This week is Dragonslayer. I've seen this a few times and it's pretty good- I mean, it's aged but has its moments. It has the distinction, I think, of having one of the best dragons ever so there is that. The rest is mixed, so let's take a look, shall we?
This one starts out quite sinister, with some scary music and torches flaring in the darkness. The torches belong to some dudes who are coming to Cragganmore to hire a wizard named Ulrich, the last of his kind. They have a dragon problem, see, and have nowhere else to turn. The dudes are from Urland, real far away, and are led by Valerian, who kinda looks and sounds like a woman, honestly, but nobody picks up on that.
So they get to Cragganmore and the old door guard Hodge tells 'em to get lost, but they persist. Ulrich, meanwhile, played by Ralph Richardson (and he's good) is scrying and sees horrific images in a bowl of water- he sees a dragon burning and pillaging. A pretty cool scene, actually, with the fires from the bowl illuminating and shadowing Ulrich's face. Anyway he agrees to meet with the delegation and asks to see the "artifacts". Which turn out to be old scales from the dragon and a monstrous tooth. An incredulous Ulrich is like- you want me to do battle with that? Well, yeah they do, actually.
Vermithrax Pejorative, by the way, is the dragon's name, and it's a good one. Honestly- is that one of the best dragon names ever? Even George RR Martin of Game of Thrones fame has cited it as one of his favorite dragons. Ulrich agrees to confront the dragon but his apprentice Galen is skeptical he can make the long journey to Urland. Galen, by the way, is kind of a dufus if you ask me- he's just annoying. And played by Peter MacNicol, which honestly doesn't help. Before they can leave, however, a guy named Tyrian shows up- he's the captain of Urland's royal guard and apparently has shadowed Valerian on their trek to Cragganmore. He doesn't want Ulrich screwing things up and provoking the dragon, so he's looking to cause strife.
He wants to test Ulrich, and the wizard agrees, but it doesn't go well and Ulrich ends up dead. Did Ulrich plan it this way though? Galen is locked in the tower and later, when they burn the wizard, his funeral pyre turns green. Hmm. Hodge puts the master's ashes in a bag and mumbles something about Ulrich wanting his ashes spread over a lake of fire- yeah that's gonna come up again- and after moping around Galen decides he's the wizard now and will help Valerian's party. Hodge is a bit skeptical that Galen is up to the job. Which, legit.
I'm gonna say here too that this is pretty dark for a Disney movie Anyway there's some shenanigans with Ulrich's magical pendant, which Galen puts in a box but it keeps reappearing elsewhere- this convinces Galen that Ulrich is still alive, or something. Galen is so annoying already, by the way. So as Galen and Hodge journey with Valerian, we cut away to Urland- where it's sacrifice time!
See the king of Urland has made a deal where he offers up a virgin twice a year and the dragon leaves them alone. They have a lottery and a name is drawn, and the unfortunate virgin is sacrificed. Nice, huh? So here the latest victim is chained up and everyone runs when the earth starts shaking and smoking. The poor girl bloodies her wrists trying to get free- honestly, it's kinda hard to watch her literally forcing her wrists out of the manacles, bleeding the whole time- did I mention this was dark for Disney?
Meanwhile the journey continues, and Galen discovers that Valerian is- surprise- a woman when he sees her bathing. Ass shot of MacNicol, by the way, as he dives into a lake. And a quick underwater nude shot of Caitlyn Clark, who plays Valerian. I imagine a few parents were traumatized by this point when they took their little ones to see the dragon movie from Disney. Galen later has a vision of Tyrian shooting Hodge in the forest, and yup- Hodge is toast. Aw.
Oh and we find out from Valerian that rich people and those with royal connections can keep their kids out of the lottery, hence why Valerian has always pretended to be a boy. Anyway they get to Urland- nice location shots, by the way- and as they approach the lair (apparently they have to travel by it to get wherever they're going) Galen decides he wants to see it. Yeah great idea. He actually goes in the lair, tripping over bones, and when he comes out he decides to try and stop up the entrance. Using a little magic, he causes some rocks to fall, closing it up, but because he's not a very good mage he causes an avalanche, and they barely survive.
So Valerian's village is celebrating, because after all the monster's dead, right? And Valerian puts on a dress and comes out as a woman for the first time. Not so fast, though, peasants- Tyrian arrives and takes Galen to meet the king, who is very interested in Galen's freelance dragon slaying. Needless to say, Casiodorus (the king) is none too impressed with Galen's incompetence, and locks him up. Oh, and he takes Galen's magic pendant too and starts trying to figure out how it works. It doesn't like him, unfortunately.
The king's daughter Elspeth, by the way, visits Galen in his cell and is shocked to hear that the rich avoid the lottery. She confronts her father, who lets slip that yes she has been excluded, and while this is happening Vermithrax gets loose and starts burning villages. Elspeth frees Galen amidst the chaos, and we have a ridiculous scene where Galen rides through the castle, trying to find a way out, and actually ends up in the king's chambers. This is a pretty shitty castle, as these things go. But he finds his way out after a wall collapses, minus his pendant.
