Thursday, 8 October 2015

Dawn of the Dragonslayer

I have a bit of a confession to make.
When I first started this blog my intent was to simply review every DVD that I owned at the time, in alphabetical order.
However, since then I've found that I enjoy reviewing bad movies slightly more than I enjoy reviewing good movies.
As such I've gotten into the habit of buying movies that look like they would be bad. Chanbara Striptease, Charlie and the Chocolate Factory and the Dark Knight being prime examples of this philosophy. bad movies that make for good reviews.
And that explains how I came to possess this particular movie.
Look at the dragon's face.
So after buying it (In a double pack with the sequel) I sat down and watched it.
But it turned out to be actually pretty good.
It's no Lord of the Rings, but then it had about 0.01% of the budget.
But for what it is and what resources they had, it's entertaining.
So, let's begin.
The movie starts on a field at night, with an old man playing a flute to his sheep.
Everybody needs a hobby I suppose.
But as he plays the titular dragon flies above his head. Apparently it gets angry at the noise and decides to burn him to a crisp using some of the worst fire effects I have seen in a long time.
Well, this doesn't bode well for the movie.
The flames turn into the title card for the movie and the scene ends, with the old man never being referenced again.
leading me to believe that this entire scene was added in after the rest of the movie was finished just to tell the audience that yes, there is a dragon in this movie.
After the title card fades we get a different old man staring into a fire, which turns into a dragon and scares him.
What was in that bush he was burning?
The screen shifts again, this time to our main character, a young shepherd named Will Shepherd.
This guy.
It may seem silly to us for him to literally be named Shepherd, but this movie is clearly set in medieval times and back then surnames weren't particularly common. If a surname was required (For taxes or land ownership, for example) then people often took the name of their job. This is how we got surnames like Carter, Tanner and indeed, Shepherd.
The more you know.
He and his father are practicing their sword-fighting, because that's clearly a vital skill for shepherds to have.
(I jest, but with the risk of viking invasions, it actually makes sense.)
As they fight the father gives Will advice and Will manages to disarm his father, but gets undone by his father tripping him up.
"Now lay there and think about your life."
His father gives some more advice, this time about honour on the battlefield (It'll get you killed) and they leave to tend to their sheep.
When they get home the old man who was fire-gazing is there. His name is Crow and he's basically a shaman, using herbs and knowledge to help Will's father with a minor illness.
Will mentions that the sheep aren't growing their wool fast enough (Stimulating conversation) and he reckons it might be because he found four of them torn to pieces near the river.
He attributes it to wild dogs and his father tells him it's time for him to leave, producing a piece of parchment.
This is the most important item in this movie.
His father tells him to hand it to a Baron named Sterling who will train Will to become a knight.
Will refuses and storms out.
The next day Will's out on the fields and he finds the remains of a sheep.
If you were eating dinner, I apologise. I hope it wasn't lamb.
Will mentions that too many have gone missing for it to have been wolves. After a bit of hasty travelling to another field they find the remains of a different sheep, although these are in a slightly different condition.
Although still gross.
Will's father immediately equates this to the presence of a dragon.
It takes a little bit of knowledge to know why, but this does make sense.
In a lot of fiction dragons are said to be powerful monsters that eat people whole. But what is often glossed over is how dragons digest what they eat. After all, there aren't any real-world animals that can eat metal and other pointy bits. However, owls and other birds swallow creatures whole, digesting what they can and then coughing up a ball of the stuff that they couldn't.
Clearly this world's version of dragons does the same.
very clever and very subtle, especially as the characters never say it out loud.
Why would they? If that's how dragons work then it would be common knowledge.
The father wants to pack up everything and move to the lowlands but Will has another idea.
He wants to track the dragon to its' nest and steal the eggs for market, which would make them rich.
