Dragonslayer

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Dragonslayer poster 7228.jpg

Dragonslayer is a 1981 live action fantasy film co-produced by Disney and Paramount studios. A Deconstruction of many Sword and Sorcery tropes, the film was considerably darker than the typical Disney movie, which may have caused its commercial failure despite having very good production values for its time.

(This should not be confused with the Dragon Slayer videogame series -- much less with Dragon's Lair.)

The movie is about a sorcerer's apprentice named Galen (played by Peter McNicol, now better known for later playing John Cage in Ally McBeal) who studied under an old wizard named Ulrich (played by classic Shakespearean actor Sir Ralph Richardson). One day, they're visited by a group of people from a kingdom named Urland, led by a young man named Valerian. He explains their land is threatened by a dragon, and they must feed it a virgin twice each year (elected by a lottery) to keep it sated. The wizard agrees to help, but is then killed by a knight named Tyrian, who was sent by the king of Urland, who apparently fears disturbing the dragon in any way.

The peasants leave disappointed, but Galen, having found out he can do magic with his master's amulet, offers to help them instead. Ulrich's elderly assistant burns his corpse and gathers the ashes in a pouch. Galen and Valerian then go on a quest to defeat the dragon and save Urland.


Not to be confused with Falcom's loosely-connected series of games covered here. Or with Don Bluth's classic video game Dragon's Lair. Or with The Last Dragonslayer.

Tropes in the film:[edit | hide | hide all]

