Vermithrax Laudative

DRAGONSLAYER is pretty good, should appeal to the Game of Thrones/LORD OF THE RINGS people. It’s better than bloody WILLOW or LADYHAWK. It’s interesting to me for the influences it displays, too.

Setting aside the very satisfying priest-frying, which stems from George Pal’s THE WAR OF THE WORLDS, there’s the death of a major character early on, falling out of close-up, then completing his tumble via stand-in) with a match cut that takes us into slomo — clearly a nifty SEVEN SAMURAI swipe. Matthew Robbins, like George Lucas, has learned his Kurosawa lessons well.

But let’s look at the main plot, which forms part of a strange, twisted trichobezoar of influences. Young Galen, the sorcerer’s apprentice, takes his slain master’s place, fraudulently presenting himself as the old man’s equal. He seems to score a success against the besieging dragon, but screws up and makes everything much worse. Then it’s up to him to make things right again. (Since he’s a white male and the hero, he repeatedly gets another chance, and another…)

An incredibly influential film, though you might not think it, is THE THREE AMIGOS, and not just for the title’s role in the Donald Trump impeachment trial. The movie is a comedy spin on THE MAGNIFICENT SEVEN, which is itself a remake of Kurosawa’s THE SEVEN SAMURAI (this gets more complicated). 3 AMIGOS has three movie stars being mistaken for real heroes by the people of a beseiged Mexican village, and hired to fight off bandits. They screw up, because they’re Hollywood phonies, as Chevy Chase might say, and then they have to put things right…

The guy in the right has been in more Polanski films than anyone

Is it possible that the earlier DRAGONSLAYER (not a hit) influenced THE THREE AMIGOS, perhaps by way of the shared Kurosawa influence? What about GALAXY QUEST, which is EXACTLY the same plot as THE THREE AMIGOS? What about A BUG’S LIFE, which is the same again? MYSTERY MEN is kind of similar too.

Fiona points out that DRAGONSLAYER has very strong female characters, by the way: the virgin who’s been disguised as a boy for her own protection is another SEVEN SAMURAI trope; the spunky princess meets a fate that probably cost the movie the STAR WARS crowd; and the dragon itself lives in a cave entered by a vaginal slit in the cliff face, and has a nest of eggs. Vermithrax Pejorative is a lady dragon. And a really good design! Not just her look, but her way of moving — she crawls like a bat.

A shame the climax is all matte lines, and nobody really being where they’re supposed to be. Thinking about it afterwards, I realized the deeper problem — apart from the sequence just not being exciting — is that it’s all about the execution of a perfect plan, in which the dragon is doomed and the hero once again doesn’t get to be heroic. Most of the time in this movie, its refusal to do the normal pseudo-mythic thing (real myths are much weirder than the Joseph Campbell/George Lucas versions) is thrilling, whereas here it’s flat.

But the political cynicism of the coda is pretty bracing.

DRAGONSLAYER stars Renfield; Simone; Supreme Being; Luro; Lord Halifax; Rory Poke; Diddler; Sarah Churchill; and Emperor Palpatine.

11 Responses to “Vermithrax Laudative”

  1. David Ehrenstein Says:

    I prefer The Three Caballeros

    and I’m sure y’all do too.

  2. I worked as a movie theater usher that summer, and so watched bits and pieces of Dragonslayer over and over. What always cracked me up was the way the very good actor Peter MacNicol, in his first film, tried out different screen personas to find his level. “Here’s my Dreyfuss; here’s my Brando; here’s my Nicholson; oh, you want my Mark Hamill?”

  3. bensondonald Says:

    Remember seeing it in a preview — San Jose, CA was briefly a favored venue — and being a little surprised by the grimness. This was a Disney venture (one of two partnerships with Paramount) from when they unsteadily stepped outside their comfort zone. Might it have prospered more without the Disney name?

    In time Disney went the way of other studios and acted mainly as a conduit for other people’s projects. As Disney boomed, the old clearly-defined Disney product became a specialty label within a vast warehouse store. Probably for better, it ended the days when the Disney house style permeated every foot of film they released — the last studio to so thoroughly brand its output.

  4. Disney would soon devise the Touchstone label to allow them to release more adult movies without confusing audiences with the Disney brand. But the edgier movies the made before this are really interesting: Dragonslayer, Never Cry Wolf, Something Wicked This Way Comes and even Tron.

    Real leading men usually only do one thing: the very fact that MacNicol was able to jump between different modes marks him out as more of a character guy.

  5. theredshoes1 Says:

    Fiona here – I love this piece by Walker McKnight.

  6. I was a huge fan of this film – haven’t seen it in a while.

  7. I think there’s a utopian parallel universe where Matthew Robbins and Nicholas Meyer have careers the size of Ron Howard’s.

  8. Robbins did do some films before and after DRAGONSLAYER, none nearly as good – though THE LEGEND OF BILLIE JEAN is decent at least. I feel as if we got a chance to find out what his career would be like. I still feel a bit uncertain about Meyer, though. THE WRATH OF KHAN is awesome, his other STAR TREK is decent, TIME AFTER TIME really doesn’t work for me. THE DAY AFTER sits on my hard disk, awaiting its turn.

  9. Meyer’s The Deceivers seems like it ought to be of interest. I like Time After Time mainly for one scene, David Warner’s amazing “I’ve come home” scene about being Jack the Ripper in modern America.

  10. Mike Clelland Says:

    I saw this in the theater when it came out. I remember liking it. Yet my strongest memory was that my friend Gerald and I opened the glass frame that held those capital letters on the striped velvet in front of the door to each theater in the multi-plex. We rearranged the letters from DRAGONSLAYER to GRAND AS LEROY.

  11. So YOU’RE responsible for the disappointing box office gross!

    Still, that’s pretty grand!

    I guess you could also have done ROY ARSE GLAND or GORY SAND LEAR or GAY RANDO SALE. That might have improved the take.

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