“In fact, if it weren’t for sorcerers, there wouldn’t be any dragons. Once, the skies were dotted with them. Magnificent horned backs, leathern wings… soaring… and their hot-breathed wind. Oh, I know this creature of yours… Vermithrax Pejorative. Look at these scales, these ridges. When a dragon gets this old, it knows nothing but pain, constant pain. It grows decrepit… crippled… pitiful. Spiteful!”
I wrote extensively about Matthew Robbins’ exquisite Dagonslayer in part three of my 1,001 Great Films series for the Seattle Gay News back May of 2021. Here is an excerpt:
“Dragonslayer is one of those seminal cinematic moments that has stuck with me for countless reasons. First off, looked at now, Robbins’ film is undeniably superb. The world he creates for his sorcerer’s apprentice Galen (Peter MacNicol) and the boy-who-is-really-a-girl Valerian (Caitlin Clarke), whom he falls in love with, is marvelously realized. Every facet of Elliot Scott’s production design feels lived-in and authentic. The Dark Ages come alive in ways seldom seen at that time and rarely equaled all these decades later. It’s mesmerizing.
Then there are the visual effects, which bring the terrible and terrifying fire-breathing monstrosity Vermithrax Pejorative to life. As a wide-eyed kid taking it all in, I was as fascinated by this seemingly unkillable titan as I was scared to death by it. The work of a dream team of artists, including the likes of Dennis Muren (The Empire Strikes Back), Phil Tippett (Jurassic Park), Ken Ralston (Forrest Gump), and Brian Johnson (Aliens) — all Oscar-nominated — Vermithrax is a thing of beauty. She is the dragon against which all subsequent movie and television dragons are judged, and all of them (yes, even the ones in Game of Thrones) can’t help but pale in comparison.
But the thing I think critics in the early 1980s didn’t care to notice was how richly nuanced and creatively character-driven Robbins’ and co-writer Hal Barwood’s outstanding script was. No role is minimized. No supporting player is taken for granted. All have rich backstories that allow the gifted character actors and veteran stars (including two-time Academy Award-nominee Ralph Richardson, John Hallam, Albert Salmi, Sydney Bromley, Ian McDiarmid and Emrys James) plenty of room to shine.
In addition, Robbins and Barwood create two of the best female characters of any fantasy-adventure, not just of the 1980s, but of all time. Valerian and Princess Elspeth (Chloe Salaman) command the viewer’s attention. They are forceful, carving their own path through a forest dominated by men who would rather, to paraphrase singer-songwriter Daya, each of them sit still, be pretty, and stop making so much noise. Valerian and Elspeth are as ahead of their time as they are genuinely of it, an achievement few critics took note of back in June of 1981.
The obvious hook for me in regards to Valerian is the deft way her gender-bending is handled. She is a girl who was forcefully raised a boy who embraced the authority and responsibility this garnered her yet also still found ways to remain true to her feminine nature and support the women of her village in ways the majority of the timid men in charge refused to do. As a child, this blew me away for reasons I didn’t fully understand. I just knew I related more to her than I did the male hero Galen. Valerian was the one I wanted to emulate, and if I’m honest, that’s just as true now that I’m in my forties as it was when I was a wide-eyed seven-year-old.”
Anyhow, you can read my full piece on Dragonslayer here.
Dragonslayer is presented on a 4K (2160p) Ultra HD disc with a 2.35:1 1080p transfer.
This 4K Ultra HD disc features English Dolby Atmos and English Dolby TrueHD 7.1 soundtrack and includes English SDH, French and Spanish subtitles.
The outstanding extras here include:
Audio Commentary with director Matthew Robbins and Guillermo del Toro
The Slayer of All Dragons five-part featurette (1:03:24)
Screen Tests (15:42)
Original Theatrical Trailer (1:58)
Paramount has outdone themselves with this lineup of extra. The audio commentary is one of the best I’ve heard in years, Robbins and del Toro delivering one sublime moment after another as they enthusiastically chat about the former’s film.
Dragonslayer has withstood the test of time beautifully. This is a magnificent fantasy adventure that, once considered a box office disappointment, has over the decades become nothing short of a bona fide cinematic classic. It’s one of my all-time favorite films, and Paramount’s 4K presentation is nothing short of spectacular.