Thursday, May 31, 2018

All Things DRAGONHEART

by Adam Riske and Robyn Buckley
The beginning of a writing quest that Robyn and Adam will not soon forget.

Robyn: I wish I could say that I grew up with Dragonheart -- that this was a movie that defined my childhood. But that would be a lie and I should probably avoid lying this early in our column-writing friendship. I saw Dragonheart in theaters with my dad and I remember enjoying it, but not going crazy over the movie. I didn’t watch again until I was required to for the site. I’m going to be honest with you: I had suggested a Dragonheart series article mainly in jest and had assumed you would laugh at me! I’m happy that you agreed, though, as it gave me the chance to rewatch a movie that I was unlikely to return to. Dragonheart is one of those movies that I need every now and then as a palate cleanser. This movie is charming in its simplicity. There are good guys who live by a code and there are bad guys who are jerks for the heck of it. What about you, Adam? Did you have any sort of history with Dragonheart?

Adam: Oh, no! You were kidding (I had no idea) and now you are watching and writing about the Dragonheart series with me! That’s so funny and sad.
Now’s probably a good time to talk about my fantasy movie malady. I find it difficult to engage with the fantasy genre normally, but there is no genre I want to click for me more than fantasy. I remember the Dragonheart trailer got me really interested leading up to its release. It was still when visual effects were revolutionary all the time (I was equally enthralled by Casper for the same reason) and Draco seemed like the greatest dragon ever put on film at that point. When I saw Dragonheart at the mall, I remember thinking it was pretty good but not as good as I wanted it to be. It really clicked on this rewatch and I now love the original Dragonheart. On the site, many of us have championed movies like The Rocketeer and The Phantom for their old-fashioned charm. and I think Dragonheart is very much in league with those two movies. I was really impressed by this movie’s storytelling. It’s pretty linear and graceful compared to a modern-day adventure movie. As you said, it has a simplicity that I find refreshing.

The performance of Dennis Quaid also stood out to me on this rewatch. In 1996, I couldn’t get past his “gruff voice” and thought his work in Dragonheart was strained, but now I think it’s a good choice because unlike Sean Connery or Julie Christie, Quaid feels modern so it might be tougher for him to disappear in a sword & sorcery epic. I think his arc is great (I related to some of his disillusionment much more as an adult then I did as a teen in 1996) and it’s a very earnest performance, which I didn’t really associate with Dennis Quaid back then. What performances did you like or not like as much?

Robyn: Dennis Quaid as Bowen works really well for me. His bitterness at his failure to properly raise Prince Einon (David Thewlis) to not be an evil jerk mixed with his need to live by a code of chivalry combines into a character that wants to be done with the world, but is unable to abandon his ideals. I agree that he does seem very “modern” compared to the rest of the cast, but this doesn’t take me out of the movie. Julie Christie as Queen Aislinn is my other favorite character. Her part is small, but impactful. She is the mother of the evil Prince (later King) Einon and all she wants is for her son to be a better man than his father was -- for evil to not be hereditary. Queen Aislinn loves her son and does what is needed to save his life, but she also comes to regret this decision as the lives of others are ruined. Christie is fantastic at showing the love a mother has for her child slowly morphing into hate at who that child truly is and what he is capable of.
As for characters I was less enthused by? I’m not a fan of Dina Meyer as Kara. She’s given a character background that should be effective as a rebel and seeker of justice for the death of her father, but that is squandered by the movie constantly making her the damsel in distress. I’m also a bit of a hypocrite, in that Quaid’s performance is modern and I like it, but I find that Dina Meyer’s performance takes me out of the world of Dragonheart. I’m not sure exactly why, though. Maybe it’s too different to everyone else? The terrible wig that the production saddle her with isn’t helping matters either.

I’m mixed on if I think David Thewlis as Einon completely works. He really hams up the evilness, which would be annoying in a more nuanced film, but here it fits in with the more streamlined “good guys versus bad guys” structure. I might wish that the movie had given him a bit more in terms of his feelings towards Bowen -- the man basically raised him! Are we to believe that Einon was evil from birth and that nothing Bowen could have done would have stopped him from being a terrible king? Now that I think about it, Dragonheart might raise more of a “Nature vs Nurture” argument than I initially expected. But let’s leave the psych class before I get in too deep.

