One of the tags for this film is When Dragons Were Real, which gives you an idea how the film is going to look. It is dark and filled with real life pain and suffering and not all of it the cause of the dragon. This film is not some light fluffy frilly film but a stark look at what it is like to life in fear that a dragon is going to make you its dinner. This film also looks at just how far people will go to save the ones that they love from any harm that might come at them. This film even has love and shows how a young boy can grow to be a man to save the one that he loves and it is not the princess.
Dragonslayer starts with a group of people, peasants really, that have traveled all the way from Urland to find a sorcerer named Ulrich of Craggenmoor (Ralph Richardson). They seek the help of Ulrich to get rid of the dragon. Twice a year a virgin is boing sacrificed to the dragon and Valerian and the rest of the group with her want to see it stopped. The kingdom is so full of fear and resentment that something has to be done. While it is true that the current king, King Casiodorus (Peter Eyre) has appeased the dragon and Vermithrax no longer burns villages to the ground it still caused great fear and unrest. Ulrich has seen that the group is coming and knows what must be done even if it means unpleasantness for him. He is going to do what ever it takes to make sure that the dragon is dealt with as he knows it must be done to fulfill the vision that he has seen.
Galen (Peter MacNicol) is an apprentice of Ulrich and really more of a boy then a man as he knows nothing of the world. All his life is in chores and reading of books in the hopes of becoming his master’s successor. His spells hardly ever work and he seems so lost at the beginning of the film. Him and Hodge (Sydney Bromley) are the sorcerer’s only companions and they never take visitors. It was a complete shock to both men when Ulrich told them to let the visitors in as there was a long journey ahead for them all. It is a journey that the old wizard knows he is not going to be able to make in the usual means but he is not telling his two companions any of that.
Valerian (Caitlin Clarke) also has a secret and an ulterior motive in seeing the dragon killed. Valerian is actually a woman that has been masquerading as a bow since the day she was born. Her father, the towns blacksmith, wanted to make sure that she would be able to live and not have to partake in the lottery that the kingdom has twice a year to choose the sacrifice for the dragon. Both father and daughter know that the lottery is rigged and that the rich and powerful have always had an out and it is always the peasants that have to make the sacrifice. Later in the film the kings daughter Princess Elspeth (Chloe Salaman) finds out about the deception and rigs it so that she will save the kingdom. She wants to do it to make up for all the injustice that the king has placed on everyone else.
Galen on the journey to Urland finds out Valerian’s secret and starts to fall in love with her but never tells her till it is almost too late. During the trip as well they have to deal with the death of Hodge by the hand of Tyrian (John Hallam), the king’s chief centurion. The soldier will do anything to save the kingdom and loves to kill as long as it is within the laws and orders that have been given to him. It is that same devotion to the law of the land, though twisted it is, that makes sure the sacrifice of the princess happens later on. Galen privately vows to get revenge for the death of both Hodge and his master Ulrich as well as kill the dragon.
There is a lot going on in this film and was definitely not a kids film even though it was a Walt Disney Productions movie. It had very adult themes and overtones and even had nudity, something rare for a Disney film. Because of the film being so mature and dark it was not well received in the States. Had it been done later with Touchstone Pictures it would have been better received. This film is one of the reasons that Disney set up the other film company, to be able to release more mature films. Even with the theme of the film it is one of the more realistic fantasy films of the time and was done with absolutely no CGI effects at all. It was all done with stop animation and other effects that were being perfected by Industrial Light and Magic. The very same effects that were used in the early Star Wars films. This is a classic sword and sorcery film that deserves a place on the shelf.
I give this film a Musing review of