The Crown and the Dragon: The Paladin Cycle:
That's a title only a low-budget fantasy movie could support. It's a weird symptom of such films, as if the writer figured that loading up the title with as many words as possible would give the script more credibility. But hey, in this case, though the movie does indeed live somewhere plenty far south of the mega-budget line, it's actually an engaging, satisfying watch. The only weird thing is that it's also some type of Harlequin Romance, rather than a straight-ahead swords and sorcery movie.
Serious portents as the movie begins; dozens of bloody, dead, chain-mail-clad warriors lay in the surf, limbs drifting with the tide. A voice intones the horrors of the fire-breathing dragon, and the need for a Paladin to come save the day. It doesn't happen quick enough for the one living warrior standing in the surf, though, who throws his arms wide in order to be engulfed by the dragon's flame. Then things get all different.
Hoity-toity princess type Ellen (Amy De Bhrun) is out riding in the countryside with her dear Auntie, who gives her a very special gift just before they're ambushed by highwaymen. There's a coronation in the offing, and a pissed off wizard who can summon a lackey made of crows. Most importantly, there's Aedin, (David Haydn) purportedly a scoundrel and a rogue, but he's there at the best possible time, and he's willing to help Ellen get to the coronation, regardless of highwaymen, crow-men, or dragons.
Though there are indeed conflicts with the aforementioned threats - and a great sword fight of the realistic sort, as the combatants quickly become so fatigued they can barely move, what with the heavy armor and swords - such aspects of violence and fantasy are hardly the focus of the movie, which quickly reveals itself to be a love story between Ellen and Aedin. As viewers become enmeshed in speculation of whether our heroes will ever hook up, convoluted plot points swirl around. There is royal intrigue of sorts, there are nuns who chant in a really weird way, and there's the vengeful wizard. None of which holds a candle to the thoroughly believable relationship between our 100% likeable, and equally hot leads.
Certainly the title dragon doesn't matter much. Rendered with bargain CGI, the creature is treated more as a force of nature than an aggressive threat, almost as if there were a thunderstorm a-coming, but everyone was just kind of resigned to let it hit, then move on. Will the sub-titular paladin ever appear to vanquish the dragon, once we viewers are satisfied with how things are working out between Aedin and Ellen? And if the dragon does meet its end, will it be obvious, perfunctory, and abrupt? Who really cares? We're looking forward to The Crown and the Dragon 2: Aiden and Ellen Get Married. Let go of your expectations and Rent It.
Flapping lame CGI wings your way in an MPEG-4 AVC encoded 1080p transfer in a 1.78:1 ratio, on a 25GB disc, Crown and Dragon represents the dark ages. That is, the sepia-toned ages, as colors are muted and dusty throughout, with black levels more closely resembling charcoal than a pitch-black sky. Detail levels are decent, without having the 'wow' factor of the best HD, especially for a recently lensed film, but there aren't otherwise any glaring encoding problems.
A DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1 track brings you the lilting sounds of Irish Hill music, something that had me wary from the menu screen on, until I realized this was a romance, and then I kind of liked it. A decent bit of play with sound effects; crackling fires, weird sounding kings, and flapping dragon wings, add nice dimensionality to an otherwise solid audio presentation. Dialog is clear and upfront, if not always easy to understand. (What is it with that one king, and the chanting nuns?)
Naught but a Trailer and English Subtitles provided for ye here.
Straight-to-video fantasy epics with lengthy names are generally poison. Maybe that's The Crown and the Dragon's saving grace, since in the end it's less a fantasy epic and more a medieval romance. Though the dragon plays a small role, and sword-play lacks emphasis, the engaging lead actors allow you to wholly buy into their attraction, so if you're able to give up on all expectations of sorcery and derring-do, you may be pleasantly surprised. Rent It.
- Kurt Dahlke
~ More of Dahlke's DVD Talk reviews here at DVD Talk I'm not just a writer, I paint colorful, modern abstracts, too! Check them out here KurtDahlke.com