I remember the media blitz surrounding “DragonHeart“, or more specifically… I remember the toyline… My (former) step brothers and I each got our own ‘dragon’, with mine being this awesome two headed dragon named Medusa that could detach one of its heads into a separate, serpent-like creature. I had that toy for awhile, somehow incorporating it in my “Godzilla” phase and my “The Lost World: Jurassic Park” phase. But even though I have many fond memories of Medusa, I also remember feeling cheated when “DragonHeart” flew into theaters, as Medusa never makes a single damn appearance. I still liked the movie, as I was like 10 years old and it had f@cking dragons, so there was no way I wasn’t going to have a good time, but that damn toy left a bigger impact on my childhood than the movie it was trying to sell. This is presumably why I had… um… absolutely no idea that a direct-to-DVD franchise had been built around this. When “DragonHeart: A New Beginning” was released in the year 2000, I was still young enough to be interested in a sequel, but not young enough to enjoy it. Even though I dig through my memories for some recollection, all I can remember was the dragon literally shitting fire… This ended my interest in the brand, but I had no idea they continued making them, so this should definitely be an experience.
(Directed by Rob Cohen)
(Written by Charles Edward Pogue)
(Starring Dennis Quaid, David Thewlis and the voice of Sean Connery)
It’s always interesting seeing a movie you liked as a kid, only to revisit it as an adult and realize it wasn’t quite as cool as you remembered… and yet that nostalgic magic is still there. I recently had an odd experience with a movie called “Adventures in Dinosaur City“. I used to own that VHS tape and I watched it enough to memorize much of the story and scenes, yet… those dinosaur suits seemed to look A LOT cooler back then. Now they looked like shit and I had to come to terms that I spent much of my childhood revering a crappy movie, yet that never took the smile off my face. The 1990’s were a different time period and I had forgotten much of its quirks, so I still felt like a kid again. “DragonHeart” isn’t anywhere as bad as “Adventures in Dinosaur City“, but I can’t say it has aged with the utmost grace either. This is a medieval tale, where dragons exist, although their numbers have dwindled over the years. Bowen (Dennis Quaid) is mostly responsible for this. A knight turned dragon slayer, he has a personal vendetta against all of dragon-kind. He eventually hunts down Draco (voiced by Sean Connery), who Bowen learns is the last Dragon. Circumstances force them into an alliance, where they will both inevitably have to face the shared demon of their past. Draco is rendered using CGI, back when that artform was still in its infancy. In the context of 1996, this was cutting edge effects work, brought to life by the team who had changed the industry with “Jurassic Park“. Even the harshest critics applauded the CGI. But we’re in 2020 though and standards have changed, with CGI being infamous for aging very quickly. What was realistic looking back then looks like a video game effect now. Draco is no exception.
Or is he?
Draco is actually a really good character and the animators do such a great job at giving him a personality. Sean Connery’s voice obviously is a big part of that too, but I loved watching Draco’s body language. I loved seeing all of his facial expressions and… I obviously loved Sean Connery’s voice. Draco is not just a special effect, he is a character, probably the most relatable one of the entire movie. The humans… at times… feel like the real special effects and I’m not just talking about their absurd looking hairdos. “DragonHeart” is based on a novel and the movie tries to be faithful, but omits too much while leaving just enough of the source in to be confusing. None of the human characters develop organically, but if you read the book, their sudden personality changes or their questionable decision making makes a lot more sense. Director Rob Cohen lets the cast ham it up to their fullest, making it hard to take them seriously… even amidst an attempted rape. For the record, I’m not saying the acting is bad, but it is very campy and it’s easy to forget how this was a mindset of so many blockbusters throughout the 1990’s. Dennis Quaid, on the other hand… is pretty bad… He’s so over-the-top and his accent is bizarre, often making me laugh during some dramatic scenes. But on the other OTHER hand… Dennis Quaid is also really good. I’ve noticed in the early days of CGI that casts often looked like they didn’t know what they’re supposed to be reacting to, because the effects were still new and the actors struggled to adapt. But Quaid somehow sold me on his budding friendship with Draco. In many ways, he’s also a big part of why I didn’t mind the dated CGI, as Quaid’s scenes with Draco have a warmth and sincerity to them that I… kind of… believed he was bantering with a real dragon. I don’t know if I’ve ever seen such good chemistry between a man and a visual effect, even to this day. So it’s like “DragonHeart” contains Quaid’s best and worst performances, all wrapped up in one 1990’s package.
