With great storytelling, a killer cast, excellent early ILM visuals (for 1981 anyway) and a rousing score by Alex North, DRAGONSLAYER remains an underappreciated early 80's film.
Shot in Ireland, the film takes place in sixth century England. The land is filled with castles, royalty and peasants and the skies hold dragons of the big "Game of Thrones" variety, albeit early ILM special effects versions instead of the realistic fire breathers of the HBO series.
Once a year, the town holds a lottery to sacrifice a virgin to the dragon, which keeps it at bay for another year.
(I know what I'd be doing to avoid that lottery, but I digress....)
When an aging sorcerer (Sir Ralph Richardson) is asked by the people to slay the dragon and save them, the task eventually falls to his young apprentice Galen (Peter MacNicol).
Richardson is perfect as the sorcerer and the fact that nearly every time he's on screen, composer Alex North (Spartacus, Cleopatra) surrounds him with great music certainly adds to the appeal.
MacNicol (VEEP, Sophie's Choice, Ghostbusters II) is good in his film debut, although being the only American accent in the film takes adapting.
Star Wars fans will note future Emperor Ian McDiarmid as Brother Jacopus. That voice is unmistakable.
The film moves quickly, a family-friendly version of "Thrones" with plenty of royal intrigue, amateur sorcery, damsels in distress and two very strong female characters that emerge where you least expect them.
In 1981, the special effects during the dragon scenes were startling and new. This was the first film that ILM used "go-motion" photography in. 35 years later, it's gets a shrug from our CGI informed eyes. It's amazing how yesterday's ground breaking blend of stop motion animation and early computer graphics becomes today's laughable look back.
The violence is sometimes surprisingly bloody, especially during one of the sacrifices. The dragon itself is one fierce fire-breather, making the final twenty minute, mountain top confrontation a near perfect climax.
Matthew Robbins and Hal Barwood were steady contributors to Spielberg's films, writing "The Sugarland Express" and providing an uncredited polish to "Close Encounters of the Third Kind".
They're having fun here, pushing the limits of family entertainment with a fast moving, fun dark-ages thriller.
Dragonslayer gets a fire breathing B.