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Film: Dragonslayer

Dragonslayer is a 1981 live action fantasy film co-produced by Disney and Paramount studios. A deconstruction of many Sword And Sorcery tropes, the film was considerably darker than the typical Disney movie, which may have caused its commercial failure despite having very good production values for its time.

The movie is about a sorcerer's apprentice named Galen (played by Peter McNicol, now better known for later playing John Cage in Ally McBeal) who studied under an old wizard named Ulrich (played by classic Shakespearean actor Sir Ralph Richardson). One day, they're visited by a group of people from a kingdom named Urland, led by a young man named Valerian. He explains their land is threatened by a dragon, and they must feed it a virgin twice each year (elected by a lottery) to keep it sated. The wizard agrees to help, but is then killed by a knight named Tyrian, who was sent by the king of Urland, who apparently fears disturbing the dragon in any way.

The peasants leave disappointed, but Galen, having found out he can do magic with his master's amulet, offers to help them instead. Ulrich's elderly assistant burns his corpse and gathers the ashes in a pouch. Galen and Valerian then go on a quest to defeat the dragon and save Urland.

Not to be confused with Falcom's Dragon Slayer games. Or with Don Bluth's classic video game Dragon's Lair (which used the exact some font as the film, and is a homonym to boot.) Or with The Last Dragonslayer.

Provides Examples Of:

