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Friday, January 30, 2004

Severe Dragon Storm Warning

This is a review of the movie Dragon Storm, which has a pitifully thin IMDB listing. I couldn't find anything more on Sci Fi either, but here's their page for the movie.

Because of this, character names will be approximate, or entirely made-up, and actor's names will be almost totally missing.

Naturally, the whole reason to pay attention to this is because a certain blogger worked on it and blogged about it.

Plot: Rock-like things fall from space onto 12th-century Carpathia. Upon landing they hatch into dragons, who immediately begin burning everything in sight (for no adequately explained reason), including a fortress belonging to King Fastrad (John Rhys Davies). Fastrad and a handful of retainers (including right-hand man Felgercarb---remember what I said about made-up character names?) flee into the snowy forest, headed for the neighboring kingdom ruled by King Wednesday (something like that). As they walk, Fastrad tells Felgercarb about his plan to claim aid from Wednesday, insinuate himself into Wednesday's confidence, then overthrow him and take his kingdom. It's a thin plan, considering they have an army of about four, but Felgercarb's down with it.

It's soon clear that the group is being stalked. When Felgercarb goes to investigate, he's captured by a big hairy man gadding about the forest in a moldy rabbit-fur cape. This turns out to be Silas (I guess), aka the Huntsman, who has really pretty eyes, so you know he's our hero. He's also kind of mouthy and annoying, and is not at all impressed with Fastrad's kingliness.

Fastrad offers him a gold ring if he will guide them to Wednesday's castle, but when they get there tries to reneg on the deal. After a simply brutal spat, with stinging rebukes flying and snits pitched by all, Silas carries away the ring. But he has made Fastrad his enemy. (Not that this is hard to do.)

Wednesday welcomes Fastrad and honors the mutual-defence treaty Fastrad's been putting off signing. As the two talk about how to deal with the Dragon Menace, Wednesday's daughter, Medina (possibly), shows up, dressed for pole dancing. I mean, hunting. She's going hunting, but she's dressed as if she just might decide to do a bit of tree-dancing while she's out. Seems that Medina is quite the tomboy. (Sadly, we never learn whether Wednesday has another daughter, named Mecca.)

Medina's hunting party comes across Silas, who as usual is unwisely mouthy. Medina's men try to arrest him, but he defeats them all (right), only to be captured by Medina herself. They drag him back to Wednesday's castle and clap him in irons. Fastrad visits him to reclaim his ring and gloat.

Meantime someone has brought in a part of a dead dragon, which is examined by Wednesday's physician / scientist / wizard-type guy, whose name I can't begin to remember. I'll call him Merlin. He gets a few ideas about how to kill the dragons. Wednesday and Fastrad agree that a dragonslaying team should be formed, including Merlin and Silas (who is a mighty, if mouthy, hunter and besides he's the hero), and whatever mercenaries they can recruit. This includes Ling, a Chinese fellow whose primary characteristic is offering tea at every opportunity. Medina also insists on going along, and Fastrad insists on Felgercarb going along, so he can kill Silas. See, Fastrad worries that Silas overheard them talking about overthrowing Wednesday while he was stalking them in the forest.

The team also meets up with Nissa (perhaps), a young woman whose father and brothers have been killed by the dragons. She wants revenge, using the family heirloom, a ballista. (Basically a giant crossbow on wheels.)

Our cast is now established, and they spend most of the rest of the movie traipsing around in the snowy woods, slaying dragons. The ballista works much better than one would expect, considering it takes forever to aim. (The secret is to let the dragon come to you.) There are only about five dragons, total, and they have killed two when Silas realizes that they are nesting in a nearby cave, so the best thing to do would be to wait for them there.

This doesn't go so well. They get two more dragons but lose Nissa and the ballista. While they're still engaged with the dragons, Merlin manages to get into the cave, and make off with a dragon egg. He's very pleased with this, and the others seem to think it's very important, but it's not clear why. Sadly, Merlin gets his head bit off in the struggle over the egg.

Meanwhile, back at Wednesday's castle, Fastrad has recruited some guy whose name starts with G (the G-Man) to take the castle. They do so and throw Wednesday and two or three of his men in a cell.

Our dragon slayers retreat to prepare their final assault on the dragon. Felgercarb has been getting missives from Fastrad exhorting him to just kill Silas already. By this time Silas has saved Felgercarb's bacon a time or two, and so he's weakening on the whole plot. Now, another message arrives, this one threatening his wife (a lock of hair is enclosed as proof that they have her). This spurs Felgercarb to finally do the deed, and kill the grievously-wounded Silas. They struggle until Felgercarb is nailed in the throat by a bolt from Medina's crossbow. He spills his guts about his orders and the coup, then dies. The iron Medina has a dumb girly breakdown, riddled with guilt.

The surviving slayers sneak back to Wednesday's castle, and surreptitiously release Wednesday and his men. They also send in the dragon egg to Fastrad with a note reading, "From your loyal subjects". Fastrad is touched, even though nobody knows what the egg is, and the G-Man proclaims that it stinks (literally). It also stinks figuratively. "The Trojan Egg!" my boyfriend said when it was brought in, and so it proves. The dragon scents the smelly egg, and is lured back to the castle so the entire surviving cast can be in on the big finish.

There seems to be no other reason to lure the dragon back to the castle, except for the off chance she'll roast old Fastrad---which, of course, she does. The dragon also kills the G-Man and sets more people afire before our heroes vanquish her. King Wednesday's men retake the castle and everyone who lives, lives more or less happily ever after.

