Quick Review: Dragonslayer (dir. by Matthew Robbins)


DragonslayerPosterBefore I came on board here at The Shattered Lens, I joined in on Live Tweeting, where you watch a movie with a group  of people, while tweeting about it at the same time. Imagine being one of those audience members in Mystery Science Theatre 3000, and you’ve a rough idea of how fun it can get. Our own Lisa Marie Bowman does this every Saturday with her group, the Snarkalecs, as they cover the SyFy Movie of that week.

On Saturday Nights around 11pm Eastern(or just about every Saturday), Kevin Carr (over at Fat Guys at the Movies) hosts his Late Night Live Tweet, which I’ve participated in from time to time over the last 3 years. Tonight, they’re talking on 1981’s Dragonslayer on Netflix Instant.

Dragonslayer is one of those films that flopped at the box office, but remains iconic for its representation of dragons and for having been Industrial Light and Magic’s first Visual Effects production outside of any of the Lucasfilm movies (Raiders of the Lost Ark and the first two Star Wars films). Even though ILM was popular for what it did for those films, they were considered somewhat exclusive (or rather it’s my belief that they were). Dragonslayer became ILM’s test of whether they were a go to effects studio for the rest of Hollywood. It didn’t quite work out for the film, but at least ILM did well. At one point, the amount of lens flares in this movie would make J.J. Abrams proud.

Walt Disney Pictures, wanting to get into something a little more adult, came up with Dragonslayer just before Tron, but because of then graphic nature of the film (at least by their standards) supposedly had Paramount Pictures handle the distribution of the film and keep their hands clean. The movie contains blood, immolation and a hint of nudity, which seemed unbecoming of the Disney label. Over the years, Disney would come up with Touchstone Pictures, Buena Vista Pictures, and Hollywood Pictures for their more adult fare. I think Disney even had Miramax at one point.

The story behind Dragonslayer is pretty straight forward. In a faraway land in the Dark Ages, a group a people seek out an old wizard named Ulrich (Sir Ralph Richardson – Watership Down and one of my favorites, Time Bandits) to have him slay the dragon known as Vermithrax Pejorative. Why would anyone want to kill a dragon? Well this particular dragon spends it’s time burning nearby villages and to keep it from doing so, the land has a lottery where the winner – a young maiden – is offered as a sacrifice. On looking at the evidence provided – some scales and a claw (to which Urlich exclaims “That’s not a claw, by the gods….that’s a tooth!”), the wizard refuses and asks the team to look for another Dragonslayer. They inform him that he is indeed the last of his kind. His apprentice, Galen Bradwarden (Ally McBeal’s Peter MacNicol) feels that maybe they could do the job, but before Ulrich can get on his way, he is challenged by the head of the King’s Guard, which leads to the wizard’s demise.

Galen, on cleaning up the wizard’s castle, stumbles upon a glowing amulet that enhances his magic ability. then takes it upon himself to get rid of the Dragon after discovering one of Ulrich’s glowing amulets and the ability to perform magic. As a kid, I thought that amulet was the coolest thing. There are of course some complications, mainly the fact that the Monarchy believes having the sacrifices and the Dragon are a good thing, but like all Disney movies, it all works out.

From an acting standpoint, Dragonslayer is okay. None of the performances are really award winning, and actor Peter MacNicol has gone on to say that he was embarrassed to have done the film, and doesn’t even mention it when referencing anything he’s done. Actor Ian MacDiarmid, who played Emperor Palpatine in the Star Wars films, plays a priest in Dragonslayer, which was nice to see.

ILM’s biggest contribution to Dragonslayer was the use of a then new effect called “Go-Motion”. The idea was that most effects at the time were stop motion, similar to what you’d see in a Harryhausen film like Clash of the Titans, As a result, it was often very easy to tell when stop motion was being used due to the jerky but accepted movements of characters. Go Motion used puppets on computers to track their movements, inducing a motion blur and give the appearance that puppets were moving more naturally. I guess it was a lot like rotoscoping for the Lightsaber effects. ILM tried this out with some success in The Empire Strikes Back, and a combination of either Stop Motion or Go Motion was used in many films right up until CGI came along. The look of the Dragon itself was very aggressive and its look can be seen in similar films like Reign of Fire. Most of the effects haven’t held up very well at all under HD, and you can clearly see some of the areas where effects start and end.

It should be noted that Stop Motion is still in use today and is very popular with animated fares like The Nightmare Before Christmas, Coraline, and the Academy Award Nominated Film, Frankenweenie.