  • Absurdly Sharp Blade: Galen's lance Sicarius Dracorum ("Dragon Slayer"), which is aided by a magic fire to make it sharper than sharp. It slices through the anvil with little effort.
    • Even before being aided by magic fire, the blade slices off part of an iron horseshoe.
  • Action Girl: Valeria.
  • Alas, Poor Villain: Ulrich on Vermithrax. He sorrowfully says that a dragon that old is in constant pain. Not So Different than Ulrich, perhaps?
  • Badass Boast: Ulrich can do it with a single word (and Ralph Richardson's a good enough actor to make you believe it):
    Valerian: Are you afraid of dragons?
    Ulrich: No.
  • Before My Time: The king asks Galen if he had heard of the king before him, but then says, "No, of course not, you weren't even born." (The fact that the king had already acquired a low opinion of Galen by this point probably played a part in him deciding Galen wasn't very intelligent.)
  • Big "NO!": Galen, when he has a vision of Hodge being killed.
  • Bittersweet Ending: Galen fails to rescue the princess. And while Ulrich returned from death to confront the dragon, the battle killed him (again) along with the destruction of the magic amulet. Worse, Ulrich's death is unmourned by others, as the King falsely declares himself the "Dragonslayer" while newly converted Christians attribute the dragon's fall to God's will. The good news is that Galen and Valeria are together and the dragon is indeed slain, and that Galen may yet have magic of his own...
  • The Blacksmith: Valeria's father. We also get a Forging Scene with him and Galen crafting a spear powerful enough to pierce Vermithrax's thick hide.
  • Chained to a Rock: Elspeth (well, to a pole actually.)
  • Christianity: Just as wizards dragons and magic are fading from the realm, this new religion worshiping a Carpenter's Son shows up. Subverted and in all ways mocked as the priests railing against the "demonic" dragon are as flammable as the pagan villagers. Worse, the converted believers claim the destruction of Vermithrax is due to God's will rather than the Heroic Sacrifice of the last true wizard Ulrich. Ulrich is just fine and dandy with this, because magic comes from belief, and if no one believes in magic, dragons cannot return.
  • Comic Book Adaptation: Marvel Comics published a two-issue adaptation.
  • Corrupt Bureaucrat: The King. The lottery is rigged not to include the daughters of men who can pay. He's also caught trying to use Ulrich's amulet for his own bit of alchemy, to create gold from lead. And when the dragon dies, he quickly arrives, shoves a sword in the burnt carcass, and claims credit.
  • Dangerously Genre Savvy: Tyrian.
  • Death Is the Only Option: The only way for the wizard Ulrich to slay the dragon is for him to allow himself to be killed, twice. His first death puts his soul into an amulet. He later comes back to life, and when the amulet is smashed, his body explodes (killing him again), destroying the dragon.
  • Deconstruction: The film takes many standard fantasy tropes of the day... and stands them on their heads. The ironic part is that during the shredding of those tropes, this film introduced new tropes and redefined others.
  • Dirty Coward: The King. For good reason: his own brother, the previous king, led knights into battle against Vermithrax and came back as ash.
  • The Dragon: No, not Vermithrax. We're talking Tyrian, the King's knight/enforcer. He's still a serious threat even after the King wants Galen to stop the real dragon from killing his daughter Elspeth.
  • Dung Ages
  • End of an Age: There's one wizard and one dragon left in the world at the film's start. However...
  • The End... Or Is It?: Galen at the end wishes he had a horse, and one appears. In the Novelization, Valerian shuts him up before he can make another wish.
  • Everything's Better with Princesses: Not really. Elspeth is clueless about the rigged lottery, and too guilt-ridden at the end to save herself when Galen comes to rescue her. She's a pretty good person, but in no way special. Recognizing this is what makes her good.
  • Exploring the Evil Lair
  • Fanservice: The Reveal of Caitlin Clarke's full, naked body underwater. PG rated, you say?
  • Flat Earth Atheist: Dragons are real, but sorcerors are fake, Tyrian?
    • Justified, perhaps. After all, Tyrian's seen at least one flying lizard that can breathe fire—it doesn't necessarily follow he needs to take every old man who claims he can do magic tricks at face value. Especially if said old man is refusing to prove it.
  • Gambit Roulette: Ulrich pre-planned exactly how it would all turn out so well, one wonders whether he rented his own movie and watched it ahead of time on his BetamaxTM scrying bowl. The dude smiles nonchalantly while letting the villain stab him in the heart just to keep his feet from getting tired on the journey to the dragon's lair. And what's up with him reminiscing about the good old days when the sky was full of dragons, and talking about killing Vermithrax as though he were euthanizing a beloved but decrepit old pet? Is there even a trope for that?note 
    • In the Novelization, Ulrich uses his cauldron to not only look into the past, but into the future. It's shown briefly in the film.
  • Genre Savvy: Valerian thinks she'll be the name called for the lottery after she drops the pretense of being a boy. Had this not been a deconstruction and subversion of the sword and sorcery trope, she'd have been right.
  • Heroic Sacrifice: Ulrich's.
    • And arguably Elspeth's