In an epilogue, Silas (looking better groomed) has returned the forest, where Medina tracks him down, and they begin smooching. Awwwww. In the very last scene, we see a new dragon egg headed through space. What could it mean??

Comment: The movie suffered from the predictable disease of fiscal anemia. Or perhaps more accurately, the money wasn't spent where it should have been. The dragons were terrific (although a nitpicker would note that the dragons' wings did not fill with air on the downstroke, as they should have, but remained slack----tsk, tsk). But a movie about medieval warriors really calls for a cast of thousands. I realize that's expensive, but are cgi warriors really more expensive than cgi dragons? Or than a few more human extras? Fastrad's assault on Wednesday's castle looked kind of pathetic, given that they crept through broad daylight with twenty men.

There were entirely too many shots of men being catapulted around, and too many shots of people burning. (Apparently no one ever thought of beating out flames with snow, dirt, or clothing until the Industrial Revolution, and "Stop, Drop, and Roll" was not invented until the 1950s. Also, apparently everyone wore clothing soaked in gasoline in those days, despite the fact that it was not discovered for centuries.)

Time wasted on stunts was especially frustrating because the movie had a bad case of the dreaded Are You in This Movie, Too? syndrome. For example, when the team of dragonslayers first goes into the forest, they have a leader named Oafeus (yeah, it may be Orpheus, but I like this better). Oafeus gets himself killed right away in a very stupid manner, and we're supposed to feel sad, even though we really have no idea who he is (well, I sure didn't). Later, when the slayer team regroups after a battle, our principals have a little pow-wow, but lurking far in the background are about four or five other people. Who are they? Catering? Grips? I assume they're supposed to be part of the slayer team, but they don't actually get lines or their faces on camera. Couldn't they have just stood a little behind the principals? Do you get more money if you can be recognized on camera?

Then again, when the ballista is destroyed we know that Nissa is dead only because Ling tells us. That was a prime opportunity for a poignant death scene, of someone we actually could care about. But, no, we had more catapulting to do.

I never figured out who the heck the G-Man was supposed to be, either, so we were neither able to fear him or cheer when the dragon bit off his head and blood squirted from his neck (er, assuming that was him). (Nice touch, that.)

There is a tiresome Taming of the Shrewish quality to the relationship between Silas and Medina. She's bossy and imperious, and he's mouthy and insolent. They spend most of the movie bitching at each other until she has her totally uncharacteristic breakdown. And, of course, at the end they are in love, to absolutely no one's surprise.

I don't point this out to denigrate Dragon Storm (though I might as well since I'm here), but simply to note how very much worse this would have been in the past. In a movie from the Forties or Fifties she would have gone out of her way to be cold and demanding, since she was subconsciously aware of her natural subordinate role. He would've taunted and mocked her, to let her know that he knew he was really the boss. Then some crisis would occur, and she'd have gone all gooey in his arms. (In the Seventies and Eighties, she would've been a silly, spoiled, scantily-clad princess, but otherwise it would've been the same). In this movie, the princess is just being the princess (that is, in the sense of a female prince) and Silas is a cynical jerk to everyone---he's not singling her out.

So this movie's version of this threadbare device isn't nearly as bad as it could've been, but it is a little surprising that it's survived into the present. Medina's breakdown occurs very close to the end of the movie, and so there really isn't much time to become all gooey and helpless.

Dragon Storm is riddled with humor. Some of the dialog is very snappy indeed, and most of the comic bits come off well, but they are oddly embedded in the movie. Even in a very dramatic movie you may want to have some comic relief, but instead of comic relief, we have a movie that can't seem to make up its mind whether it wants to be serious, or a spoof. For example, in places Rhys Davies seemed to be playing King Dr. Zachary Smith. This would've been great, but then it was hard to take him seriously as the evil, treacherous Fastrad. Remember, you can have the evil King Dr. Smith, or you can have the ridiculous King Dr. Smith, but you can't have both.

My favorite scene is when Fastrad receives the egg and is just tickled pink that his loyal subjects (whom he has royally screwed over) love him so as to offer him mysterious, ugly, smelly things. This is a really very funny scene; Rhys Davies seems to be having a good time. The whole movie should've been like this.

"Fastrad" is either pronounced Fastrad, Fostered, or Fastard (rhymes with bastard), depending on who's doing the pronouncing.

As always, these movies offer a version of Where's Waldo, called Spot the Rankest Actor. There's the big dark-haired guard in the beginning, who laughs at the idea of dragons. Is that him? How about the really cute dark-haired guy who's sitting with Fastrad before the dragons attack? When the dark-haired Medina appeared, my boyfriend asked, "Is that him?" Hmmmm....naawww...too short.

UPDATE: See here.

Dragons A-
Mention of Hedgehogs A++++++
Heads bitten off B+ (if you like that sort of thing)
Showing restraint in the sexy scene A
Showing no restraint in use of catapults D+
Pyroporno D
Overall grade C

After I wrote most of this I went over Jeff's posts about the movie. Merlin looked awfully familiar, and I thought he might have been Michael Gross of Family Ties and Tremors, so I looked to see if Jeff had mentioned Gross being in the movie (no). In this way I found some of the character names. Felgercarb is actually named Theldag, and Merlin is actually Remmegar, and is played by Richard Wharton. Also, Nissa is Nessa. I could've gone back and corrected them, of course, but I liked mine better.

For more hot behind-the-scenes dragon action, scroll through the February and March archives of Sofia Sideshow. Dates are approximately Feb. 6th to Mar. 7th.