The cinema darkened, the trailers had run out and it was time for the main feature. The film fed into the projector and past the glowing light that pushed the image through the small window onto the 30 foot screen before me. Expecting to see a movie full of dragons and slaying, this movie is more of a character piece with a few scenes dedicated to fighting the dragon. But, those scenes are worth it. The entire movie is.
When this movie came out, I was just getting into Dungeons and Dragons, as if that were a surprise. There wasn't a lot of sword and sorcery movies, that I knew of, save for Excalibur that were well directed and acted in. Most were these B movie types that didn't seem to want to take themselves seriously when it came to the subject. Sure Ralph Bakshi tried to give us The Lord Of The Rings, but even that ultimately failed.
Peter MacNicol's character, the apprentice to Ulrich, is a naive, fool who gets pulled into the adventure when Ulrich is killed. The mage, Ulrich of Craggenmore, played by Ralph Richardson, sees his death and the coming fight, but he knows that he won't survive the trip. It's at this time that a delegation from Urland led by Valerian, played by Caitlin Clarke, come seeking Ulrich, to defeat a dragon.
The delegation are about to leave when soldiers from Ulrich come to the wizards keep, the soldiers, especially Tyrian, aren't convinced that Ulrich is who he says he is. They want a test to prove it and ultimately, Ulrich submits to the test. He tells his apprentice to bring him a dagger. Tyrian, played by John Hallam, is given the dagger and Ulrich, proving he cannot be killed, is stabbed. Then he dies. Tyrian, happy to be proven right, leaves, but is basically the thorn in the side of Galen, trying to stop him from killing the dragon, changing the way of things, taking away his power.
It's the typical call to adventure beginning, but the way that it is handled, the way that the actors have committed to their roles, the sets and the costumes are all amazing. The locations are beautiful and the movie is set up so that each scene is designed to move the story forward. Even the "love story" arc is handled with class as Galen, played by MacNicols, begins to fall for Valerian, who is played by Caitlin Clarke.
Unlike most of today's movies that use computer graphics for almost everything from adding in trees and minor background elements, to full characters, this movie uses special effects to enhance what is already there. The use of traditional special effects, hand puppets, miniatures, and even stop motion animation, the intent was to draw the viewer into the story, to make them lose themselves in the characters and the environment. Hal Barwood did an excellent job of giving the audience a movie that is as compelling and frightening as it is charming and fantastical.
This is one of those movies that should be shown in film school, to show how to successfully integrate special effects into a movie with the special effects getting in the way of a good story. This is a diamond in the rough. Even though it didn't do well at the box office, its one of those movies that should be in everyone's collection.
PG | 1h 49min | Action, Adventure, Fantasy | 26 June 1981 (USA)
A young wizarding apprentice is sent to kill a dragon which has been devouring girls from a nearby kingdom.
Director: Matthew Robbins
Writers: Hal Barwood, Matthew Robbins
Stars: Peter MacNicol, Caitlin Clarke, Ralph Richardson