Speaking of which, I can totally see what would appeal to me as a kid. It’s bizarre that censorship really cracked down on rated-R movie violence during this time period, but they were strangely lenient on PG-13 violence. There is a lot killing and maiming in this movie, MUCH more than you would ever see now. There’s even a fair amount of sexual content for this rating. When I was revisiting “Adventures in Dinosaur City“, I was taken aback by all of the sexual innuendos and while “DragonHeart” doesn’t take it that far, you just don’t see this kind of content in a PG-13 movie anymore. Maybe people accepted it back then because it’s all coated in a thick layer of cheese? Despite the impressive production values, “DragonHeart” is still pretty hokey at its core. The action scenes were often lame, albeit in a way that’s still kind of charming. The sword fighting in particular looked very silly. The dialogue, whether it’s being humorous or preachy, induces more eyeball rolling than chuckles or sniffles… But… But… Just as Dennis Quaid sold me on a talking dragon, Randy Edelman’s score convinced me that I was watching something epic… beautiful… thought provoking… inspiring… heart warming… tear jerking… EVERYTHING! “DragonHeart” boasts one of the most powerful soundtracks of all time, so much so that it would be re-used in a variety of trailers and that ‘Magic of Cinema’ ad for AMC theaters. I start tearing up whenever I hear it.
So… I think this trip down nostalgia lane went rather well. As an adult, I might notice a lot of the bad stuff that I certainly would’ve overlooked as a kid, but I also can now appreciate some of the good stuff that I never would’ve thought of as a kid. I think it’s a fun fantasy film, but recommending it would be accompanied with caveats, as “DragonHeart” is very much a product of its time. The 1990’s had its own set of rules and standards, while fantasy had yet to be taken seriously like it is now. You just have to expect some corny dialogue, loud performances and questionable CGI, but if you can accept all of that, “DragonHeart” is a magical experience in its own way. The movie was a box office success, profitable enough to lead to the development of a sequel, but not profitable enough to lead to the development of a big budgeted sequel. Of course — if Medusa APPEARED IN THE DAMN THING IT WOULD HAVE HAD ALL THE MONEY EVER IN THE WORLD BUT NOOOOOO, THEY HAD TO TRAMPLE ON THIS POOR KIDS HOPES AND DREAMSIWILLNEVERFORGIVETHISOHWAITTHATTHEMEISPLAYINGSONOWIFORGIVEYOUDRAGONHEARTGIVEMEKISSES.Rating: 7/10
DRAGONHEART: A NEW BEGINNING (2000)
(Directed by Doug Lefler)
(Written by Shari Goodhartz)
(Starring Christopher Masterson, Harry Van Gorkum and the voice of Robby Benson)
As I mentioned earlier, when “Dragonheart: A New Beginning” was released in the year 2000, I was young enough to still be interested in a “DragonHeart” sequel, but not quite young enough to enjoy it. I was fourteen and had entered the phase that all men go through at some point or another where we not only prefer our media to include people being burned alive… We f@cking demand it… I was into much edgier material and “Dragonheart: A New Beginning” chose to de-fang its dragons, which would’ve been enough to alienate me regardless of the low quality. I’m assuming that the filmmakers (wisely) believed that adults would notice the significant drop in production values, so instead chose to focus on a younger demographic — Gamera style. Kids have much lower standards, but to be fair, so do teenagers… The difference is ultimately that teens are content with violence and sex, while kids are happy with friendly dragons and bad guys having their faces shoved in manure. So I would have to say, considering the circumstances, that the question is not whether this sequel is good or bad… but does it satisfy its target audience?
