Dragonslayer (1981)

dragonslayer 1981 movie poster disney
8.0 Overall Score
Story: 7/10
Acting: 7/10
Visuals: 9/10

Great dragon

Some dated FX

Movie Info

Movie Name:  Dragonslayer

Studio:  Paramount Pictures/Walt Disney Productions

Genre(s):  Sci-Fi/Fantasy/Action/Adventure

Release Date(s):  June 26, 1981

MPAA Rating:  PG

dragonslayer vermithrax dragon special effects

Flame on!!!

A dragon is menacing the kingdom of Urland.  When the land’s sorcerer Ulrich of Craggenmoor (Ralph Richardson) appears to die, his apprentice Galen Bradwarden (Peter MacNicol) is the only hope.  As the lottery for the next victim of the dragon approaches, Galen and a young woman named Valerian (Caitlin Clarke) must find a way to stop the dragon Vermithrax.  Meanwhile Princess Elspeth (Chloe Salaman) learns that her name was excluded from the lottery that took the lives of many of the village girls and sets out to rectify the problem.

Directed by Matthew Robbins, Dragonslayer was one of Walt Disney’s ’80s live action pictures and was produced with Paramount Pictures.  The film received mixed reviews from critics.  The movie was nominated for Best Visual Effects and Best Original Score (it lost to Raiders of the Lost Ark and Chariots of Fire respectively).  Marvel Comics also provided a two issue adaptation of the series

dragonslayer dragon whelps chloe salaman

These dragon whelps scared the crap out of me as a kid

I loved Dragonslayer when I was young.  It was an exciting fantasy along the lines of Star Wars.  It was actually a criticism by some critics who believed that Dragonslayer was trying too hard to be Star Wars with the young Luke like apprentice trying to stop an unstoppable evil by growing to become a warrior when his mentor dies.  I do see the similarities but it also feels like it is different enough that it has its own feel…Is is at good as Star Wars, no, but it is fun.

The story can sometimes be frustrating and dragging, but the action sequences were just what a kid of six or seven wanted.  Overall, the plot is not very dynamic, but it does feel pretty typical in the world of sword and sorcery films.

dragonslayer 1981 special effects dragon

Vermithrax doesn’t play

The acting is Dragonslayer is fair.  It was Peter MacNicols first role and he does give off a very “Luke Skywalker” feel in the role.  Peter Eyre gives a nice performance as the evil king and it always ticked me off as a kid that he is proclaimed “the dragonslayer” when he had nothing to do with the slaying (but a realistic aspect of the story).  Ralph Richardson has little screen time as Ulrich but he makes the most of what he has, especially since he’s dealing with a lot of special effects.  Both Caitlin Clarke and Chloe Salaman do a nice job as the female leads and it always surprised me that Salaman meets her fate with the dragon.

dragonslayer king peter eyre

Once again the leader taking credit for his people’s accomplishments…

What sells Dragonslayer has some great special effects.  The design on Vermithrax is awesome and I’d still argue that it is one of the best designed dragons on film.  With a nice combination of scale models and blue-screens, the effects don’t always hold up.  Some of the ending effects are quite cheesy, but in general, the effects are very good.  I was always a bit freaked out by the dragon whelps which provided at least one good jump for a kid.

Dragonslayer probably won’t win over younger audiences but ’80s fans it holds a very soft spot.  The movie is goofy and not very well balanced, but I can forgive it since it is still fun and brings back good memories.  It might not match up to the dragons of Reign of Fire or Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire now, but it still is a strong contender.  Dragonslayer might be fun for a good rainy Saturday if you haven’t seen it in a while.

Author: JPRoscoe View all posts by
Follow me on Twitter/Instagram/Letterboxd @JPRoscoe76! Loves all things pop-culture especially if it has a bit of a counter-culture twist. Plays video games (basically from the start when a neighbor brought home an Atari 2600), comic loving (for almost 30 years), and a true critic of movies. Enjoys the art house but also isn't afraid to let in one or two popular movies at the same time.

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