The villagers at this point go to the lair site and a priest (played by Ian McDiarmid- the Emperor from Star Wars) denounce the dragon as an infernal beast, but the dragon is not impressed and the Emperor is not long for this earth. Vermithrax continues to go apeshit, burning everything in sight, and Galen hides out with Valerian and her father Simon in his blacksmith shop, while Tyrian tries to capture him. Galen wants Simon to make him a weapon, and Simon shows him Sicarious Dracorum - Dragonslayer- a spear that he made in the past but had hidden. Galen wants to enchant it but needs the pendant to do it. A new lottery, meanwhile, is being set up to placate the dragon.
Elspeth rigs the drawing so that her name is on all the plates, as she wants to atone for having been kept off all the previous lotteries. The king is distraught and gives the pendant back to Galen, imploring him to save his daughter. Galen uses the pendant to enchant the spear, and off he goes. You got to give him credit for going forth to confront Vermithrax. Oh, and it's kinda cool how the pendant snakes its way back to Galen after Casiodorus relinquishes it.
So... Valerian decides she's in love with Galen, and while he and her father finish enchanting the spear, she goes to the lair to collect dragon scales. While going in a short ways she discovers, to her horror, that the dragon has young. Escaping, she later presents Galen with a shield made of scales that she has put together. How did she make the shield so fast? We then have a somewhat awkward love scene where Galen reveals to Valerian that he loves her, not Elspeth, as Valerian had thought. And I couldn't help but wonder- as Valerian mentions that she'll be eligible for the lottery as a virgin- were her and Galen gonna solve that little problem as they clinch up in the mountains? Hmm...
Elspeth at this point is the next sacrifice, though, and she goes bravely to her doom, but Galen rescues her.In the process he has to face Tyrian, who knew he'd show up, and while they fight Elspeth goes into the lair. Galen kills Tyrian and goes in after her, only to find her bloody body torn up by dragon young. Did I mention this was dark? Galen kills the dragon spawn and goes looking for Vermithrax, eventually finding it deep in the lair, in a lake of fire. This is an awesome scene, by the way, where the dragon rises behind Galen and breathes fire on him, with Galen only surviving thanks to Valerian's dragon scale shield.
The stepping stones across the lake are a nice touch. Galen, overmatched, runs for his life, but when mama Vermithrax finds her dead babies she's pissed. Galen jumps on her from above and stabs her repeatedly with Dragonslayer, but Vermithrax is badass and throws him off and almost kills him. Honestly, I don't know how Galen survives. Plot armor, I guess. Valerian finds him later all fucked up and the spear is trashed, as is the shield. Vermithrax don't die easily folks. Back in the village Valerian tells Galen they should leave and start over somewhere else, and her father Simon agrees. In a touching scene they take their leave of Simon, and the look oj his face when he says goodbye to his daughter is heartbreaking. Well played by whoever that actor was.
Galen and Val are on their way- somewhere- when lo and behold there's an eclipse happening. Fancy that. Galen remembers what Hodge told him- that the master wanted his ashes spread over a lake of fire- and the lightbulb goes on. He races back to the lair to spread Ulrich's ashes while Valerian is all like wait where are you going? Simon meanwhile is getting baptised as we get a little peek at how Christianity is slowly taking root in formerly pagan Urland- this is apparently a quasi- historical England, or something. At any rate Vermithrax is flying around, and there's a great scene where it lands on a tall peak and sees Galen and a newly revived Ulrich emerge from its lair.
The eclipse is underway and it's time for Ulrich vs Vermithrax. The old wizard tells Galen to destroy the pendant, but only when the time is right, and that he must do so before Ulrich dies. Yes, Ulrich does not expect to survive. He teleports to the mountain peak and soon Vermithrax brings the fury, flying by a few times before engaging the wizard. Ulrich, for his part, summons lightning and strikes first- how often do you see a battle like this between a wizard and a dragon?- and hurts the dragon badly, but Vermy recovers and swipes Ulrich. A weakened Ulrich then barely manages to withstand a gout of dragon fire when Vermy comes up behind him- seriously this is kinda awesome- and then Vermithrax scoops the wizard up and flies off with him.
Ulrich calls out to Galen, and his apprentice smashes the pendant with a rock, causing Ulrich- and the dragon- to explode. There, now we have a dragonslayer. Vermithrax falls into a lake and soon the villagers come to praise God and witness the still smoking body of the dragon. For his part, Casiodorus comes to drive a sword into the body and proclaim himself a dragonslayer. Glad we were able to sort that out. Seriously, this guy is a doofus. But we have the HEA and Galen/ Val get to live happily, somewhere... as the film ends they're setting out for parts unknown, to start a life together.
So... does this movie suck? Well, in a lot ways- yes. It clearly shows its age and Galen is seriously annoying, but Vermithrax is amazing and Ralph Richardson as Ulrich isn't bad. This was pre- CGI, of course, so in that sense the special effects used to bring Vermithrax to life are an unqualified success. This is a scary dragon.