I have to admit… I was expecting MUCH worse. Even though “Dragonheart: A New Beginning” is not good, it was… not entirely terrible… within the context of what it was. Yes, the low budget pops out on the screen in often distracting or amusing ways. The CGI dragon looked bad even in the year 2000 and while they try to animate Drake’s facial expressions and body language in such a way to give him personality, it somehow makes his appearance even more off-putting. The sad thing is… the sets are decent if you grade on a curve… But it’s hard to appreciate them when your attention keeps being drawn to the embarrassing CGI. I did sometimes have a good laugh at its expense though, so… not all was lost? While I was occasionally mildly impressed with the sets, costumes and the amount of extras filling the screen (for a direct-to-video release), the movie does resort to my biggest pet peeve — stock footage. In fact, remember my memory of Drake literally blowing fire out of his ass? The fall-out to his fiery flatulence is footage lifted from the best pyrotechnics from the first film… Something about that fills me with both rage and joy, as it’s both terrible and amusing at once. The action scenes aren’t worth much and the final battle is lame, but I’ve still seen worse. They do occasionally reprise Randy Edelman’s musical theme from “DragonHeart” though and… it still gets to me, even here.
Shockingly, the acting was usually decent. The cast is clearly talented and know what kind of movie they’re in, so have fun without going too far over-the-top. But it seemed like everyone had at least ‘one moment’ where their delivery is so flat that it almost looks like we’re watching the rehearsals. The one exception… also shockingly… is Robby Benson’s voice work as Drake. He often sounded like he was memorizing his lines out loud instead of voice acting, which is baffling because he’s usually exceptional at his craft. The design and CGI were already putting Drake firmly into uncanny valley territory, but Benson’s performance somehow made it so much worse — and yet so much more hilarious. Nevertheless, at least the human cast knows when to be silly and when to be cool, at least in the eyes of a child. Their characters might be annoying, but once again, they’re written to appeal to a younger crowd. Geoff (Christopher Masterson) is a young peasant with aspirations to become a Knight and his life changes when he encounters a dragon named Drake (voiced by Robby Benson). There is a plot beyond that, but it’s pretty stupid and requires the characters to somehow be even more stupid than the already stupid plot in order for said stupid plot to advance, because… Kids movie… The first film was also pretty stupid, but it had people getting burned to death, their throats slit and eyes gouged out and according to my film school teacher, that is the standard of quality that all of cinema should be judged. “Dragonheart: A New Beginning” is bad, but even though it’s bad, I do have some appreciation for it. You can tell that the filmmakers are trying their best with very little to work with and I do suspect I probably would’ve enjoyed it if I was like 10 years old. As far as shitty sequels go, you could do much worse… although you can’t do much worse than Drake’s smile. That shit is terrifying.Rating: 4/10
DRAGONHEART 3: THE SORCERER’S CURSE (2015)
(Directed by Colin Teague)
(Written by Matthew Feitshans)
(Starring Julian Morris, Tamzin Merchant and the voice of Sir Ben Kingsley)
“Dragonheart 3: The Sorcerer’s Curse” was… surprisingly OK… for a belated direct-to-DVD sequel to a movie that had long fallen out of the public consciousness. I’m still debating whether or not I’m grading on a curve here, as enough time had passed between this and “Dragonheart: A New Beginning” that simply ‘being better than that’ might not be enough to be satisfactory, especially as this is targeting an older audience. I suppose it all comes down to ‘you’ and what your own standards are. If you were also let down by the previous sequel and care about this brand, then you will probably be much more enthusiastic because your expectations were exceeded. If you’re just a casual viewer who either forgot about the previous sequel or never even bothered with it, I think you’ll find this to be more mediocre than either good or bad. I’m torn in the middle, as it’s much better than it needed to be, while also being kind of average when set upon its own legs. For a direct-to-DVD sequel though, that’s really kind of impressive.
