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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 features a sorcerer's apprentice named Galen Bradwarden (Peter McNicol), who studied under an old wizard named Ulrich (Ralph Richardson). One day, they are visited by a group of farmers from a distant kingdom named Urland, led by a young man named Valerian. He explains that their land is threatened by a dragon, Vermithrax Pejorative, and that twice each year they feed it a virgin, chosen by a lottery, to keep it from destroying the kingdom. Ulrich agrees to help, but the farmers have been followed by Tyrian, the king's knight. The king of Urland, Casiodorus Rex, is anxious to avoid stirring up the dragon, and Tyrian demands a test of the sorcerer's magic. Ulrich fearlessly allows Tyrian to stab him to death, using his magic to prevent Galen from interfearing.

The peasants leave disappointed. Ulrich's elderly assistant Hodge burns his corpse and gathers the ashes in a pouch. Galen starts cleaning out his master's rooms, but then he finds Ulrich's magic amulet. He follows the Urlanders and offers to kill the dragon for them in Ulrich's place. Galen, Hodge, and Valerian set out for Urland to defeat the dragon.

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 Draconum ("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: Valerian.
  • 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: Casiodorus asks Galen if he had heard of his brother King Gaiseric, 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 Valerian are together and the dragon is indeed slain, and that Galen may yet have magic of his own...
  • The Blacksmith: Valerian'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: All the sacrifices to the dragon (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, Casiodorus Rex. 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 Gaiseric, the previous king, led knights into battle against Vermithrax and never came back.
  • 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: The film as a whole is rather dark and gritty.
  • 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.
  • Everyone Calls Him Barkeep:
    • Valerian's father is credited as "Valerian's Father" in the end credits. Valerian calls him "father" and Galen only calls him "Blacksmith" during the film. The novelization names him Simon.
    • The first sacrificial victim is credited as simply "Victim" in the end credits. The novelization names her "Melissa Plowman", though she's quite a different character there, being a willing sacrifice.
  • Everything's Better with Princesses: Not really. Elspeth is clueless about the rigged lottery, and too set on sacrificing herself for her people 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: Three times, in fact.
  • Fanservice: The Reveal of Caitlin Clarke's full, naked body underwater. PG rated, you say?
  • Flat Earth Atheist: Dragons are real, but sorcerers are fake, Tyrian?
  • 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 Tyrian 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 it's what Elspeth is trying to do, at least.
  • Human Sacrifice:
Casiodorus: You came here and toyed with the monster. Who are YOU to risk our people, our villages?
Galen: But your children were dying!
Casiodorus: Only a few. Does that sound cruel? It is better that they should die that others might live. I created the Lottery! Me! And from the moment it began, the dragon was tamed. The kingdom has prospered.
  • I Did What I Had to Do: 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 the dragon had offspring.
  • Impaled with Extreme Prejudice: Tyrian.
  • Impending Doom P.O.V.: During the first virgin sacrifice.
  • Jerkass Has a Point: Tyrian's opposition stems 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. [[spoiler: It does, though Galen barely survives.
  • 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: Casiodorus Rex. There's nothing he can't spin for good PR.
  • The Middle Ages
  • Named Weapon: The lance, Sicarius Dracorum. Also counts as a Title Drop, since it's Latin for "Dragonslayer".
  • Names to Run Away From Really Fast: 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: Adds quite a bit of backstory to Galen, Valerian, Ulrich, Hodge,and even the (unnamed in the film) girl sacrificed to the dragon on-screen, but it's also quite different from the film in many respects.
  • Open Secret: Valerian being a girl. Apparently, most in the village already knew.
  • Our Dragons Are Different: Vermithrax (the dragon) is wyvern style, with bat-like wings instead of forelegs.
  • Paper-Thin Disguise: Are we supposed to think Valerian's a man at first? Really?
  • Purple Prose: Tons in the novelization, 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.
  • Screw This, I'm Outta Here!:
    • The officials overseeing the virgin sacrifice. Hosrick starts reading the King's proclamation at a pretty good clip to begin with, but just plain runs away once the ground starts trembling, shouting the last few words of the proclamation over his shoulder as he runs.
    • Also the virgin sacrifice herself. The girl being fed to the dragon does her level best to get away, and actually does slip free of the chains before the dragon gets her.
    • Princess Elspeth is an aversion, as after she is freed she runs into the cave rather than trying to get away.
  • 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 much to her having cheated the Lottery for most of her life by hiding her gender. In the Novelization, her father tells her that they didn't get angry becuase her mother was a victim of the Lottery - apparently not all the sacrifices were virgins.
  • 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.
    • In the Novelization Ulrich suggests the Urlanders should try asking Prospero to kill their dragon, only to be told that he has given up his power.
  • Stealing The Credit:
    • Galen and Valerian witness the King beginning the claim that he was the one who killed the dragon, despite being a Dirty Coward and doing no such thing.
    • The Christians also believe that God destroyed the beast because of their faith, despite what happened to Father Jacopus earlier.
  • Shut Up, Kirk!: Vermithrax response to the priest trying to exorcise it is a blast of fire breath. Vermithrax wins.
  • 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: The town sacrifices its virgin girls to the dragon. (The dragon probably couldn't have cared less what kind of food it ate, but unmarried girls would have been considered more expendable in a medieval world.)
  • Well-Intentioned Extremist: Tyrian. He fights Galen to allow Elspeth to be sacrificed to Vermithrax because that is the law. He is, however, still a dick about it.
  • Your Mind Makes It Real: Magic. The Latin basically serves as a foci for the mage's will.
  • 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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