Dragonslayer (Matthew Robbins / U.S., 1981):

Saint George and the '80s. The passing of the Old Guard in medieval times, witchcraft is mourned as it passes into Christianity (with American cinema's own Dark Ages, presided by Bruckheimer and Eisner, just around the corner). The kingdom is terrorized by a dragon: the beast, perhaps the last of its kind, spares villagers in exchange for sacrificial virgins, and is introduced in a shot enhanced from Gilliam's Jabberwocky, the ascending crane-POV that unloads a wall of flames unto the cornered victim. The last wizard (Sir Ralph Richardson) is summoned to vanquish it but is killed proving his powers, his callow apprentice (Peter MacNicol) takes over the journey, uneasily. The sacrificial maidens are chosen by lottery, the peasant the hero falls for (Caitlin Clarke) has spent her life in drag to evade the drawing, the princess (Chloe Salaman) offers herself as dragon-chow to correct years of injustice. In contrast to the usual Disney product, Matthew Robbins's vision is an elegiac one ("Magic, magicians... It's all fading from the world, dying out"), a nihilistic one, even (Ian McDiarmid's raging preacher confronts the behemoth with cowl and staff and is readily incinerated). And yet there's the splendor of the majestic Scottish vistas and the profound comedy of Richardson's magus ("Glad to see you, too," he tells his pupil upon resuscitation), whose sly incantatory gestures are nearly matched by the Christopher Guest-like wit of Peter Eyre's king ("I've always had the greatest admiration for you chaps with your... mysterious skills"). Above all, there's the hope of the boy-wizard, whose road to adulthood involves the destruction of mentor and foe in the same blow. The splendid beast is slain and politics and religion join hands over the smoldering carcass, the burgeoning artist leaves them behind to face the future, carrying with him a pinch of magic. Cinematography by Derek Vanlint. Score by Alex North. With John Hallam, Albert Salmi, and Emrys James.

--- Fernando F. Croce

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