Boasting to be part one of an epic trilogy, Dragon – like one of the films it would seem to tie-in to, Eragon – failed to produce a second or third part. Whether this was the result of unrealized ambition by notedly-ambitious writer/director Leigh Scott (The Beast of Bray Road, 9/11 Commission Report), or perhaps a tongue-in-cheek nod to the over-ambitiousness of the mentioned film is unknown, and in the end, who really cares? All told, this fantasy film stands just fine on its own.
The basic premise is this: there’s this Princess (Amelia Jackson Gray), cute as a button, on a desperate mission to save her kingdom from impending invasion by an army of not-so-cute elves, the evil kind. Only problem is, the elves aren’t her only problem. She has to navigate her way through a haunted forest, a sorceress (Eliza Swenson) of questionable loyalties, a band of mercenaries and their roguish leader (Jeff Denton) and, as the title would lead one to believe, a big ass Dragon.
Fortunately for our Princess, however, she does not traverse this forest nor brave these travails alone; at her side are a pair of upstanding adventurers (Matthew Wolf, Jon Paul Gates) more than capable of defending her majesty.
Before I get into any other aspect of this film, I’m going to talk a minute here about the effects, as with a film like this – that is, a direct-to-DVD purported fantasy epic – effects are the dealbreaker; a bad story can be overlooked, sour performances made funny, so long as when the moment comes, the effects don’t disappoint. And these don’t. Crafted by the fine folks at Sharper Effects Group, each effect – from dragons to fire to magic et cetera – is seamlessly integrated into the visual fabric of the film so that, while not perfect, they are near-perfect in context. The dragon especially, though a dash cartoonish, Pokemon-ish, even, was real enough for me; if we ran into each other in a dark alley, I’d definitely piss myself.
As for the performances, this one – like many Leigh Scott films – boasts a fine cast of capable regulars. Jeff Denton (Beast of Bray Road, The Hitchhiker) plays the roguish leader of the mercenaries with his customarily formidable aplomb, audacious and suavely capable. Great hair here, too, though his accent is slightly less-great. Ms. Gray (Halloween Night, Snakes on a Train) as the Princess is perfectly cold and demurely arrogant, blooming over the course of the film to reveal a good heart and strong soul at the center of a fiercely loyal and independent woman in an era where such a thing was a rarity. Also showcasing great strength and an awesome accent is Ms. Swenson (Transmorphers, Dracula’s Curse) as the sorceress. Ms. Swenson is gorgeously witchy like Stevie Nicks at her peak, but, you know, fucking mean. This is the best I’ve seen her, totally immersed in this accursed, prognosticating wretch of a witch, but, admittedly, I’m just discovering the joys of this wonderful actress, so for all I know the best could be yet to come. Here she’s like the best goddesses: frighteningly authoritative and creepily sexy.Plus, she did the score for this film. Yup, and it's really, really good.
As the guards, Matthew Wolf (Transmorphers, The Apocalypse) and Jon Paul Gates (a whole bunch of stuff even I haven’t heard of) are the heart of the film, the former playing it as a naïve warrior, too chivalrous, perhaps, for his profession, and as such endearing, while the latter demonstrates some of the same chivalrous obedience paired with independent caution; he’s got a job to do from which he wavers not, but mortality to him is a real thing, and something to guard fiercely.
Leigh Scott, as mentioned and as he often does, pulled double creative duty here, writing and directing. His script is truly epic from the get-go, not overly-mythic but rather, like the best myths, simply explained as a struggle between good and evil for an ultimate balance. The story is competently militaristic, believable from a strategic standpoint, and only fantastic for the agents that execute the plan; this could have been a war movie, a sci-fi flick, a western - the story’s that universal. Here LS has crafted an engaging narrative that fits the genre for its basic complexity, but doesn’t bore or lag, and packs a mammoth wallop for 80 minutes. As a director, LS makes a great use of the scenery, making a real forest haunted by use of light and color to strike an unsettling ambiance.
Overall I found this one to be faithful – in terms of narrative and atmosphere – to the films it would seem to ape: Lord of the Rings, Eragon, Dragonheart, Reign of Fire. The action sequences are spectacular*, and these when paired with a stirring plot and excellent performances make for an intense drama expertly doled-out at a pace that accomplishes the near-impossible: making epic that which takes less than an hour and a half to unfurl. If you like dragon-based fantasy films, I can’t imagine why you wouldn’t love this one.
*my cat, who, in 6 years has never paid so much as a lick of attention to the TV, was utterly transfixed by this one, for whatever reason. Weezer has very discriminating tastes, believe me; I’d trust her more than me.