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Film / Dragons: A Fantasy Made Real

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"If the legends were true, this is what we'd find."

Dragons: A Fantasy Made Real (aka The Last Dragon and Dragon's World) is a 2004 British-American mockumentary describing the finding of an actual dragon carcass along with several medieval knights frozen in the mountains of Romania, its study and subsequent explanations (via CGI re-creations a la Walking with Dinosaurs) of the anatomy, ecology and evolutionary history of these mythical creatures, ending with their final extinction in the 15th century. Or did it?

Patrick Stewart narrates the U.S. version and Ian Holm the British version.

Notable for leading many viewers to think that everything told in the documentary was truth, and therefore dragons actually existed. This might have been fueled by some format similarities with Impossible Pictures Walking with... series and the fact that it was aired on educational TV stations like Animal Planet and the Discovery Channel.

Dragons: A Fantasy Made Real provides examples of:

  • Adventurer Archaeologist: Dr. Tanner.
  • Artistic License – Biology: Even given that this is a Speculative Documentary, there are still a few things the show gets wrong:
    • No actual mutation could result in vertebrates evolving six limbs. While six-limbed vertebrates do exist, these are usually the result of a "parasitic twin" rather than a true mutation. Limbs that grow in this fashion are useless and immobile, and do not get passed down to the next generation (if the animal is even able to reproduce at all).
    • The dragons in the series are implied to be ectothermic, since they possess anti-freeze in their blood and their gender relies on the temperature of their eggs. However, only endothermic vertebrates have evolved flight.
    • The explanation for how dragons breathe fire seems needlessly complicated. Rather than eating platinum, igniting the gas with electrical organs similar to those of an electric eel seems like a more plausible method.
    • The wings on the Prehistoric and Mountain dragons seem far too thin to be capable of generating lift. This is justified as the documentary also explains that the dragons require full "gas bladders" in order for them get off the ground, they have also to avoid using up their gas reserves mid-flight or they will be forced to land.
  • Artistic License – Paleontology: It seems the creators were so preoccupied with making their dragons authentic that they didn't bother to check if their other prehistoric creatures were accurate. The T. rex has pronated hands that are slightly too long, the pterosaurs are clearly supposed to be Pteranodon despite living inland and being shown as scavengers, and the humans in the Forest Dragon segment clearly have European features, despite this segment taking place in prehistoric China. There's a bit of Anachronism Stew thrown in as well; Pteranodon was featured at the time of the K-Pg event despite having already gone extinct twenty million years prior (though Tethydraco now suggests pteranodontids were alive at the end of the Cretaceous), and they have pot-bellied pigs existing almost forty thousand years before there were any kind of domestic pigs at all.
  • Artistic License – Religion: Upon explaining the six-limbed dragons it is claimed that cultures all over the world, including the Aztec and Polynesians, also had six-limbed dragons. We'll have to see some sources on those claims, because the Aztec famously portrayed their dragons as feathered snakes and the closest things Polynesians have to dragons (the Taniwha) can look like pretty much anything from lizards to sharks.
    • This is potentially justified as the documentary references different subspecies of dragons (such as the serpent-like marine dragons and the unseen desert dragon) that would likely have evolved to have vastly differing appearances from the forest dragons of Asia and the mountain dragons of Europe and Africa.
  • Behemoth Battle: Early in the film, there is a fight between a Tyrannosaurus rex and a Prehistoric Dragon and his mother.
  • Britain Is Only London: In the full-length version, there is a scene showing Dr. Tanner examining the fossilised Skull of the T-Rex that fought the prehistoric dragon in a museum. While the location is said to be the London Natural History Museum, it was actually filmed at the Oxford Museum of Natural History.
  • The Cretaceous Is Always Doomed: The segment about the Prehistoric Dragon ends with them being wiped out along with the dinosaurs by the K-T extinction.
  • Dinosaurs Are Dragons: Subverted. Despite first popping up right alongside the dinos, dragons are stated to be distinct. What they actually are is up for debate, but its heavily implied they're related to crocodilians based on their palate.
  • Doing In the Wizard: The entire point of the whole documentary is to take the concept of dragons and their fantastical and supernatural elements (breathing fire, flying, etc.) and see how they might look and act from a scientific standpoint. Even fire breath is given a (really cool) scientific explanation!