Lisa Marie Reviews The Oscar Winners: Mutiny on the Bounty (dir by Frank Lloyd)


Charles Laughton

It’s been a strange Oscar season and it could get even stranger.  Several critics and industry insiders are speculating that, on February 24th, Argo might win the Oscar for best picture without winning in any other category.  As strange as that may sound, Argo would not be alone in achieving this distinction.  In the past, 3 films have won best picture without winning anything else.

Mutiny on the Bounty, the best picture of 1935, is one of those films.

Based (rather loosely, according to many historians) on a true story, Mutiny on the Bounty tells the story of one of the most controversial events in maritime history.  The HMS Bounty leaves England in 1787 on a two-year voyage to Tahiti.  The Bounty is manned by a disgruntled crew (many of whom have been forced into Naval service) and is captained by a tyrant named William Bligh (Charles Laughton).  Bligh has little use for the majority of his crew and thinks nothing of having a man whipped until he is dead for even the pettiest of infractions.

Blight’s lieutenant is Fletcher Christian (Clark Gable), a compassionate man who disapproves of Bligh’s methods.  As the voyage continues, Christian grows more and more vocal with his disgust towards Bligh.  When the ship finally reaches Tahiti, Christian falls in love with a local Tahitian girl and defies Bligh’s direct orders so that he can spend time with her.

It’s only after the ship leaves Tahiti and Bligh’s tyranny leads to the death of an alcoholic crew member that Christian finally leads the mutiny of the film’s title. The rest of the film is divided between Bligh’s surprisingly heroic efforts to survive after being set adrift in a lifeboat and Christian’s attempts to avoid being captured by British authorities.  Caught up in the middle of all of this is Christian’s friend (and audience surrogate), Roger Byam (Franchot Tone).

Mutiny on the Bounty was one of the biggest box office hits of 1935 and it received 8 Academy Award nominations, including Best Picture, Best Director, and a record-setting 3 nods for Best Actor with Clark Gable, Charles Laughton, and Franchot Tone all receiving nominations.  However, out of those 8 nominations, Mutiny only won the award for Best Picture while John Ford’s The Informer took home the Oscars for Best Director and Actor.  Mutiny on the Bounty was the third (and, as of this writing, the last) best picture winner to fail to win any other categories.

For a film that lost dramatically more awards than it won, Mutiny on the Bounty still holds up pretty well.  Director Frank Lloyd keeps the film moving at a quick pace and perfectly captures not only the misery of the Bounty but the joyful paradise of Tahiti as well.  Lloyd is at his best during the short sequence of scenes that depict Bligh’s efforts to reach safety after being forced off of the Bounty.  During this sequence, the audience is forced to reconsider both Captain Bligh and everything that we’ve seen before.  It introduces an intriguing hint of ambiguity that is not often associated with films released in either the 1930s or today.

Of the three nominated actors, Clark Gable and Charles Laughton both give  performances that remain impressive today.  In the role of Fletcher Christian, Gable is the literal personification of masculinity and virility.  Meanwhile, in the role of Bligh, Laughton is hardly subtle but he is perfectly cast.  If Gable’s performance is epitomized by his charming smile than Laughton’s is epitomized by his constant glower.  Wisely, neither the film nor Laughton ever make Bligh out to be an incompetent captain.  As is shown after the mutiny, the film’s Bligh truly is as capable a navigator and leader as everyone initially believes him to be.  Unlike many cinematic tyrants, Blight’s tyranny is not the result of insecurity.  Instead, Bligh is simply a tyrant because he can be.  Laughton and Gable are both so charismatic and memorable that Franchot Tone suffers by comparison.  However, even Tone’s bland performance works to the film’s advantage.  By being so normal and boring, Roger Byam is established as truly being the sensible middle between Gable’s revolutionary and Laughton’s tyrant.

Mutiny on the Bounty remains an exciting adventure film and it certainly holds up better than some of the other films that were named best picture during the Academy’s early years.  If Argo only wins one Academy Award next Sunday, it’ll be in good company.

