Released in 1981, Dragonslayer was a partnership between Walt Disney Pictures and Paramount Pictures. Darker and more mature than Disney’s usual fare, they had Paramount handle distribution in North America, keeping their participation in the film on the downlow. A box office failure, Dragonslayer is iconic for its visual effects and its representation of dragons. Notably the special effects were created at Industrial Light and Magic, the first use of ILM outside of a Lucasfilm.

Set during the sixth century in the fictional empire of Urland, aging sorcerer Ulrich (Ralph Richardson) has been enlisted to try and stop a nearby kingdoms practice of a virgin sacrifice to appease a dragon. In order to stop the practice, Ulrich agrees to slay the fire breathing dragon. Ulrich’s apprentice Galen (Peter MacNichol in his first film role), is confident they can do the job. But, before they get there, Ulrich is challenged by agents of the king and killed. In possession of Ulrich’s powerful amulet, Galen decides its time to show his courage against the dragon. However, Galen’s magical powers may lead to his undoing.

Nominated for an Academy Award for its impressive visual effects, the dragon is the star of the show. The beast is grotesque and scary. Its attacks on the population are convincing. When the dragon breathes flames, it looks like fire. Aided by strong practical effects and gorgeous landscapes, the kingdom looks gorgeous, more than forty years after its original release.

Understandably, Dragonslayer failed to find an audience. It’s too adult for most kids (violence, brief nudity, scary images) and too juvenile to hold the attention of most adults. Teenagers may find some things to like, but it was likely passed over as a kiddie film. If you grew up in the eighties like I did, the dragons might appeal to you, as Dungeons & Dragons was all the rage back then. If you love 1980’s films, Dragonslayer is certainly a film of its time.

Presented in an aspect ratio of 2.35:1, this is a solid 4K transfer. Sharpness is good, though some darkly lit interiors appear a bit soft. Likely due to the nature of the photography. Depth is excellent, providing nice space within the frame. Blacks are appropriately inky. Colors are bold and vibrant throughout. Browns and greens are particularly impressive. HDR provides a nice glow to dragon flames and similar effects. Flesh tones look natural and the print is free of artifacts.

The Dolby Atmos soundtrack works well for the film. sporting a nice balance between vocals, effects and score, there’s some nice layering that makes the film sound fuller than ever before. The surrounds effectively fill the room with ambient sounds. Dialogue is clean, clear and concise throughout. There are no cracks, hisses, pops, to speak of.

English SDH, French and Spanish subtitles are available.

The following extras are included:

  • Audio Commentary with Director Matthew Robbins & Filmmaker Guillermo del Toro
  • The Slayer of All Dragons (HD, 1:03:24) Rather extensive, this new documentary includes comments from director Matthew Robbins, dragon supervisor Phil Tippett, and visual effects supervisor Dennis Muren. A must watch for fans of the film.
  • Screen Tests (HD, 15:42) Clips feature Peter MacNicol, Caitlin Clarke and Maureen Teefy, who also auditioned for Valerian.
  • Original Theatrical Trailer (HD, 1:58)
  • Digital Copy of the film.