Was there ever a better name for a dragon ever?
DK Canada’s Monsters in the Movies book brings me this classic film from ’81 as I continue my exploration of the dark chapter on dragons and dinosaurs.
Boasting some fantastic creature effects, Vermitax may be the best looking dragon to ever be presented on screen. But I first met her in my imagination when I read the novelisation of the film by ordering the book through a school Scholastic book form. I remember reading it on one of our car trips out east, and loved looking at the black and white photo pages in the centre of the novel.
What may be surprising to some viewers, considering some of the violence, and brief nudity that appear in the film is that this was a co-pro between Paramount Pictures, and Disney.
Peter MacNicol, who apparently hates that he did this film, stars as a young magician’s apprentice, Galen. His master, Ulrich (Ralph Richardson) is, seemingly murdered before Galen’s eyes when he is recruited to confront a dragon, the aforementioned Vermithax.
Equipping himself for the mission, menaced by some untrustworthy folk, and a young maiden disguised as a boy, Valerian (Caitlin Clarke) Galen undertakes his master’s quest, though he may not be up to the task.
We learn that the dragon is feasting on virgins, selected by the neighbouring town’s lottery, but the deviousness of men prevent certain names from being cast, and keeping others in power. Galen could be a threat to that if he kills the dragon.
And amongst those townsfolk is a familiar face in the form of Brother Jacobus (Ian McDiarmid). But the cast, and the story are almost secondary to the incredible effects work that bring Vermithrax to life, all augmented by a brassy score by Alex North.
The model work and the puppetry, both life-size and miniature that help bring this dragon to life are stunning, and amazing to watch. I’ve never seen a better looking dragon on screen, though it could be argued that I have seen better dragon movies. But even that is opinion, I quite like this film.
The film tries to ground its magic, and its dragon in a recognisable medieval reality, making it more believable, and for me, it succeeds. I know there are people who aren’t quite fans of this one, but I love digging into it. I can go years, even a decade without seeing it, but then, when I do settle in for it – I love it each time.
The locations are perfect, the costumes are lived in, the dragon is real. I wasn’t the only one who felt that way, the film was nominated for two Academy Awards (it lost both) for Best Visual Effects and Best Original Score.
Don’t believe me, find a copy to watch tonight. Or grab a copy of DK Books’ Monsters in the Movies and find something monstrous to watch tonight!