  • Hey, It's That Guy!: Perhaps the priest would have fared better against Vermithrax if he used Force lightning.
  • Human Sacrifice
  • Impaled with Extreme Prejudice: Tyrian.
  • Impending Doom P.O.V.: During the first virgin sacrifice.
  • Jerkass Has a Point: Tyrian's opposition stemmed from his belief that if a wizard failed to slay the dragon, they'd only succeed in angering the dragon, who would then incinerate villagers in reprisal. Guess what happens?
  • Language of Magic: Latin. And it's basically accurate, which is cool.
  • Last of His Kind: Both Vermithrax and Ulrich. Possibly. Maybe.
  • Letting the Air out of the Band: Done with live musicians when Tyrian and his men ride up during the villagers' celebration.
  • Lottery Of Doom
  • Luckily My Shield Will Protect Me: Played straight. Valerian crafts for Galen a shield made out of the dragon's discarded skin plates, figuring the dragon's own hide might provide protection from the dragon itself. It does, though Galen barely survives. In the Novelization, he gets hurt far worse from the dragon's breath than in the film. Dragon scales make provide some protection, but it's weak, at best.
  • The Magic Goes Away: Ulrich mentions that the age of wonders has come to an end. It's hinted that the dying out of both wizards and dragons are linked to each other.
  • Manipulative Bastard: The king. There's nothing he can't spin for good PR.
  • The Middle Ages
  • Monster Is a Mommy
  • Named Weapon: The lance, Sicarius Dracorum.
  • Names to Run Away From Really Fast: Played painfully straight with Vermithrax pejorative ("the Thracian worm who makes things worse").
  • No Sell: During the climatic battle with Ulrich, Vermithrax blasts the sorceror with firebreath - which has zero effect.
  • Novelization
  • Open Secret: Valerian being a girl. Apparently, most in the village already knew.
  • Our Dragons Are Different: Vermithrax (the dragon) has bat-like wings instead of forelegs.
  • Paperthin Disguise: Are we supposed to think Valerian's a man at first? Really?
  • Pragmatic Villainy: The King doesn't want to sacrifice virgins to Vermithrax: it's just that previous battles against it led to fiery reprisals where the sacrifices have kept the beast sated. Figuring the dragon was aging and dying, the King thought he was buying time until old age took the dragon. That is, until Elspeth put her name in the lottery... He was also unaware that said dragon had offspring.
  • Purple Prose: Tons, with "reptilian antlers" going into the Artistic License - Biology territory.
  • Red Eyes, Take Warning / It's Personal: Vermithrax, after Galen kills its offspring.
  • Ridiculously Cute Critter: Subverted with Vermithrax's baby dragons. Also count towards terrifying when the audience finds out what they did to Elspeth...
  • Roaring Rampage of Revenge: Vermithrax, twice. First, after Galen tries to block the cave with an avalanche, then after Galen kills its offspring.
  • Royals Who Actually Do Something: Princess Elspeth, though in a more melancholic way.
  • Samus Is a Girl: Valerian.
  • Screw This, I'm Outta Here!: The virgin sacrifice. They just give the speech then get the fuck out of there once the ground starts trembling. With good reason.
    • The virgin sacrifice. The girl being fed to the dragon at the start of the movie does her level best to get away, and actually does slip free of the chains before the dragon gets her.
  • Sedgwick Speech: A priest tries to exorcise away the dragon. It doesn't work.
  • She Cleans Up Nicely: After Valerian enters a big social event in a dress and feminine trappings for the first time in public. No one reacts to her femaleness. In the Novelization, her father tells her the fact she was a girl was an Open Secret in the village.
  • Shout-Out to legendary hero Sigurd, aka Siegfried who tests his brand-new dragonslaying weapon by neatly slicing through the anvil on which it was forged.
  • Stealing The Credit: The kings calims that he was the one who killed the dragon, despite being a Dirty Coward and doing no such thing.
  • Shut Up, Kirk!: Vermithrax has a very simple response to the priest trying to exorcise it. Guess what it is.
  • Take Up My Sword: Subverted and played with. Galen thinks that Ulrich wanted him to kill the dragon in his place. He didn't. Hodge DID ask Galen to take up his sword by pouring Ulrich's ashes into the Lake of Fire.
  • Taking You with Me: Ulrich takes Vermithrax down with him.
  • Title Drop: Valerian's blacksmith father named his lance Sicarius Dracorum.
  • Total Eclipse of the Plot-during the climax, natch.
  • Unexplained Recovery:
    • Ulrich. Only long enough to defeat Vermithrax.
    • Galen mutters sardonically at Valerian, "Still alive" when she finds him after his brief battle with the dragon.
  • Virgin Sacrifice: Subverted with Elspeth. She refuses to be rescued.
  • Well-Intentioned Extremist: Tyrian. He fights Galen to allow Elspeth to be sacrificed to Vermithrax because that is the law. He probably sees his duty being to the realm, not to the King himself.
  • Your Mind Makes It Real: Magic. The Latin basically serves as a foci for the mage's will. In the Novelization, after Galen resurrects Ulrich, the latter criticizes him for using a much longer Latin phrase than was necessary.
  • Your Princess Is in Another Castle: The villagers celebrate when Galen causes an avalanche to block the dragon's cave entrance, despite never seeing the dragon actually die and that there might be more caves leading out of its lair. All Galen did was piss it off.

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