In sixth-century England, an ill-tempered, fire-breathing creature—ominously known as Vermithrax Pejorative—terrorizes the inhabitants of a small kingdom. In response, their king institutes a lottery whereby each year, a virgin maiden is sacrificed to him. A small band of peasants seeks the help of a sorcerer named Ulrich and his young apprentice, Galen, to kill the dragon. After Ulrich is unable to fulfill the mission, Galen sets out on his own to confront both Vermithrax Pejorative and his own destiny.
I hadn’t watched Dragonslayer in years. I recall being enamored with its visual effects and the “David and Goliath” aspect of its storyline. I mean, it’s a period adventure about sorcerers and dragons, what’s not to like? I also enjoy the elements of light romance, which don’t impede the story’s thematic flow.
Legendary special effects supervisor Phil Tippett brought the beast to life, pioneering a new technique called “go motion” that incorporates blurring into each frame, and the visuals hold up quite well today. Dragonslayer isn’t epic in scope but its simple story has a timelessness that makes it as enjoyable now as it was back in the day.
Under the approval of director/co-writer Matthew Robbins, Paramount restored Dragonslayer in 4K resolution from the 35mm original camera negative. The Ultra HD video presentation is a sight to behold. Colors are tonally balanced with vividly reproduced primaries and naturally rendered skin tones. Definition during close-ups is also noteworthy. Wide angle shots vary in terms of depth but reveal subtle degrees of refinement that enhance the film’s exterior sequences.
The various interior sets reveal a tremendous amount of detail that belies the film’s age. I must say that the entire dragon’s lair sequence is truly breathtaking. Black levels and contrast are well balanced, which enlivens bright scenes while maintaining appreciable clarity and dimension during the darker sequences. The application of Dolby Vision HDR adds an enriching element that underscores the film’s thematic impact.
The Dolby Atmos soundtrack elevates proportional correlation by broadening the soundstage. The film is loaded with atmospherics and discrete sound effects which make for an immersive listening experience. Dialogue is articulately reproduced, while solid dynamic range and palpable bass underscore the action with aplomb.
Bonus features include five featurettes plus an audio commentary with Robbins and superfan Guillermo del Toro, all brand-new for this edition, along with vintage screen tests and the theatrical trailer. A digital copy code rounds out the package. Dragonslayer in Ultra HD is a fan’s delight that comes highly recommended.
Ultra HD 4K Blu-ray
STUDIO: Paramount, 1981
ASPECT RATIO: 2.39:1
HDR FORMATS: Dolby Vision, HDR10
AUDIO FORMATS: Dolby Atmos with TrueHD 7.1 core
LENGTH: 109 mins.
MPAA RATING: PG
DIRECTOR: Matthew Robbins
STARRING: Peter MacNicol, Caitlin Clarke, Ralph Richardson, John Hallam, Peter Eyre, Albert Salmi