Following the example set by Catland Books, the newest metaphysical store in New York, in conceiving what Unicorn Movie Night might look like once the Pagan Television Network (PTN) is up and running, I began to put together ideas for Dragon Movie Night: dragons being arguably the quintessential mythic Pagan creatures, before even unicorns, centaurs, and mermaids.
Film special effects had to catch up to the mythic possibilities of the dragon, for “Dragon movies” (movies that
feature a dragon in some important way) to become pleasingly viable. The producers of 1981′s Dragonslayer took inspiration from Disney’s animated short The Sorcerer’s Apprentice (itself an almost ideally realized Magickal work), augmented with research on St.George and the Dragon. The resulting film is practically a perfect Pagan fantasy adventure, set in the 6th century and featuring a Wizard, his apprentice, visionary prophecies, magic amulets, enchanted spears, and miraculous resurrection (with the brilliant British actor Ralph Richardson in one of his last film roles). The effects work was state-of-the-art for its time, involving a hydraulic model and puppets for the titular dragon; if it looks a little dated now, so does the original King Kong, which nonetheless keeps its mythic power. The creature has the evocative name of Vermithrax Pejorative (putting “vermin” together with “anthrax” is pretty clever; the “pejorative” on the end really sells it), and the movie attains elegiac status in depicting the medieval age “when wizards and dragons were finished.”
CGI-effects replaced animatronic replicas, and so 1996′s Dragonheart followed the same processes used to
create the dinosaurs in Jurassic Park. The inspiration was the idea of a “buddy” film that featured a medieval knight and a dragon (naturally, the last in the world; something about dragon movies is always drawn to the notion of the “last dragon”). In an amusing twist, the knight and the mythic monster con villagers with staged “dragon slayings”; the beast possesses Magickal powers, though, as a piece of his “dragon heart” saves the life of a young prince (who alas, grows up to be a tyrannical king), creating a symbiotic link between the two. Voiced by Sean Connery and modeled upon Chinese dragons, Dragonheart’s ”Draco” has an independent personality in addition to a name (Latin for “dragon,” but chosen in reference to the northern star constellation); in an act of celestial rebirth, Draco becomes a star in the constellation following his death at the movie’s end. A fanciful fantasy, Dragonheart (like Dragonslayer) would make a good first-feature on the Pagan Television Network’s Pagan-Family Dragon-Movie Night.
2002′s Reign of Fire, however, is a much darker film, unique for being set in an apocalyptic future as opposed to the medieval past- an apocalypse wrought by the resurrection of legendary dragons. The movie opens right after the turn-of-the-millennium (remember the turn-of-the-millennium?), when workers on the London Underground (the London subway) awaken a dragon which has been in hibernation after hundreds of years. This unleashes a new scourge of the fearsome creatures which terrified the Middle Ages, plunging the world into another Dark Ages chaos (Reign of Fire is a bit like Mad Max with dragons); Christian Bale has adopted a boy orphaned by the rampaging beasts, and organizes a small community of survivors (a charming sequence shows the adults entertaining the kids with a bedtime drama that is recognized as the confrontation between Luke and Darth Vader at the end of The Empire Strikes Back); Matthew McConaughey shows up as a road-warrior dragon-hunter, and the battle for humanity’s survival is underway. There are questions of logic in the film: can dragons really hibernate for centuries? can a single reawakened dragon really reproduce into a force that can plunge modernity into a bleak dystopia? can a single male dragon really sire an entire dragon population? All of that notwithstanding, it is interesting to see London as a disaster site (as opposed to New York), and shots of a deserted London ruled by dragons are chilling. Reign of Fire may not make a lot of sense if you think about it too much, but is exciting and fun all the same.
Since then, we have seen 2006′s Eragon, a medievalist fantasy about a boy bonding with a pet dragon; the dragons of the Triwizard Tournament in 2005′s Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire; the animated dragon in 2010′s DreamWorks production How To Train Your Dragon (about a young Viking dragon-slayer-in-training who befriends a dragon instead); and soon, arguably the most famous dragon in the fantasy genre, Smaug in the upcoming movie of The Hobbit. In addition there is the fascinating “docufiction” called Dragon’s World: A Fantasy Made Real (also titled “The Last Dragon”); to say nothing of the first great screen dragon, in Disney’s Sleeping Beauty, which also features a wicked enchantress in a horned headdress, a trio of benevolent Faerey Godmothers, and the Faerey-Tale premise of a sleeping princess in a castle surrounded by thorny briars. It is clear that something about the great mythological beasts called dragons intrigues the mind and lends itself to entertainment of a Fantasy or Pagan nature- a trend that will undoubtedly continue, as movie effects improve in sophistication and as people continue to desire fantastical amusement.