What performances besides Dennis Quaid are your favorites/least favorites? Do I fail for not mentioning Sean Connery as Draco in either category?
Adam: No failure at all. I’ll take the honors of talking Connery. Can you believe he had a two-week run in summer 1996 of Dragonheart and The Rock the following week? How amazing is that? I think Sean Connery brings a lot of (I’m sorry) gravitas to Dragonheart that it wouldn’t have if it were a less iconic actor giving the voice to Draco the dragon. I like the banter Connery and Quaid have in their scenes. I’m a sucker for on-screen friendships like the one here, where the camaraderie needs to end before its so-called shelf life expires and has an additional poignancy to it as a result. The visual effects for Draco hold up about half the time (I’m curious if you agree or disagree), but Connery’s command of the vocal performance is so undeniable that I’m rarely thinking about the visual effects or the silliness of the concept of a talking dragon. After a while, Draco feels like a three-dimensional character as much as Quaid or Christie or Thewlis.

I think I’m more on board with Dina Meyer than you, but I get it. She’s mostly asked to be determined, which doesn’t require much character shading. David Thewlis worked for me a lot more now than back in 1996. I can buy him just being an evil guy despite his tutelage. The character I had trouble with was the poet/monk played by the late Pete Postlethwaite. The performance is good, but he’s meant to be a bit obnoxious by design (like Friar Tuck in Robin Hood: Prince of Thieves) and that’s just a trope for which I have a low tolerance. I’m glad he got some development with his character later in the film (he’s an expert marksman with a bow and arrow), because his freestyling about the legend of Bowen (Quaid) was grinding my gears after a while.
There are a couple of “below the line” aspects I really enjoyed in Dragonheart. First, the production design, art direction and costumes are all wonderful. I’m so tired of seeing modern films using goddamn green screen for a cul-de-sac exterior (Game Night...unless I’m totally off-base and they filmed it outside the least realistic looking cul-de-sac ever), so to see that artists actually took the time to build tactile sets is appreciated. It makes me want to buy old-school Dragonheart toys. The second is something I’ve noticed over this weekend as I rewatched another Rob Cohen film, Dragon: The Bruce Lee Story, and that’s the score by Randy Edelman is tremendous and Randy Edelman is the man. The main theme (which has gotten a lot of play in trailers for other movies and even the Olympics) is beautiful. The ending of Dragonheart nearly moves me to tears, and the score is doing 80 percent of that work. I’m bummed that they closed the film on the shot of the stars and Postlethwaite’s narration because the shot of Quaid’s face looking up to the sky with no narration and just Edelman’s score would have been on par with the last frame and cut to credits in E.T. The Extra Terrestrial.

Robyn: I agree with you about the visual effects still holding up all these years later, especially in comparison to later films in the series (but that’s a chat for another time). Dragonheart was nominated for Best Visual Effects at the 1997 Oscars! It lost against Independence Day. I may agree with that. I took for granted how well Connery did voicing Draco, but your comments above reminded me of how good a job he does with the character. He’s retired now right? I wish he’d come back to doing voiceovers for this kind of role.

Adam: Yeah, Connery called it quits after his experience making The League of Extraordinary Gentlemen. I miss him. That movies sucks.
Robyn: Going back to the music, I tend to not notice movie scores very often. It’s one of my many faults, but even I picked up on the loveliness of Edelman’s score. The theme isn’t in your face and has a slow build that just grows more and more inspiring. I’ve been listening to the score pretty frequently the last few weeks. That’s a rare thing for me to do.

Adam: I just listened to the Dragonheart theme on the treadmill. Unfortunately, it’s three minutes long so I am still out of shape.

Robyn: I had a lot of fun revisiting Dragonheart and I’m glad you are on this journey with me, although it might only be downhill from here. Adam, are you ready for three more Dragonheart movies?

Adam: I’m totally ready for Geoff and Drake in the next/straight-to-video/kid-friendly Dragonheart picture. Until then, live by the old code and look to the dragon stars!

1 comment:

  1. I really want to rewatch the first movie now

    ReplyDelete