Director Colin Teague is clearly drawing inspiration from “Game of Thrones“, borrowing some of its story telling devices and trying to create a similar aesthetic. There is no nudity though, even if someone gets called a “Yeasty Scut”, whatever the f@ck that means. We also get to see people burned alive, so if I had seen this in place of “Dragonheart: A New Beginning” in the year 2000, this would’ve been the greatest movie of all time. Even though I was a little slow to catch on to this fact, “Dragonheart 3” is a prequel, surrounding the arrival of the first dragon — named Drago (voiced by Sir Ben Kingsley). Gareth (Julian Morris) is the squire Drago literally gives his heart too and he yearns to become “Sir” Gareth, but knighthood is not the noble profession it once was. It’s a corrupt order that exploits the poor, but justifies itself as a necessary evil in order to protect the wall that separates civilized folks from the savages. Gareth just wants to steal some dragon eggs from across the wall, but he finds himself dragged into a war, where he must decide between achieving his dream and the greater good. The story is pretty standard stuff, with very familiar characters saying very familiar things, while undergoing very familiar development. If there’s anything “good” about the script, it’s just that it handles all of this familiar material adequately. The dialogue was fine. The characters were fine, giving the cast just enough to do to deliver fine performances. I can’t think of any bad writing, even if the ending fell a little flat, presumably because it was more interested in setting up another sequel than providing a satisfying conclusion. But that’s become commonplace in all franchises and I wouldn’t say “Dragonheart 3” fumbled anymore than most of them do, including the ones that still get theatrical releases. The problem is just that I feel like I’ve already seen “Dragonheart: The Sorcerer’s Curse” too many times before even though this was the first time watching it. In fact, I just realized how very little I actually remember about what the movie in general.
The CGI is decent and the action scenes were alright. This is still a low budgeted flick, however, so the filmmakers often had to be creative with how they used their dragon. The titular ‘Sorcerer’s Curse’ is really just an excuse to limit Drago’s screen-time, but the story moves fast enough that things never get boring in his absence. Drago’s design looks pretty cool and bad-ass, but his facial features didn’t seem designed for talking, so it sounded odd when Sir Ben Kingsley’s voice came out of its mouth. The back-and-forth between Gareth and Drago wasn’t badly written or acted, but the dragon looked a little too menacing for friendly banter. Nevertheless, I applaud the effects team for their work on Drago. The dragon is still impressive to behold, even moreso when you learn that they only had about $7,000,000 to bring him ‘to life’. Amusingly — the choreography for the sword fighting was better than the original “DragonHeart“. I guess that makes sense though, as fantasy films were deliberately cheesy in the 1990’s, while “Lord of the Rings” and “Game of Thrones” forced us to take the genre more seriously. In both flicks, the choreography merely reflects the chosen ‘tone’. The visual style is perhaps a little too grim for a “Dragonheart” sequel though. I’m just not a fan of the dark lighting and washed out color palette, but every time I’d grow too critical, that iconic theme song would swell and I’d become enchanted. “Dragonheart 3: The Sorcerer’s Curse” might be struggling with its budget limitations, but you can tell more money and effort went into it than was probably necessary, which is enough for me.
The movie received a mildly warm reception amongst fans and sold very well on the home market, which was enough to resurrect the franchise. Will they be able to keep this momentum going?Rating: 5.5/10
DRAGONHEART: BATTLE FOR THE HEARTFIRE (2017)
(Directed by Patrik Syversen)
(Written Matthew Feitshans)
(Starring Tom Rhys Harries, Jessamine-Bliss Bell and the voice of Patrick Stewart)
“Dragonheart: Battle for the Heartfire” is one of those sequels that kind of annoys me… because it’s too embarrassed to call itself “Dragonheart 4“, making it a little confusing figuring out the order of these movies…. BUT IT’S ALSO SHOCKINGLY GOOD, at times even threatening to be the best in the series! Reportedly, the producers were so pleased with the success of “Dragonheart 3: The Sorcerer’s Curse” that they doubled the budget, making it… still low budgeted… but significantly more expensive than most direct-to-DVD flicks. “Battle for the Heartfire” obviously doesn’t have the production value of the original, but it doesn’t look like it’s struggling to stretch out its funds either. The CGI continues to be OK and the dragon gets more screen-time than before, with the only limitation being that the plot robs Drago of his ability to breathe fire. There are a lot more sets and extras, with some surprisingly fun action scenes surrounding them. But do you know what really brings a tear to my eye?
