The Guilty Pleasures: Dragon Edition
Dragons. Are there any cooler creatures in all of mythology? Unfortunately, in the world of celluloid, these great creatures of imagination have not really gotten their due. (At least, not in live-action cinema; why I have not yet seen How to Train Your Dragon is still beyond me.)
Is there any live-action film in which dragons have truly come off as cool as they deserve? Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire wasn’t too bad, but the dragons aren’t the stars. As I impatiently await the day when Peter Jackson brings his vision of the ultimate dragon, Smaug, to life in The Hobbit, I think about other dragon-themed movies that I have enjoyed in the past. None of them are deserving enough to be called “great”, but I’m very forgiving of movies I want to like. In one of these cases, I was the perfect age to see a dragon with real presence brought to life on the big screen – even if the movie he inhabited was far from perfect. Without further adieu, I present, in ascending order on my Flickchart, my picks for Guilty Pleasures starring dragons.
Okay, technically the creature in this movie is not a “dragon”, but it’s close enough. From its concept, Outlander should have been the coolest movie ever: In the time of the Vikings, Jesus and Hellboy battle dragons from outer space. Unfortunately, it’s not as awesome as it sounds, but there is still plenty of fun to be had. James Caviezel plays Kainan, a technologically-advanced human from another planet who crash lands on Earth back in the Iron Age. When he discovers that one of the creatures who destroyed his world (a dragon-like beast called a Moorwen) has arrived with him, he must bring clashing Viking tribes together to destroy the beast.
A critic’s quote on the DVD cover advertises Outlander as “Beowulf meets Predator“. That’s not too far off the mark, actually, but Outlander is much more fun than the former, and not half as cool as the latter. The movie features surprisingly good CGI (the Moorwen is terrifically creepy), and writer/director Howard McCain keeps up a brisk pace. Caviezel is a credible hero, and John Hurt lends gravitas. Ron Perlman is, sadly, under-used. (He features in quite a few deleted scenes.) In some ways, I can’t quite put my finger on why Outlander doesn’t quite reach “fantastic” status, but it’s a fun time, nonetheless.
Outlander is currently ranked #259 out of 1312 movies on my Flickchart.
Reign of Fire (2002)
Here’s a movie that qualifies as even more of a Guilty Pleasure than Outlander, and I enjoy it beyond reason. Reign of Fire serves up dragons as the cause of a cataclysm in the near future. It features a reluctantly heroic, pre-Batman Christian Bale, a pre-300 Gerard Butler, a gloriously over-the-top, bald and tattooed Matthew McConaughey, a former Bond girl and the Borg Queen from Star Trek: First Contact (in an unfortunately small role). It’s all put together by Rob Bowman, a fairly prolific genre TV director whose other big feature film credits are the first X-Files movie and the lackluster comic book spin-off Elektra. Reign of Fire has both of those beat all to hell in the so-bad-its-awesome department.
Despite the promise of its really cool poster, showing dragons torching London, RoF unfortunately does not depict any epic battle sequences. Mankind has already been beaten down, and we’re shown a ragtag group of survivors struggling to avoid total extinction. But this was my first experience with Bale in a hero role, which he does well, and jacked-up McConaughey is so delightfully cheesy – check out that trailer-made shot where he launches himself at a dragon with a battleaxe – he just sells it. (Haters be darned.) There are fun little “where’s the monster?” sequences that just scream “we ran out of money for CGI”. No, this is not a good film, but I enjoy it anyway, particularly since my dream of seeing of a great movie with dragons terrorizing modern-day characters has not yet properly come to fruition.
Reign of Fire is currently ranked #164 out of 1312 movies on my Flickchart.
Now, this is what I’m talkin’ about. This is the closest I’ve come to seeing a really cool dragon movie brought to the screen. (Again, still haven’t seen that How to Train Your Dragon; don’t know what’s wrong with me.) Maybe I was just young and impressionable when I saw DragonHeart in the theater, but I’m actually of the opinion that, when your dragon is voiced by Sean Connery, half your work is already done for you.
In the realm of fantasy adventure films, DragonHeart is not exactly a heavy-hitter. (It’s only got a win percentage of 22% on Flickchart, after all.) But I’ve got a serious fondness for it. Draco is a fully-CGI creature (with some animatronic support) who predates Gollum and Jar Jar Binks, and if he may come across as a little cartoony, at least Connery is there to give him gravitas. And sure, Dennis Quaid may not be the obvious choice to play hero in this kind of film, but here he performs well. And David Thewlis brings to life one of the most thoroughly despicable movie villains I’ve ever seen. (Honestly, when I think of my favorite villains, he comes to mind right alongside Heath Ledger‘s Joker and Kevin Spacey‘s John Doe.)
I love the music (a score from Randy Edelman which I have recognized in countless trailers since), I love the atmosphere, and while, at times, the story may be a little hokey and/or predictable, director Rob Cohen (who is probably now best known for his collaborations with Vin Diesel) keeps up a taught pace. It’s not high cinema, but I think DragonHeart is great fun from beginning to end.
DragonHeart is currently ranked #122 out of 1312 on my Flickchart.
Bonus Pick: Sucker Punch (2011)
This movie is too new, and I didn’t love it enough to call it a Guilty Pleasure, but Sucker Punch – for all its flaws – did satisfy one desire of mine: to see dragons and machine guns in the same frame of film. When Reign of Fire did let me down a little in that regard, it was one aspect of Sucker Punch to provide a little bit of a rush.
Sucker Punch is currently ranked #268 out of 1312 movies on my Flickchart.
Dragons have gotten the short end of the cinematic stick for some time now. But while I wait impatiently to see if the director of The Lord of the Rings can rectify that situation, I can always turn to some of my personal Guilty Pleasures for a little creature fun.