Dragonslayer (1981) – 4K Review

Vermithrax Pejorative.

There has never been a more unique name for a dragon. Ever. It’s dark. Evocative. And it sends me spiralling back through the chambers of my mind to 1981 to when I first discovered the name. I knew Dragonslayer was a movie, I knew it was coming to theatres, and I put my Scholastic book order to good use to ensure I had a copy of the movie adaptation novel in my hand.

I read it a few times, paged through the photo inserts in the middle of the novel, marvelling at the images of this world brought to life. But for some reason, I didn’t get to see it in the theatre as a kid. I didn’t get to see it until well into the mid to late 80s when it hit videotape. I loved it, but it bothered me that I never had the theatrical experience with it.

It looked okay on VHS, and then I made sure to snare a copy on DVD where it looked a little better, but again, it was never the way it was meant to be. Now, finally, I think I’ve seen it the way it was intended, thanks to the Paramount Pictures 4K release. It comes with the most stunning picture and sound possible and I am wonderfully gobsmacked by the way it not only holds up, but the beautiful visual effects work is something amazing to see.

Peter MacNicol, Caitlin Clarke and Ralph Richardson star in this adventure that is set in an ancient incarnation of England, on the cusp of succumbing to Christianity and the disappearance of magicians, and the things they have created, including dragons.

In fact, there is one left of each. There is Ulrich (Richardson) a powerful wizard, and Vermithrax Perhorative, the last dragon.

Vermithrax has staked out a claim for itself and it has a deal with a local kingdom, a virgin girl every couple of months, drawn by lottery as sacrifice and the beast will leave them alone. Ulrich is approached by Valerian (Clarke) to come help save the people of the kingdom, but Ulrich cannot survive the journey and his apprentice, Galen (MacNicol) takes on the mission, naively believing himself able.

Arriving in the kingdom, Galen prepares for battle, and the film delivers a visual effects extravaganza that features bluescreen, model work, go-motion, puppets, matte paintings and so much more. It’s a stunning watch.

And the new Paramount Pictures 4K release lets you see all of the amazing work, all of the beautiful special effects, which earned Phil Tippett, Dennis Muren, Ken Ralston and Brian Johnson an Oscar nomination.

This is a beautiful transfer and comes with some very welcome extras. Included is a theatrical trailer, screen tests, a collection of featurettes running an hour that takes viewers behind the scenes to explore how the Vermithrax was brought to life, and amazingly, a commentary by director Matthew Robbins and Guillermo del Toro.

It still bothers me that I never got to see this one as a kid, I would have been enchanted by it. My love of visual effects couldn’t have grown larger than it already was, but it would have been something to have the theatrical experience on this one. But now, I can watch it on a giant flatscreen, and see it with more detail, and better sound than I would have ever had at the theatre when it was first released.

This is a fan favourite, and it is finally given its due. Just beautiful.

Dragonslayer on 4K is available today from Paramount in a gorgeous steel book, or slipcase edition. For me, this is a must-have.


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