  • The Dragons Come Back: The ending of the British version implies this, when Dr. Tanner is handed photos taken two months prior and then happily runs off down the hallway and flaps his arms like the wings of a dragon, implying that evidence of living dragon(s) has been discovered.
  • Dragon Hoard: The documentary provides a plausible explanation for this trope by suggesting that Dragons are naturally attracted to shiny objects and they would collect hoards of such items, more or less valuable, to allure potential mates.
  • Dying Moment of Awesome: The mother mountain dragon manages to go out fighting and succeeds in taking out all of the knights which were sent to slay her before she accidentally impales herself on a spear.
  • Free-Fall Romance: Similar to real life bird couplings, the mating dance of dragons involves a freefall with interlocked talons before breaking away to fly freely at the last moment.
  • The Ghost: The dragon family tree reveals a "Desert Dragon" on the name list. We never find out what it is, looks like or anything about it. The only thing we can guess about it is that it lives in a desert.
  • Green Aesop: Thankfully, a much more subtle one. The major reason dragons died off was human expansion, limiting their habitats which, combined with hunting them in medieval times, forced them to extinction.
  • Here There Were Dragons: The premise of this film is that dragons actually did exist at a point in the past, but Middle Age man wiped them out and these awe-inspiring creatures faded into myth and legend. Subverted in that dragons are revealed to have been perfectly natural animals with really nothing magical about them. But they remain the truly amazing and majestic beasts that we always thought they were.
  • Humans Are Bastards: Damned humans, killing all the dragons...
  • Ignored Expert: Dr. Tanner's backstory; he's the joke of the scientific community for believing in dragons. But he manages to prove them all wrong in the end.
  • Last of Its Kind: The mountain dragon mother and her baby were believed to be the very last dragons in the world. Their deaths plus the dragon father's disappearance meant that the dragons are all but extinct by the end of the 15th century.
  • Mama Bear: The prehistoric dragon mother. Same goes for the mountain dragon, who did her very best to protect and provide for her daughter.
  • Meanwhile, in the Future…: The show alternates between depicting the lives of the various dragon species in the past, and showing Dr. Tanner and his team in the present-day searching for evidence and speculating about the biology of these animals.
  • Mockumentary: The documentary is a speculative look at how dragons might have evolved and gone extinct.
  • Monster Is a Mommy:
    • Inverted. The first frozen dragon found is a baby. Her mother is even bigger.
      • Played straight later with the mother raiding human farms. The locals thought she was just a demon that liked killing livestock, but it turns out that she was simply trying to feed her daughter.
  • Mutual Kill:
    • The mother prehistoric dragon and a Tyrannosaurus rex inflict fatal wounds on each other in a fight, though neither one dies immediately.
    • Millions of years later, the mother mountain dragon has one with a human dragon hunter, where he fatally stabs her while she crushes him.
  • Nice Job Breaking It, Hero:
    • The mother dragon decides to raid human farms... which makes the humans angry, leading to the death of her daughter and herself. In fairness, she was forced to raid farms because she didn’t have any alternatives and as an animal she wouldn’t fully understand the consequences of raiding farms.
    • Similarly, human overhunting and habitat destruction was what led to the farms being raided in the first place
    • The father mountain dragon, aware that male dragons often end up killing each other in territorial battles, attempts to cool the nest. Temperature determines the sex of the offspring, so more female dragons are likely a better chance at the species' survival...but he lets it drop so low that one of the eggs freezes to death. The mother dragon chases him off and desperately tries to keep her daughter alive afterward.
  • Non-Malicious Monster: The dragons.
  • Our Dragons Are Different: A wildlife Speculative Documentary that depicts dragons as real but amazing animals. Four different species are shown: The Prehistoric Dragon (similar to a Wyvern), the Sea Dragon, the Chinese Forest Dragon (resembling Dragons of eastern mythology) and the European Mountain Dragon (based on the Western dragon).
    • There's also a "Desert Dragon" in the phylogenetic tree shown, but it's never elaborated on.
  • Palette Swap: Apart from the "Prehistoric Dragon", all of the other dragons look almost identical apart from a few small changes in wing size. Justified in that the "Prehistoric Dragon" was separated from all the others by millions of years. The others all lived relatively close together.
  • Precursors: Humans learned the values of cooking and how to use fire as a tool from dragons. No joke.