  • Absurdly Sharp Blade: Galen's lance, which is aided by a magic fire to make it sharper than sharp. It slices through the anvil with little effort.
  • Action Girl: Valerian.
  • Big No: Galen, when he has a vision of Hodge being killed.
  • Bittersweet Ending: Galen fails to rescue the princess. And while Ulrich returned from death to confront the dragon, the battle killed him (again) along with the destruction of the magic amulet. Worse, Ulrich's death is unmourned by others, as the King falsely declares himself the "Dragonslayer" while newly converted Christians attribute the dragon's fall to God's will. The good news is that Galen and Valerian are together, and that Galen may yet have magic of his own...
  • The Blacksmith: Valerian's father. We also get a Forging Scene with him and Galen crafting a spear powerful enough to pierce Vermithrax's thick hide.
  • Chained to a Rock: Elspeth (well, to a pole actually.)
  • Christianity: Just as wizards dragons and magic are fading from the realm, this new religion worshiping a Carpenter's Son shows up. Subverted and in all ways mocked as the priests railing against the "demonic" dragon are as flammable as the pagan villagers. Worse, the converted believers claim the destruction of Vermithrax is due to God's will rather than the Heroic Sacrifice of the last true wizard Ulrich.
    • Ulrich is just fine and dandy with this, because magic comes from belief, and if no one believes in magic, dragons cannot return.
  • Corrupt Bureaucrat: The King. The lottery is rigged not to include the daughters of men who can pay. He's also caught trying to use Ulrich's amulet for his own bit of alchemy, to create gold from lead. And when the dragon dies, he quickly arrives, shoves a sword in the burnt carcass, and claims credit.
  • Deconstruction: The film takes many standard fantasy tropes of the day... and stands them on their heads. The ironic part is that during the shredding of those tropes, this film introduced new tropes and redefined others.
  • Dirty Coward: The King. For good reason: his own brother the previous King led knights into battle against Vermithrax and came back as ash.
  • The Dragon: No, not Vermithrax. We're talking Tyrian, the King's knight/enforcer. He's still a serious threat even after the King wants Galen to stop the real dragon from killing his daughter Elspeth.
  • End of an Age: There's one wizard and one dragon left in the world at the film's start...
  • Everything's Better with Princesses: Not really. Elspeth is clueless about the rigged lottery, and too guilt-ridden at the end to save herself when Galen comes to rescue her.
  • Exploring the Evil Lair
  • Fridge Brilliance: Galen and Valerian's father work on the spear The Blacksmith created as a weapon against the dragon Vermithrax. When Tyrian -- fulfilling The Dragon trope -- tries to stop Galen from rescuing Princess Elspeth, Galen uses that spear to kill Tyrian.
    • One better according to the novelization: The spear was specifically enchanted to kill dragons. Galen is lacking in combat skills, but the spear itself was drawn to the dragon symbol on Tyrian's chest.
      • The spear was made to kill Dragons. Tyrian was The Dragon.
  • Genre Savvy: Valerian thinks she'll be the name called for the lottery after she drops the pretense of being a boy. Had this not been a Deconstruction and subversion of the sword and sorcery trope, she'd have been right.
  • Heroic Sacrifice: Ulrich's.
    • And arguably Elspeth's.
  • Hey, It's That Guy: Emperor Palpatine tries to cast out Vermithrax with the power of religion. And burns for it. The Supreme Being has more success.
  • Human Sacrifice
  • Impaled with Extreme Prejudice: Tyrian.
  • Language of Magic: Latin. And it's basically accurate, which is cool.
  • Les Yay: Melissa Plowman and Valerian
  • Lottery of Doom
  • Luckily, My Shield Will Protect Me: Played straight. Valerian crafts for Galen a shield made out of the dragon's discarded skin plates, figuring the dragon's own hide might provide protection from the dragon itself. It does.
  • The Magic Goes Away: Ulrich mentions that the age of wonders has come to an end. It's hinted that the dying out of both wizards and dragons are linked to each other.
  • Manipulative Bastard: The king. There's nothing he can't spin for good PR.
  • The Middle Ages
  • Monster Is a Mommy
  • Names to Run Away From Really Fast: Played painfully straight with Vermin Anthrax. Simultaneously an example of Unfortunate Names, since the full name is Vermithrax Pejorative.
    • Unfortunate perhaps, but it helps to translate it: "The Thracian wyrm that makes things worse."
  • Novelization
  • Our Dragons Are Different: Vermithrax (the dragon) has bat-like wings instead of forelegs.
    • Before CGI, Vermithrax was the most realistic and terrifying dragon put to film.
    • Some may say post-CGI, too, unless you were frightened by Dragonheart
      • Sean Connery - even just his voice - can have that effect on people.
  • Pragmatic Villainy: The King doesn't want to sacrifice virgins to Vermithrax: it's just that previous battles against it led to fiery reprisals where the sacrifices have kept the beast sated. Figuring the dragon was aging and dying, the King thought he was buying time until old age took the dragon. That is, until Elspeth put her name in the lottery...
  • Purple Prose: Tons, with "reptilian antlers" going into the You Fail Biology Forever territory.
  • Red Eyes, Take Warning / It's Personal: Vermithrax, after Galen kills its offspring.
  • Ridiculously Cute Critter: Subverted, brutally, with Vermithrax's baby dragons. Also count toward Nightmare Fuel when the audience finds out what they did to Elspeth...
  • Roaring Rampage of Revenge: Vermithrax, twice. First, after Galen tries to block the cave with an avalanche, then after Galen kills its offspring.
  • Samus Is a Girl: Valerian.
  • Sedgwick Speech: A priest tries to exorcise away the dragon. It doesn't work.
  • She Cleans Up Nicely: After Valerian enters a big social event in a dress & feminine trappings for the first time in public, shock and awe ensue.
    • Only at the way she's dressed. In the Novelization, everyone in the town knew she was a girl (which she didn't know), which is why there were no cries of outrage at her dodging the lottery.
  • Shout-Out to legendary hero Sigurd, aka Siegfried who tests his brand-new dragonslaying weapon by neatly slicing through the anvil on which it was forged.
  • Shut Up, Kirk: Vermithrax has a very simple response to the priest trying "The power of Christ compels you!" on it. Guess what it is.
  • Take Up My Sword: Subverted and played with. Galen thinks that Ulrich wanted him to kill the dragon in his place. He didn't. Hodge DID ask Galen to take up his sword by pouring Ulrich's ashes into the Lake of Fire.
  • Taking You with Me: Ulrich takes Vermithrax down with him.
  • Total Eclipse of the Plot-during the climax, natch.
  • Unexplained Recovery:
    • Ulrich. Only long enough to defeat Vermithrax.
    • Galen mutters sardonically at Valerian, "Still alive" when she finds him after his brief battle with the dragon.
  • Virgin Sacrifice: Subverted with Elspeth. She refuses to be rescued.
    • At least one reviewer points out the "what an idiot" with Galen being set up to have to save Valerian from being the next sacrifice (before it gets subverted). Short version "There are simpler solutions, but the movie is rated "G."
  • What Do You Mean It's Not for Kids?: Hey, kids! It's a Disney movie about dragons and sorcery and stuff! (blood and fire and naked swimming girl and scariest dragon in film history and adult themes play out) Uh, right...
  • Xanatos Gambit: Ulrich pre-planned exactly how it would all turn out so well, one wonders whether he rented his own movie and watched it ahead of time on his BetamaxTM scrying bowl. The dude smiles nonchalantly while letting the villain stab him in the heart just to keep his feet from getting tired on the journey to the dragon's lair. And what's up with him reminiscing about the good old days when the sky was full of dragons, and talking about killing Vermithrax as though he were euthanizing a beloved but decrepit old pet? Is there even a trope for that?
    • He told Hodge what he intended and gave him instructions on what to do. Unfortunately, Tyrian was Genre Savvy enough to ventilate him with an arrow.
  • Your Princess Is in Another Castle: The villagers celebrate when Galen causes an avalanche to block the dragon's cave entrance, despite never seeing the dragon actually die and that there might me more caves leading out of its lair. All Galen did was piss it off.