Dragonslayer: 4K UHD Review

Available this week on 4K UHD is the newly restored 1981 fantasy/adventure, Dragonslayer, directed by Matthew Robbins (who also helmed the 80’s classic, The Legend of Billie Jean). This was one of the very first live-action films of its’ genre that I remember watching as a kid. I was only 8 years old upon its’ release, but it wasn’t the first live-action dark film that Disney was involved in. This came out a couple years after The Black Hole. However, Paramount released Dragonslayer in the US, and Disney handled international, much like they did with Popeye. Back then, PG films could be quite terrifying for children. Jaws, Gremlins, Poltergeist, Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom are just a few examples. It’s kind of funny that Spielberg was involved with all of those films. While Dragonslayer never reached the pop culture status of those films, it has become a cult favorite over the decades and deservingly so.

Set in the sixth-century post-Roman kingdom of Urland, a 400-year-old Dragon known as Vermithrax Pejorative has been terrorizing the people of the land for years. King Casiodorus (Peter Eyre) hosts a lottery twice a year in which a virgin girl is selected to be sacrificed in order to appease the dragon. Tired of the sacrifices, Valerian (Caitlin Clarke) leads an expedition to find the last known sorcerer to help kill the dragon. Unfortunately, the head of the kingdom’s royal guard, Tyrian (John Hallam), kills the sorcerer, seemingly leaving Valerian and the people without hope. Thankfully, the sorcerer had an apprentice in Galen (Peter MacNicol), who takes it upon himself to go in his late master’s place. Despite being overwhelmingly inexperienced, Galen might be their only hope.

With the help of the wizard’s magical amulet, Galen traps Vermithrax Pejorative inside its’ lair, thanks to a massive avalanche. Thinking they have seen the last of the dragon, the village celebrates the victory, but King Casiodorus isn’t convinced the danger is gone. The furious dragon does break free and goes on a flaming rampage, setting fire to everything in sight. Can Galen, stop the dragon once and for all?

Paramount gives us an incredible new restoration of Dragonslayer and to me, it has never looked better. The original 35mm camera negative was used to create this presentation. The effects work by the legendary Phil Tippett really pops here, but the massive dragon puppets used on set are the real prize here. We don’t see the dragon fully until later in the film, but we get a glimpse of the claws and tail early on. The new restoration gives us the best look ever at the dragon with the detailed scales, teeth and eyes. Thankfully we also get a Dolby Atmos track which fully takes advantage of the Alex North’s score, as-well-as the action. It’s most noticeable in the film’s final act and within the dragon’s lair.

If you are a fan of Dragonslayer, this is definitely worth picking up.

Bonus Features:

  • THE SLAYER OF ALL DRAGONS: Step back in time with director/co-writer Matthew Robbins, dragon supervisor Phil Tippett, and ILM’s visual effects master Dennis Muren as they revisit DRAGONSLAYER. Their stories and memories take viewers deep into the dragon’s fiery lair as they recount the challenging journey from concept to screen.
  • WELCOME TO CRAGGANMORE: A look back at the impact of Star Wars and its visual effects on Hollywood, the origin of DRAGONSLAYER and its screenplay, and the film’s casting.
  • A LONG WAY TO URLAND: Pre-production begins in England as the film takes shape. The young filmmakers seek gritty medieval realism through the production design, cinematography, and costumes.
  • VERMITHRAX PEJORATIVE: The filmmakers take on the daunting task of bringing a dragon to life like never before, utilizing every ounce of movie magic available including Phil Tippett’s breakthrough go-motion animation, cutting-edge practical animatronics, visual effects, and compositing.
  • INTO THE LAKE OF FIRE: Production woes at every turn, horrific baby dragons, and the challenge of creating Vermithrax’s iconic lair plague the filmmakers. Phil Tippett offers a mini-masterclass on crafting powerful creature performance through detailed animation.
  • THE FINAL BATTLE: The team faces the unique challenges of the film’s stage-bound climax, filmed entirely against a blue screen. Director Matthew Robbins looks back on the incredible work done in the final stages of film editing, the beautifully dense sound design, and Alex North’s amazing score, which utilized pieces from his legendary unused 2001: A Space Odyssey score.

By: Marc Ferman