This look means he's skeptical, but willing to listen to the crazy idea.
I get that look a lot.
They track the dragon despite the British weather (Prince Humperdink eat your heart out) and find the nest, which is set in the side of a cliff. Will starts climbing it, apparently having forgotten his plan of staking it out to make sure the dragon isn't there.
Will's father complains that he's too old to climb cliffs so he waits at the bottom, only to get burned to a crisp when the dragon returns.
I think he made a tactical error.
despite Will screaming at the top of his lungs the dragon flies away, apparently content with only melting one of the two.
I have to admit though, this is a cool shot.
After Will and Crow give him a funeral at sea (They throw his body off a cliff) Will agrees to go and work for Sterling. As a parting gift Crow gives him an undershirt that he says has magical properties granted to it by the Gods.
Very shaman. Much magic.
Will leaves the mountains to triumphant music and he enters the lowlands where he promptly gets lost. He asks the first people he meets for directions, but they turn out to be really rude and they insult him. The rudest of them does give him directions and Will leaves, firing off a pretty decent insult in return.
You can tell that the guy with the beard is trying not to laugh.
Will follows the directions and finds a young woman putting together a stone wall.
After watching her struggle he walks over and kicks it to pieces.
What a charmer.
He explains the flaws in her method and helps her build it in a sturdier manner.
Now we know why he wanted to spend the rest of his life on a mountain.
They talk a little and she gives Will the actual directions to Sterling's castle, since the jerk from earlier sent him two leagues in the wrong direction.
There was also a short discussion about the girl maybe being a Conjuror, but she gets insulted.
Apparently jewelry means magic in this world.
After a bit of walking Will reaches Sterling Manor, which has apparently seen better days.
Castle walls don't usually have chunks missing from them.
As he enters he looks around and finds the red-shirted jerk from before, who once again tries to talk Will out of meeting Sterling. But Will persists and goes into the Manor, meeting Sterling having an argument with his daughter.
So she's essentially a low-budget Maid Marion?
Sterling initially refuses to train Will as a bondsman, but after being shown the piece of parchment he changes his mind.
(We also learn that the daughter's name is Katie).
Sterling sends Will to meet with 'Sam', who's in charge of the workers (All three of them) and Will is disappointed to discover that Sam is the red-shirted jerk from earlier.
And naturally, he gives Will all of the worst jobs to do.
I don't even know what he's doing, I just know that I'm glad I've never had to do it.
Later on after yet more back-breaking work Will takes a break next to a lake only to discover that Katie's taking a bath.
And as our noble hero, he hides in a bush and peeks on her.
Clearly he is a master of stealth.
When Katie emerges she spots him (Somehow) and snaps at him, but she doesn't actually seem to get angry. Instead she asks about his family.
Because that's the logical response when you discover someone peeking on you.
But the conversation serves its' purpose and Will explains how the dragon chargrilled his father.
They briefly discuss things like conjuring before Katie notices smoke coming from the Manor, indicating that someone's there.
And when they get there we're introduced to the rival for this movie, Sir Rogen.
My best friend has a word fr people like this guy, but I shan't repeat it here. But it starts with a C and rhymes with Sockwomble.
Sir Rogen is an old friend of Katie's and Sterling thinks very highly of him.
Yeah, you can see where this is going.
With no heir Sterling is worried about the future of his land and daughter, especially with a new king on the throne. And since Sir Rogen is popular at court he plans to leverage this to his advantage.
They have dinner with Sterling's other guest, his sister Eleanor.
As they eat they discuss the happenings at court, including how Sir Rogen is undefeated at the games.
Not as extravagant as Game Of Thrones, but it's essentially the same kind of thing.
Sterling asks Sir Rogen why he's there and he explains that he wants him to join the Council of Knights, which sounds important. he's asking now because there's evidence of recent dragon attacks and the king wants it dealt with.
This is a perfect time for them to discuss the dragon since now's when Will enters to see to the fire.
And of course, Katie has to mention how Will's seen the dragon up close and survived.