“Dragonheart 4” tells a legitimately compelling story. Drago (now voiced by Patrick Stewart) is prepared to die along with the King who shares his heart, but then… he doesn’t… He’s very confused by this turn of events, so sets out looking for the person whom he is now bonded with, a strong headed lad named Edrik (Tom Rhys Harries). Edrik has been raised to detest dragons, but he’s apparently the grandson of the King, so now rules the Kingdom. It’s all fun and games until Vikings invade the land, lead by none other than Edrik’s lost twin sister Meghan (Jessamine-Bliss Bell), who wants that birthright to herself. What I liked about “Battle for the Heartfire” is that both siblings have genuine grievances with each-other, so it becomes difficult to tell who you’re supposed to root for — in the best possible way. They’re very well written characters and I was taken aback by how invested I was in their plight. Tom Rhys Harries and Jessamine-Bliss Bell both showcase good comedic timing, while hitting the dramatic high notes when the story requires it of them. I think I liked Patrick Stewart a little bit more than Ben Kingsley as Drago, although that also might be because the animators have designed his facial expressions and body language to be a little more lively than they were in “Dragonheart 3: The Sorcerer’s Curse“. It’s funny to find out that he was supposed to voice Draco in the original “DragonHeart” and even recorded his lines, but was obviously replaced by Sean Connery.
The only downside to “Battle for the Heartfire” was one I was not expecting — the music. I have made it very clear that I absolutely love the classic Randy Edelman theme and while it gets a reprisal here, this rendition felt underwhelming. This was especially apparent during the derivative finale, which is attempting a homage, but falls flat because the music isn’t anywhere near as powerful. It’s strange how a movie that had me completely invested sort of lost me in its final moments, but I don’t want to undersell this films accomplishments. Good scripts are hard to come by and this has a stellar one, with a cast who play the roles just as they need to be played. There are a few cheesy moments, but I kind of feel like this franchise needs to be just a little bit cheesy, so I was more charmed than annoyed. I seriously find myself wondering… what would this be like if it boasted the same budget as the original? Maybe it could’ve surpassed it? I do think that “Dragonheart: Battle for the Heartfire” was better written, although admittedly nothing can quite pop out like the pure 1990’s nostalgia, Sean Connery’s performance as the Dragon, his chemistry with Dennis Quaid or of course… Randy Edelman’s classic score… Nevertheless, “Dragonheart: Battle for the Heartfire” caught me off guard with how good it was.Rating: 6.5/10
DRAGONHEART: VENGEANCE (2020)
(Directed by Ivan Silvestrini)
(Written by Ivan Silvestrini)
(Starring Jack Kane, Joseph Millson and the voice of Helena Bonham Carter)
“Dragonheart: Vengeance” was somewhat coldly received by upon release, at least compared to the last two entries, but I thought it was pretty fun. This is another prequel, but the story is less interconnected than the others, outside of a brief reminder that the dragon babies from “Dragonheart 3: The Sorcerer’s Curse” grew up and each traveled to different lands — in this case, Wallachia. Unfortunately, the setting doesn’t really have a different aesthetic than the others, so don’t expect much of a change in scenery. Lukas (Jack Kane) is a farm boy, who… actually seems to like farming… but his family is slaughtered by a quartet of bloodthirsty raiders, starting his quest for vengeance. He seeks help from an eccentric mercenary named Darius (Joseph Millson) and an exiled dragon named Siveth (voiced by Helena Bonham Carter), who agree to assist him in their own ways, but can’t stand each-other. They must find a way to work together to bring the four marauders to justice and uncover a conspiracy that… you will see coming a mile away, because it’s obvious.