  • Pyrrhic Victory: The mother Prehistoric Dragon managed to drive off the Tyrannosaurus rex and save her son at the cost of her own life.
  • Reluctant Monster: Dragons only raid human farms because they have no choice.
  • Rule of Cool:
    • The show states that dragons have been around since the early Triassic. Why do the prehistoric scenes have to take place in the very late Cretaceous? Because everything's better with dinosaurs. To be fair though, explaining the entire evolutionary history of dragons from start to finish would make the special too long and the Triassic dragon precursors would almost certainly be completely different from their later descendants.
    • This trope is probably also the reason why the Prehistoric Dragon segment is the longest.
  • Sacrificial Lion: The mother prehistoric dragon.
  • Sea Monster: The Sea Dragon is used to explain legends about sea serpents and other aquatic monsters.
  • Shoot the Shaggy Dog: The story of the Prehistoric Dragon seems to be this. The young dragon lost his mother to a T-Rex. He barely avoids death at the hands of an older dragon. Later he grew up and then he managed to defeat another dragon. With that he managed to gain his own territory and his own mate. But then the K-T Extinction Event happens.
    • Possibly a subversion, since it is never stated exactly how long before the K.T. event the young dragon lived, so the segment could just as easily have fast-forward a few hundred or thousand years after the events of the dragon's life to show the infamous extinction event.
  • Shout-Out: Quotes spoken by Dr. tanner in the documentary are used in the title and lyrics of the song “Dragon Iconography” by the Norwegian Metal Band Keep of Kalessin.
"Here you are.
Recorded in stained glass.
The devil from the mountains"
— opening lines from “Dragon Iconography”
  • Shown Their Work: The premise of the documentary is to show how giant four-legged, flying lizards that breathe fire could exist. And it mostly succeeds.
  • Speculative Biology: The documentary speculates what dragons would be like if they were real and how they could have evolved into the forms described in human legends and mythology.
  • Stealth Pun: In one segment, a tiger attempted to pounce on a dragon waiting in the shadows
  • Stock Footage: You'll be seeing that shot of the mountain dragon's head entering the frame, then turning to face something a lot. Sometimes it's flipped so she's looking the other way. Along with several other shots recycled several times (curiously, only the mountain dragon segment has this reuse of footage).
  • Surprisingly Realistic Outcome: The flying dragons only maintained their large size and relatively large populations thanks to abundant megafauna, from dinosaurs all the way to Wooly Mammoths. However, with the end of the Ice Age and the expansion of humans, most of the species they used to prey on became extinct and they were forced into fringe environments, like the mountains. From there, their only real potential food source became human livestock.
  • Terrifying Tyrannosaur: The T. rex is a rival predator of the Prehistoric Dragon. While it's no match for the dragon's fiery breath, its powerful jaws are enough to cripple the dragon into a slow death of infection and starvation.
  • Tiger Versus Dragon: A literal case; dragon wins.
  • Together in Death: In the end, the mother dragon and the daughter dragon that was discovered and studied was put in a museum exhibit together.
  • Too Dumb to Live: The human hunters in the mountain dragon segment, one of whom thought it was a good idea to charge straight into the path of a rhinoceros-sized flying predator that breathes fire and presumably killed tens of other hunters who made the same mistake.
  • Vertebrate with Extra Limbs: Most species shown have six (four legs and two wings). The "Marine Dragon" they presumably descend from has four (two wings and two legs) and the extra legs came to be via a later, somewhat massive mutation that affected the homeobox genes that regulate growth and development in animals.
  • The Worf Effect:
    • The Chinese Dragon preys on tigers. This is almost certainly a Shout-Out to Chinese mythology where the two creatures are mortal enemies.
    • The fight between the female prehistoric dragon and the T. rex is not this, since the dinosaur actually manages to seriously hurt the dragon, who later dies of her wounds.


Video Example(s):

Alternative Title(s): Dragons World, The Last Dragon 2004


Dragons: A Fantasy Made Real

Dragons: A Fantasy Made Real (aka The Last Dragon and Dragon's World) is a 2004 British-American mockumentary describing the finding of an actual dragon carcass along with several medieval knights frozen in the mountains of Romania, its study and subsequent explanations (via CGI re-creations a la Walking with Dinosaurs) of the anatomy, ecology and evolutionary history of these mythical creatures, ending with their final extinction in the 15th century. Or did it?

How well does it match the trope?

5 (7 votes)

Example of:

Main / SpeculativeDocumentary

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