR'S DEEP IMPACT and I prefer the former.
One more interesting tidbit to note is that this film is a rare DISNEY co-production with PARAMOUNT and clearly has a more adult and gritty feel than the usual DISNEY fare. It's the only film with the DISNEY name on it to feature onscreen nudity - a very brief shot of Peter MacNicol's character jumping into a lake.
Over forty years later DRAGONSLAYER holds up as a beautifully mounted fantasy epic and Paramount has done the perfect job of bringing it to glorious 4K for a new generation to discover. The same generation that is about to witness DUNGEONS AND DRAGONS: HONOR AMONG THIEVES, a film I'm even more excited to check out now because of the time spent in the fantasy world of DRAGON.