Friday May 31, 1996
Any movie whose computer-generated effects are more believable than its actors is asking for trouble. A frustrating combination of the magical and the mundane, "Dragonheart" has less difficulty creating a creditable dragon than a recognizable human being.
That dragon, called Draco, is perhaps the finest of the recent spate of computer-generated special effects--including the dinosaurs of "Jurassic Park" and the assorted beasts of "Jumanji"--that have redefined what can and cannot be shown effectively on screen.
Designed by Phil Tippet (who received an Oscar for his work on "Jurassic Park"), with visual effects supervised by Scott Squires of Industrial Light & Magic, Draco is a massive 18-foot-high, 43-foot-long beast who flies easily and spews fire like a bomber dropping napalm.
Aided by the voice of Sean Connery, Draco has also been given genuine personality. Soft-hearted as well as fierce, a fey and feline combination of Morris the Cat and Alistair Cooke, this is one dragon that is a star and knows it.
Paradoxically, though "Dragonheart" is not lacking in major-league names, including Dennis Quaid, David Thewlis, Pete Postlethwaite and even Julie Christie in a rare screen role, its flesh-and-blood luminaries come off more like dress extras than stars.
Basically a buddy movie in which one of the pals breathes flames, "Dragonheart," written by Charles Edward Pogue from a story by Patrick Read Johnson and Pogue, is saddled with a troublesome script that mixes flat jokes with a confusing, occasionally baffling plot.
Opening with inexplicable precision in AD 984 and not a moment sooner, "Dragonheart" focuses on Bowen, a master swordsman who still believes in the Old Code, which apparently mixes the precepts of King Arthur with an early version of the Boy Scouts Handbook.
Quaid, an excellent, often underrated actor, is not on his best behavior with this role. Burdened with a too-hearty laugh and a voice that has deepened to the level of Broderick Crawford, Quaid gives a performance than feels more computer-generated than the dragon's.
In an extended prologue to the film's main action, Bowen is the tutor to a sullen prince named Einon. When the young man is grievously wounded in a peasant rebellion, his mother, Queen Aislinn (Christie), takes him to a dragon's lair/emergency room, where the monster performs surgery without anesthetic and restores the lad to health.
But once Einon is well, despite a deathbed promise to respect the Old Code, he turns even surlier and more loutish than before. Instead of trying to reform the man, Bowen decides it's all the fault of that dragon for practicing medicine without a license and inexplicably vows to kill the beast and every last one of his kind.
The action now moves forward a dozen years (that's AD 996, if you're counting), with Einon (Thewlis) now grown into an evil king and the oblivious Bowen still chasing after dragons. He meets up with Draco and, in the film's best bit, they decide to run a sting operation on gullible locals, with Draco pretending to die and Bowen pretending to kill him for a bag of gold. Payable in advance.
This pleasant interlude cannot last, however, as Bowen and an itinerant monk (Postlethwaite) are drawn into the plans of a freedom-loving maiden named Kara ("Beverly Hills, 90210's" Dina Meyer) who wants to rid the locality of Einon. A noble plan, but one that turns out to have unforeseen consequences for our friend the dragon.
All of this is pitched by director Rob Cohen (whose last film, curiously enough, was "Dragon, the Bruce Lee Story") at a level best appreciated by 10-year-old boys. Anyone past the age of consent for Dungeons and Dragons will not be equally amused.
Dragonheart, 1996. PG-13, for action/violence. A Raffaella De Laurentiis production, released by Universal Pictures. Director Rob Cohen. Producer Raffaella De Laurentiis. Executive producers David Rotman, Patrick Read Johnson. Screenplay by Charles Edward Pogue, story by Patrick Read Johnson and Charles Edward Pogue. Cinematographer David Eggby. Editor Peter Amundson. Costumes Thomas Casterline, Anna Sheppard. Music Randy Edelman. Production design Benjamin Fernandez. Art director Jano Svoboda. Set decorator Giorgio Desideri. Running time: 1 hour, 48 minutes. Dennis Quaid as Bowen. David Thewlis as Einon. Pete Postlethwaite as Gilbert. Dina Meyer as Kara. Julie Christie as Queen Aislinn. Sean Connery as Draco.Copyright © 2014, Los Angeles Times