Tag It And Bag It : “Toe Tags”


toe-tags

A few weeks back, Lisa Marie blamed/credited me for the fact that she even watched, let alone reviewed, director/star/editor/cinematographer Darla Enlow’s 2003 shot-on-video, direct-to-DVD 68-minute opus Toe Tags, so I’m returning the — ahem! — favor by blaming/crediting her for the fact that I’m gonna do the same thing (well, I say “gonna do” only as it applies to reviewing this flick, since I first watched it several months ago, then gave it a second look last night). See, I kinda think it would be amusing to make Through The Shattered Lens the only site on the entire internet with two different reviews of this movie. Granted, I haven’t checked every single website in the entire universe to make sure this claim holds water, but it’s a pretty safe bet, since I doubt that more than a few hundred people have even seen this thing — and most of them were probably either friends with, or related to, somebody who had something to do with its production.

Shot for around $30,000 in Tulsa, Oklahoma — where SOV slashers got their start with Blood Cult way back in 1985 — the “action” in this film centers around a series of murders at the supposedly high-end Valley Creek apartment complex, where the dynamic police duo of Detectives Mark Weiss (Marc Page) and Kate Wagner (Enlow) are investigating a grisly series of slayings, with a twist — every corpse that comes into the morgue by way of Valley Creek ends up with its titular toe tag going missing somewhere along the way.

Cops

One thing that really stands out here : the movie was quite obviously all shot in the same apartment complex, with one notable exception —- it’s evident that the landlady’s supposed “apartment” is actually an honest-to-God house and is located elsewhere. So that leaves us with a rather incongruous bit of easily-noticeable movie less-than-magic — while the “police station” where a good chunk of this story takes place is almost without question an office in an apartment complex, the supposed headquarters of the actual  apartment complex is not in the apartment complex! Hey, when ya only got 30 grand ta play around with, ya do what ya can.

Enlow doesn’t have much eye for style or perspective when it comes to the camera work, but I do give her points for at least trying to do something more other than simple point-and-shoot stuff, even if her attempts are largely failures, and she’s definitely to be lauded for managing to convince a steady stream of generally pretty attractive women to drop their tops in front of her camera for probably little to no money, but beyond that Toe Tags doesn’t really stand out in any way, shape, or form. The script, by one John Overbey (about the only thing Enlow didn’t do herself when it comes to this flick is write it), takes a pretty straightforward story and messes it up by heaping a bunch of ex-love-interest drama on both of the cops (it turns out they had both been sleeping with separate victims of the killer previously — and Kate makes it clear to Mark that she’s fair game if he feels like taking a crack at her during their off-hours) and having some seriously unconventional, if not downright illegal, police procedural shit towards the end when the captain thinks he’s got the identity of the murderer sussed out, so be prepared to suspend your disbelief beyond its usual, already-stretched-thin levels for this one. As for the “twist” finale, well — you’ll not only see it coming a mile away, but it’s waving its arms in the air, wearing a helmet with a flashing light on it, and setting off road flares.

Peripheral

On the splatter front (hey, admit it, that’s pretty much what you’re watching a movie like this for, apart from the tits), Enlow and her shoestring crew do a pretty nice job with the gore EFX all told, and considering the whole thing runs barely over an hour, the body count is fairly impressive. My best guess is that most of the budget for this one was consumed in an effort to make the numerous murders look reasonably realistic, and by and large it pays off, so hey — credit where it’s due.

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Toe Tags is available either as a stand-alone DVD from Brain Damage Films (as pictured at the outset of this review), which probably contains a fair amount of extras (assuming you actually want  to know more about how this was made), or you can see it like I did, as part of the “Crazed Killers” six-movie, two-disc set from Mill Creek’s sub-label specializing in microbudget/ homemade horrors, Pendulum Pictures. It’s presented full frame with stereo sound, both of which are unspectacular but perfectly adequate considering (which probably isn’t such a bad overall description of the film itself).

The folks who made Toe Tags obviously had a pretty good time with the whole thing, at least if the rather self-indulgent little “blooper reel” that plays during the end credits is any indication (without it the film would clock in under an hour), and I’m glad they enjoyed themselves — I just wish I had as much fun watching it as they did acting in, shooting, and directing it. I’ve certainly seen far worse fare on these Pendulum compilation discs, but often the clunkers are so bad as to be truly memorable, even if for all the wrong reasons. This one just kind of comes on your screen, tries to do its job, and calls it a day. It doesn’t make a mess of you home while it’s in it (like, say, its disc-mate Las Vegas Bloodbath), but it’s not the kind of interesting, unpredictable guest you’re likely to invite around again.

I appreciate all the effort and energy Enlow put into just getting this thing made, and she’s certainly to be commended for that alone as well as for busting her tail to make the financial pittance she had to work with go farther than it probably had any right to, but at the end of the day, the Toe Tags title is an appropriate one — this flick is dead on arrival.