Wednesday, 1 February 2012


Image used with Creative Commons licence © Copyright Walter Baxter 

As you may be aware, we are all now living in the Chinese Year of the Dragon. I should've published this post on the 23rd of January when the actual New Year was, but I had personal things in the way, so shut up. You're getting it now.

Dragons are creatures, that ancient cultures all across the Earth share. Perhaps they are surrogates for the vague primitive memories of dinosaurs, who can tell. But while the giant lizard-monsters who can breathe fire and fly remain similar, the dragons are usually seen as sinister creatures in the west, and as wise and powerful, ancient creatures, and symbols of happiness in the east. I will now take a look at how dragons are portrayed.

Bad dragons:

Reign of Fire (USA/UK/Ireland, 2002)
Director: Rob Bowman

I have a certain affection with Reign of Fire, altough that is even harder to pin down than usual. I mean, it's not good enough to be a guilty pleasure, and it's not bad enough to be so-bad-it's-good. But as it is, it is an ultra-gritty film about a Dragocalypse! And that itself scores some points in my book. As a child, Christian Bale awakens a dragon sleeping in an underground mine. After waking, the dragon breeds quickly, and the dragons soon take over the word. 20 years later, in a post-apocalyptic world, only a few humans survive and fight against the fire-breathers. Could the yank played by Matthew McCounaghey be the key to destroying the foul creatures scorching up the world?

It's a really stupid film, but I like how super-seriously it is all played out. It does have a few comedic scenes as well, including one of the best Star Wars-references I've seen. Plus, Bowman seems to enjoy the irony that the future soldiers shield from dragons at old scottish castles. See, they're just like postapocalyptic knights! Dirt and screams come aplenty. McCounaghey doesn't play a hunk for a change, but a bald, bearded badass. Who has a master-plan, of course. And it includes shooting dragons with tanks and machine-guns! Nothing much makes sense in the film, but it hopes that adding layers of dirt and bad CGI-dragons would help audiences forget its omitting holes. Might be more fun drunk. Must investigate further.

★★ 1/2

D-War (a.k.a. Dragon Wars, South Korea, 2007)
Director: Shim Hyung-Rae

Whereas Reign of Fire's action scenes were a bit underwhelming (altough they had a sizeable chunk of explosions thrown in), the Korean D-War shows how it is done! Or not, as all scenes depicting someone reciting an old legend, anyone attempting any "acting", or really, with the plot moving forward or any characters talking, is pretty terrible. But the film more than makes up for it with its crazy action scenes. Have you ever wanted to see a giant serpent strangle up a hospital? Giant dinosaurs with guns toted at their back leveling a city? Hordes of black knights and dragons exploding at once? If so, you're in luck as this piece has it all!

And as much giant serpent battles you can get outside gay porn.

What it doesn't have is much in the way of the plot. An ancient Korean legend supposedly prophecises that forces of evil awaken every 500 years. Only a chosen girl, (protected by a boy, of course), can turn into a dragon of goodness that can defeat the lead serpent of the evil forces. Or some crap like that. What actually happens is a bunch of characters get whisked in the eye of the storm of rampaging dragons. While running away they shout a lot of exposition. This is sheer Dragon porn. Everything else in the film exists solely to ground the impressive money shots. But if you like dragons, the money shots are very metal indeed.

★ or ★★★★★

Neutral Dragons:

Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire (UK/USA 2005)
Director: Mike Newell

This is probably the worst Potter film out there, which is unfortunate as this is an important chapter in the overall saga. Whereas the previous chapters were all more or less individual adventures, this begins the arc that is taken to its conclusion at the very last film, The Deathly Hallows Part II. Harry is chosen to compete in the Tri-Wizard tournament, while at the same time a sinister plot to resurrect Lord Voldemort is going on in the shadows. There are also about a billion small sub-plots and things going on at the same time. The film promptly runs through all of them as fast as it can, never lingering long on anything.

The Dragons in the film are a part of the Tournament. It is mostly used as an obstacle that Harry has to find a way around to capture its golden egg. Harry has helped his friend Hagrid to hatch a dragon's egg way back in the first Potter film/book, but this act of gentleness towards dragons has clearly not earned him any favors or a chance to ride the beast – yet.