From a story and character perspective, “Vengeance” is a step down from “Battle for the Heartfire“, although that doesn’t necessarily mean it fails. I thought Lukas was usually relatable, when not being an idiot and instigating the inevitable ‘second-act breakup’ all movies must wallow through. The love story with him and Oana (Fabienne Piolini-Castle) is standard and underdeveloped, but I have to admit that their chemistry kind of won me over. But the real reason to watch “Dragonheart: Vengeance” is for Darius and Siveth. “Vengeance” is much sillier than its predecessors, but Darius is so hilarious that I was happy to embrace the lighter tone, as his dialogue is great and he has chemistry with everyone. Siveth is a much more rounded character than Drago and Helena Bonham Carter’s vocal performance seamlessly alternates between quirky, mysterious and majestic. Siveth has a unique design (an ‘ice’ theme) and much effort was put into animating her body language and facial expressions to reflect her odd personality. Her dragon form is given adequate screen-time, although the filmmakers balance the budget by having her take the forms of various animals. I didn’t mind this, as the gimmick is used to cute effect. The actual quality of CGI continues the standards of the previous two sequels — it’s OK. I was so enthralled by Siveth’s characterization though that I barely noticed, as it’s good enough to… well, not be bad.
Even though the plot is predictable, there is a clever twist on the ‘dragon bonded’ angle that I didn’t see coming. It lead to some good drama and even better laughs. It’s too bad that the movie couldn’t really afford a more diverse range of sets though, even if they try to use the weather to keep them from growing stale. Was it just me or did that monastery look way too modern for this time period? Even if it turned out that the building they filmed in was really that old, it looks strangely out of place in a “Dragonheart” movie. Oh well, at least the fencing choreography was much more stylish this time around, with the sword fighting probably being the best in the entire franchise. The music was also pretty good, with the rendition of the classic theme being moving in its own, distinct way. Nobody is going to call “Dragonheart: Vengeance” an exceptional film, but once again, I was able to respect the effort that was clearly put into it… and have an admittedly good time in the process… So why did this get such a lukewarm reception? This is only a theory, but I suspect that “Game of Thrones” conditioned audiences to favor grittier fantasy tales, a trend which the previous two sequels catered towards. “Vengeance” is a throwback to the more campier days of fantasy, being more tonally in line with the original. While I loved “Game of Thrones“, I’ve grown exhausted of its influence on the genre, so I’m glad “Dragonheart” appears to be returning to its roots. I have absolutely no idea how much money this sequel has made, but the fandom seems happier than general audiences, so keep that in mind if you choose to give “Vengeance” a chance… although I personally don’t see how anyone could pass up the opportunity to hear a dragon make a George Takei joke.
Oh my…Rating: 6/10
According to Matthew Feitshans, part of the reason why Universal Studios keeps developing these prequels is to keep up the film series’ momentum enough to potentially lead to a big budgeted remake — and “DragonHeart” is one of the few properties that people actually kind of want to see remade. I myself remain skeptical that it will happen, beyond my opinion that general audiences don’t remember “DragonHeart” outside of 1990’s pop culture trivia. I just can’t help but wonder why a studio would risk financing such a major project, when the prequels have proven they can make a profit for a fraction of the cost. Once you become a direct-to-video/DVD/demand franchise, you’ll probably remain one. With all of this said, the “Dragonheart” prequels are much better than they should be. They sometimes stumble, but they do so with grace and style. I will always be on the side of any franchise that’s driven by effort, when it would’ve been so much easier to make quick cash grabs instead. They arguably succumbed to this with “Dragonheart: A New Beginning“, but even if they did, they clearly learned from their mistakes. I really enjoyed this marathon. I was happy to reconnect with “DragonHeart“, had a blast mocking its sequel and as I said, the prequels were surprisingly solid. I applaud everyone involved. I also want to remind everyone that Danny Edelman’s “DragonHeart” theme is amazing and deserves to be heralded as one of the greatest movie scores of all time.