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Dragonheart, Reviewed by Gash

Universal Pictures, 1996

Rated: UK PG, USA PG-13

Length: 103 minutes long


Bowen................................... DENNIS QUAID
Draco................................... SEAN CONNERY
Einon................................... DAVID THEWLIS
Gilbert................................. PETE POSTLETHWAITE
Queen Aislinn........................... JULIE CHRISTIE
Kara.................................... DINA MEYER
Lord Felton............................. JASON ISAACS
Broc.................................... BRIAN THOMPSON
Young Einon............................. LEE OAKES

Directed by: ROB COHEN

An action-packed blend of adventure, romance, humour and visual effects spectacle, Dragonheart is the story of an incredible alliance between a man of honour and a creature of legend - the very last dragon.
Set in the war-torn 10th century, the tale begins with a 14-year-old prince (Lee Oakes) stepping into the bloody fray of a peasant revolt after witnessing his father, a vengeful and violent king, killed in battle. An eager pupil, Prince Einon has been well trained in the way of the sword by his protector, Bowen (Dennis Quaid), a powerful, noble knight dedicated to the lofty ideals of The Old Code - the creed of honour in the Arthurian tradition. But on this day, Bowen's watchful eye is not enough to protect his young charge, who is seriously wounded in the revolt.

Einon's desperate mother, Queen Aislinn (Julie Christie) leads the dying
prince, in Bowen's arms, to a dark cave. Here she invokes the Celtic religious belief in the divine omniscient power of dragons, as she pleads for the supernatural intervention of one particular flying, fire-breathing creature to heal her son's wounds and save his life. It is not until Einon swears that he will rule with mercy, that tyranny and bloodlust will be forever buried with his father, that the dragon severs his chest and gives half his life force to Einon so he might live to fulfill this promise.

Einon does live, but emerges as a far more evil despot than his late father. Bowen, believing it was the dragon's heart that poisoned his young charge, vows to spend the rest of his life ridding the land of dragons. Twelve years later, accompanied by Gilbert (Pete Postlethwaite), a kindly monk with literary ambitions, Bowen has become a bitter, cynical nomad consumed by his obsession with dragon-slaying, and apathetic to the misery and suffering caused by the older and more ruthless King Einon (David Thewlis). Turning his back on The Old Code he once embodied, he's transformed his mission into money, slaying dragons simply for gold. After his many conquests, he finally encounters the only dragon left for him to slay. Equal in cunning and skills, neither dragon nor dragon-slayer is able to vanquish the other and their confrontation end is in stalemate - and a bargain: the last dragon and the last dragon-slayer go into business for mutual benefit.

They travel the land together, with the dragon ferociously poised to "attack" the various villages, with Bowen always on the spot, offering to "slay" the dragon and save the village - for a price. This way, Bowen can sustain his line of work and earn his living, and the dragon, by pretending to be slain, can remain alive. Inspired by a constellation in the sky, Bowen gives his new companion the name Draco. Together, they survive on nothing more than their faded glory and the easy lure of getting by until they encounter Kara (Dina Meyer), daughter of the leader of the peasant revolt against Einon's father, a feisty girl hell-bent on destroying the king.

Eventually Bowen discovers that Draco is the same dragon who years earlier gave half his heart to save Einon, but that it wasn't the dragon's heart that poisoned the young man' s soul. Guided by Draco, Bowen is forced to finally reconcile himself to the fundamentals of The Old Code.

Moved to restore the kingdom to the days when truth and honour prevailed, Bowen and Draco resolve to join Kara and take on the overwhelming forces of Einon himself. However, they soon discover that a complete victory over Einon comes with its own heavy price, as the fate of the king is inextricably bound with the fate of the dragon.

1996 saw films like Dragonheart in excess. Depth of plot and characters were sacrificed in favour of special effects - designed to bring genres such as sci-fi and fantasy, traditionally boasting smaller fan bases, to mainstream public cinema goers.

Many hard-core fantasy fans still say that the diluting of the genre has weakened it; but when faced with multi-million dollar budgets and big money players in the cast, who is complaining?

Certainly not me. From the outset you cannot help but feel charmed by the chemistry there is between Quaid and Connery, the witty dialogue they engage in is both fast and hard hitting, making for some great scenes together, most memorably when Bowen gives Draco his name.

The cast is strengthened by the choice of David Thewlis for King Einon, and Thewlis pulls of the evil king figure very convincingly, and almost carries entire scenes on his back when interacting with minor cast members. This is because the 'evil' characters in the story are rather cliché and stereotypical (i.e.; there is strong one, the clever one, the slimy one etc.)

One of them unfortunately is the love interest. This seems hastily added and Quaid and Meyer seem to create friction in their scenes. Kara is of course the strong, sword swinging feminist and Bowen is the rough and ready rogue who wins her over in the end. It all seems a bit rushed and feels like the director didn't want to include it, which would've been a wiser choice.

Pete Postlethwaite provides the comic relief in the story and does so with considerable skill. The fumbling bard-monk is very entertaining when mixed with Quaid's hard-hitting hero, and the two enjoy several great moments together.

But despite this weakness Dragonheart delivers the goods; a light, fantasy story that if you watch with an open mind and no old school fantasy reverence, you will enjoy it. If however you watch Dragonheart looking for faults, cracks start to appear.

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