Things not to say at a medieval dinner table.
They discuss the dragon a bit and Will states that he's determined to kill the dragon. The nobles dismiss this, saying that only a Paladin can slay a dragon and Will's unlikely to be able to walk through fire.
This is quite a decent scene, since it establishes quite a lot about the world. The political goals of both Sterling and Rogen drive the plot throughout most of the movie, but it also establishes ancient myths about Paladins, what they did and what powers they had.
In the meantime though, we have some petty rivalry to deal with.
I want this in the Olympics.
The bout initially goes in Rogen's favour, but Will adapts quickly and gains the upper hand, only for Rogen to punch him in the face, which knocks him to the ground and wins him the fight.
Will accepts the defeat in good graces, but afterwards Sterling quietly asks if punching is really allowed.
Turns out it isn't. What a sockwomble.
They discuss the future of Sterling's estate and Rogen reveals his interest in Katie. Sterling points out that he has no gold to offer as a dowry and Rogen asks for his Western lands. He doesn't have the men to work it and after his passing all the land would become Rogen's anyway.
Sterling agrees, but he can't offer Rogen the Western lands since they're promised to Will, although Will doesn't know it.
Rogen's response is that if Will doesn't know about it then he won't miss them.
Elsewhere Will is quietly contemplating life when Katie arrives. She wanted to give him her father's livery to wear for when they visit the council.
How lucky that it fits.
This scene doesn't really advance the plot, but it does give the romantic leads some time to actually interact. It's rare for movies to do that these days.
That night Sam acts like a jerk towards Will again. Turn out that Sterling has decided not to take Will to the council. Will brushes this off but gets angry when he finds that his dagger's missing. He and Sam come to blows, but it ends when the blond guy joins in on Sam's side.
Sam is, to put it bluntly, a sockhead.
The next morning, after everyone's gone, Katie tries to be nice to Will but he snaps at her. She's offended until she notices his injuries, where she decides to show him something.
Oooh, shiny.
She tells Will about how important the sword is to her father and what he did when someone tried to steal it. She points out that even she isn't allowed to touch it.
"So I'm not allowed to do this with it?"
After putting the sword away Katie explains that although her father's not taking much time to train Will, she can do so with the help of a book on Knightly duties.
This is why it's important to teach girls how to read.
So they have a montage, learning everything from swordsmanship to archery and ballroom dancing, all while Eleanor loos on with a smug expression.
But everything gets ruined when the dragon attacks.
How inconsiderate.
Will naturally rushes to fight it, grabbing the Sterling's sword and running outside. When he spots the dragon clambering around the side of the Manor his first reaction is to hurl the sword at it.
And being the protagonist, he not only hits it, but manages to get the sword stuck in its' shoulder blade.
Which is rather impressive considering how high up it is.
But it is a dragon, so it just snaps the sword in half and breathes fire all over Will.
This is of course the most likely outcome of throwing your sword at a dragon.
The scene fades to black and it seems like Will has been barbecued, but he wakes up in a bed with Katie watching over him. She calls him an idiot and leaves, to be replaced by Eleanor who explains what happened. It turns out that Katie actually is a Conjuror after all and she used her magic to protect Will, but she was hurt in the process.
And apparently dragons don't like Conjurors, since it flew off.
When Sterling returns he first finds Will and asks him to collect his new horse that he won.
And when he gets back to his Manor he talks excitedly about the restoration of the family and hurries upstairs to grab his family sword.
When he finds it broken, he doesn't take it well.
In fact, he kinda flies off the handle.
Luckily Eleanor was watching and she cries out, causing Sterling to drop his sword in shock about what he's done as Katie runs away.
What follows next are several minutes of Katie galloping away, before losing her horse and having to huddle up behind a stone circle for the night.
Will also spent the night outside, but he's presumably more used to it. He gets woken by Crow, who explains that Katie has run off. He doesn't waste time explaining how he knows this, but it's obvious by now that he's also a Conjuror.
Everyone from the Manor gathers their things and starts searching for Katie, but it is of course Will who finds her.
And she chooses now to confess her feelings for him.
And it's just dawned on me that their names are Will and Kate.
Kate wants to run away with him, but Will points out that Sterling or Rogen would eventually find them. So he takes her home, where Sterling thanks Will and decides to have a talk with him.
He explains what was on the parchment from earlier and that he's decided to start training Will properly to become a knight.
But Will wants more than that, he also wants Kate's hand in marriage.
Well, if you're going to play your hand, might as well go all in.
Sterling gets angry at the idea and starts yelling at Will. He even yells that he's "Too far beneath her" which gets the eavesdropping Katie rather annoyed. Eleanor is with her and she explains Sterling's secret history with Will's father.
Oh boy, story time!
It turns out that Katie's mother was originally engaged to Will's father, but Sterling met her and fell in love. She tried to stay loyal to her fiance but Sterling kept making life difficult for him, to the point where Maurelle (Katie's mother) eventually relented, just to spare Will's father any more trouble. As a wedding present he gave Maurelle the deeds to some land, but she gave it to her ex-fiance out of guilt.
