I remember enjoying Dragonheart back when it came out. Yes, it was cheesy, but it was fun. As one of the major CGI films to come out in the wake of Jurassic Park, it was considered a "Wow!" movie for a lot of people. In fact, so much time was spent on Draco the Dragon that everyone seemed to forget about obtaining good performances, or using a script with dialogue that wasn't utterly laughable. And as time has gone on, Draco looks worse and worse, robbing the film of the one ace it had up its sleeve.
Dennis Quaid plays Bowen, a knight who adheres to the code of King Arthur, known as the Old Code. Bowen has a pupil, a prince named Einon (David Thewlis). Einon's father was a tyrant, and he's killed early in the picture. Einon himself is mortally injured in the same battle that claimed his father. Einon's mother, Queen Aislinn (Julie Davis) takes Einon to a dragon, Draco (Sean Connery), who gives Einon half his heart under the condition that Einon swear to rule mercifully. Of course, it's all for naught, because ten minutes later Einon is busy enslaving people. Bowen blames Draco, believing that his heart poisoned Einon, vows to kill the dragon. Cut forward a few years, and now Bowen has killed every dragon except Draco, much to Draco's consternation. The two finally meet in battle, and after reaching a stalemate, Draco offers a truce. The two then team up and end up going after Einon, even though his death means Draco's as well.
Dragonheart is one of those movies where you look at everyone involved and wonder where the hell it went wrong. I mean, look at the cast: Dennis Quaid, David Thewlis, Julie Christie, Sean Connery, for heaven's sake! Not only that, there were a lot of talented people behind the scenes, as well. And yet, Dragonheart is just a series of poorly written scenes that feature even worse acting. What makes even less sense is that most of the actors are actually good actors. I really enjoy Dennis Quaid, but here he's wooden as a board. David Thewlis, who is capable of being a very subtle and nuanced actor, chews the scenery worse than Draco chews errant knights. It's just so disappointing.
The one shining star in this sea of mediocrity is Sean Connery. Connery put a lot into his voice performance of Draco, and it shows. He's the most sympathetic and interesting character in the movie. Also, it helps that Connery makes even the worst lines palatable, so the poor writing didn't hurt him nearly as bad as it does the other actors. At the same time, you never actually believe Connery is Draco, because all you hear is his incredibly distinctive voice, which just makes you think of the man immediately.
The big draw of the movie, though, was the computer animation. As I mentioned earlier, this was one of the big creature movies that came out in the wake of Jurassic Park, and for a while Draco was used as an example of how good CGI can look. Of course, now we know just how much better it can look, and Draco, while a cool character design, looks more dated than a puppet would have been. And I know it's not fair to judge a 1996 CGI creation by 2007 CGI standards. For the time, Draco looked pretty good. But he never meshed with the world around him. It was always obvious that he was a special effect. Compare that to Revenge of the Sith, where there's more CGI than physical matter and most of it blends seamlessly with the live actors. Or Pirates of the Caribbean, where Davy Jones can stand next to a live actor and look pretty darn close to photo-realistic. We've come a long way.
The HD DVD:
Universal presents Dragonheart in a 2.35:1 VC-1 encoded 1080p transfer. The last release of Dragonheart was in 2000, and I have a feeling the same master, without any touch-ups, was used for this transfer. Even at its best, it looks washed out. Detail is generally pretty good, but overall, this is nothing to shout about. Dirt on the print makes things worse, and just about any crossfade looks awful. Not Universal's best work, not by a long shot.
For some bizarre reason, the Dolby Digital Plus 5.1 mix on Dragonheart is mixed so low that I had to blast it just for it to sound normal. I also think that this mix was the same as the one used back on the Dragonheart DVD (which I believe was originally from the laserdisc). Despite this, Dragonheart featured one of the best sound mixes of the day, and even though it's quiet as a mouse, once you turn it up, you'll find a very well mixed track. It's clear whoever did this mix took a lot of time with it, because it's busy from beginning to end. I just wish it wasn't so quiet.
Commentary with Director Rob Cohen: As is typical of many early commentary tracks, Rob spends a lot of time praising his collaborators. However, he does have some historical facts that supposedly made the way into the film, although it looks like his concepts ran too far ahead of the actual screenplay, because very little of what he mentions seems to have made its way to the screen.
The Making of Dragonheart: In theory a 45-minute making-of documentary, this is really more like a 38-minute interview with Rob Cohen that cuts to a few other people every now and then. Rob does go into a lot of detail about the movie. As expected, most of it is about Draco and quite a bit of it is repeated information from the commentary.
Outtakes: Really two deleted scenes, neither of them any better than anything in the movie.
Teaser and Theatrical Trailers: Not in HD, just like the rest of the extras.
While the effects might have been impressive over ten years ago, once you get past them, you find Dragonheart is lacking everything that a good movie requires: Such as a good script, or believable performances, etc. As if that weren't enough, this HD DVD has a poor video transfer and mysteriously quiet audio. This one is for Sean Connery die hards only. Rent It.
Daniel Hirshleifer is the High Definition Editor for DVD Talk.