Potter-verse's dragons are animals, and have no honor codes, or capabilities to speak or plan. Rowling is more interested in describing their different breeds than how does the species function. Like many other magical things and objects, they are used only these two times as plot vessels, and promptly forgotten, even if they would be useful for other things later on. How awesome would it have been if Potter had ridden the bank dragon to his final battle in the Deathly Hallows? With a soundtrack by Manowar and Slayer.


The Flight of Dragons (USA, 1982)
Directors: Jules Bass, Arthur Rankin, Jr.

The animated TV films of Rankin/Bass are not as well-known in Europe as they are in America, so it seems fitting to see one for this task. This fantasy adventure proved so popular in the US, it got a theatrical release elsewhere in the world. The film's heart is clearly in the love for dragons shared by the directors. While the central dragons in this film are as good as they come, there are also a number of dragons who fight for the forces of evil. Dragons in the film are trusted companions of wizards. Whereas good wizards have good dragons, evil wizards have evil ones. Yet dragons can also be corrupted as the sinister Omadon (voiced by James Earl Jones himself) does.

The wizard Carolinus (Harry Morgan) decides that magic can't co-exist with the natural world, and thus announces to his colleagues that they must create a new realm for magic and magical creatures that would be shielded from outside forces threatening it. The evil Omadon refuses, as he would rather see magic fall into the wrong hands and help destroy the nature. Carolinus brings the aspiring young chemist Peter Dickinson (who is actually a real person, he wrote the source book, a speculative guide to natural history; the character here is voiced by John Ritter) to the magical kingdom to battle Omadon with his knowledge of science. During the journey, Peter is fused into the mind of the dragon Gorbash by accident, but him learning the rules of life as a dragon brings him and his fellowship an edge against the dark forces of Omadon.

Based on a fairly interesting book, the film's dragons have well laid-out physiology. For instance, the fact that fat dragons can fly with small wings has probably never been explained as well as in here. The film is a sort of Tolkien re-hash in that during the journey the fellowship gains members from various races living in the magic kingdom. But the characters are well-rounded and likable, and the voice acting is superb. The animation is not half-bad either. At the centre is a question whether science and magic can co-exist, and the film has some fairly good ponderings about the subject. The film's weak point is the TV format, which allows for a too even string of small cliffhangers, which are faded to black at the time of commercial breaks.

★★★ 1/2

Good Dragon(s):

Taro The Dragon Boy (Tatsu no ko Tarô, Japan 1979)
Directors: Kirirô Urayama, Peter Fernandez

This classic Japanese anime film features an old folk tale about the adventures of a son of a dragon. The titular Taro is a superpowered small boy in search of his mother, who has been turned into the scaly monster. The film is based on a number of ancient japanese legends, and its basic plot was concieved by anime's grandfather Isao Takahata. That ensures that the film is charming, spiritual and culturally relevant, if not entirely solid plot-wise. The characters are not purely good or evil, more determined to reach their goals. The film also dares to be a bit disturbing and even sad at times, altough it has a warm, healthy sense of humor, too. It is thus a sort of proto-Ghibli flick.

The film begins with other children mocking the lazy Taro, who likes sleeping and has a healthy appetite. Taro himself likes more to hang out with the animals in the forest, like sumo-wrestling with a bear and winning. This prompts a wizard to give him even bigger physical strength. Thus, it is clear that Taro is awesome. The boy's life is changed when he meets and falls for a pipe-playing girl in the forest. Taro's grandmother also reveals that his mother is still alive, making the boy determined to find her. The girl he met could help him in the mission, but she is kidnapped by the impish troll Red Oni, who in turn gives her as a gift to a bigger and eviler troll Black Oni. Taro will also have to face witches and a giant serpent to find his mother, and to end the famine suffered by his home valley. But no stack of obstacles is too big for Taro to overcome. Along the way he learns many lessons, including that he should wear underwer, because when he's standing on his head, the sight of his weiner makes girls blush (seriously).

Altough the dragon in the film is recluctant, in that she has been turned against her will, she is clearly a power of good. Motherly gentle dragons are not often seen. But the dragon is also powerful, able to crush mountains with her face. The dragon in the film can live underwater and also fly. I obviously think the omnipotent dragon who chooses to use her power for good should be more what we all should aspire to this year. It at least makes for a much better narrative than Reign of Fire-style world-scorching.


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