But Sterling was a jealous and petty man, who constantly got angry at Maurelle for imagined slights, so she ran away. 
She went back to her parents but discovered that she was pregnant with Sterling's child. Sterling eventually found her but she had died of the plague.
After returning home Sterling was visited by a Conjuror from the mountains, who brought Katie with him.
Wow, what a 'Sock' this guy used to be.
Three guesses who the mountain Conjuror was.
Will throws the deed back on the table and storms out. Katie follows him, determined to run away with him, but Will refuses, pointing out that although Sterling may give in, Rogen won't.
So he leaves.
That night Sterling meets with Rogen. He explains that the land now belongs to Katie since it previously belonged to Maurelle and that if Rogen does marry her he'll get the lot.
But only if Rogen invites Sterling to the Royal Court.
Rogen points out that Sterling would need a gift and Sterling happily says that he knows the perfect gift.
A dragon corpse.
Why do bad guys in these movies always believe that dragons are pushovers?
Rogen slips some money into Sam's hand and tells him to kill Sterling's new horse and frame Will.
This gets Sam roasted by the dragon.
That's what you get for wearing a red shirt.
The next morning Crow finds Will and has a nice chat, revealing that he was indeed the Conjuror who took Katie to Sterling. He also talks Will into going back to claim his land and be with Katie.
But Sterling's not going to be there, since he, Rogen and several men are gearing up to slay the dragon.
Why would you choose to wear heavy metal armour when fighting a fire-breathing flying monster?
When Will returns to the Manor he finds only Eleanor, playing Solitaire. She explains what happened, including the discovery of Sam's flash-fried remains. She manages to talk him into hunting the dragon himself, giving him all the equipment he needs, including the slightly damaged sword.
Clever girl.
She also takes a few moments to officially knight Will, since she's a Baroness and can do stuff like that.
As Will leaves Katie returns, having seen a bad omen. She grabs a horse and rushes out after them.
Meanwhile, Sterling, Rogen and their men have chosen a spot to battle the dragon, but Will arrives and points out that they'll get themselves killed.
But for some reason, the villain doesn't listen to the hero.
Will leaves, but not before the bearded bloke hands him the dagger that Sam had stolen.
I like this guy. I hope he lives.
After Will leaves Katie arrives at the ambush site, just in time to watch the dragon attack.
And I have to say, the CGI used for it is actually pretty decent.
The DVD cover made this thing look terrible. I don't even know how they managed that.
The way the dragon moves is pretty good too. It flies and walks with grace, in a manner similar to bats. Okay, when it's fighting the men it's attacks don't always match up to their reactions but overall it's really good.
Anyway, the dragon sautees one of Rogen's men then eats the blond guy. And I mean it literally eats him, armour and all.
RIP in peace blond guy.
The dragon seriously injures Sterling, but they manage to deal some damage to it and it flies away. Just as Katie is checking her father's wounds however it returns, this time content to burn them all from afar.
But Katie steps forward and blocks the fire with her hand.
They saved the decent fire effects for when it really mattered.
The dragon flies away, this time seemingly for good.
I guess it really was afraid of Conjurors.
Rogen gets angry and leaves to murder Will, who's at the cliffs setting up his own trap.
However, it turns out that he chose the wrong part of the coast, since the dragon doesn't see or hear Will.
Just as he reaches the top of the cliff where the dragon's nest is, Rogen arrives and attacks.
Because he apparently still thinks that a dragon won't cause him any trouble.
Will and Rogen have a decently choreographed swordfight on the top of the cliff, Will gets disarmed, but he utilises the turnaround move his father displayed at the beginning of the movie and manages to snatch victory, hurling Rogen over the cliff and onto the rocks below.
Insert Wilhelm scream here.
The fight's not over yet though, since the dragon reemerges and attacks Will. He uses the cliffs to protect himself from the flames and manages to hide. Clutching the undershirt Crow gave him he gathers his courage and steps out towards the dragon and, in a triumphant moment, walks straight through the flames to stab the beast right in the face.
Say what you want about the Paladin fire immunity being a deus ex machina, this image is just plain awesome.
Will returns to Sterling Manor, where Sterling lies in bed recovering from his wounds. Will and Katie embrace and Will pulls some dragon eggs out of his saddlebags, happily exclaiming that they're worth 1000 gold each.
And that's where our movie ends.

This movie was really good, especially when you consider that it was an indie film. The acting was good which made the love story engaging. Heck, I came here to see dragons and the villain was so smug that I was more excited to see him get kicked off a cliff than I was at seeing the dragon get slain.
But speaking of the dragon, it was pretty cool itself. The terrible British weather really helped here I think. Most of the early shots of it were brief glimpses through the clouds, meaning that its' presence had to be established primarily through other means.
This helps to establish it as part of the world, as though it's a living creature that holds a very specific spot in the food chain.
And the swordfighting was both realistic and still entertaining.

Of course, no movie is perfect.
There was a lot of time when the film seemed to be padding itself out. When boiled down the plot is actually fairly simple and cliche.
But keeping in mind the films budget, I certainly recommend it to my friends.

And next week I get to watch the sequel.
The cover of which looks even worse than the first one and it doesn't involve any of the same characters.
Fingers crossed?

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