“If a dragon falls in the forest and nobody gets to hear about it … does it make a thud?”
Once the post-Jurassic Park floodgates had opened up, all manner of CG rendered beasties tumbled out in a welter of the good, the bad and the downright ludicrous.
One of the most successful in terms of fully-fledged CG characterisations to come leaping, bounding, flying and, in this case, frying was Draco the Dragon, created by ILM, directed by Rob Cohen and voiced, somewhat surprisingly, by Sean Connery in Universal’s enjoyable, if ultimately quite disposable fantasy romp from 1996, Dragonheart. A pet project for Cohen, nurse-maided by him throughout a troubled development that found him struggling to find an effective way in which to create his mythical star, the film now makes its first foray onto Blu-ray.
Cinema is stuffed with dragons. There’s the one that Sinbad’s crossbow despatched in his...[Read the complete movie review]
I didn’t see the HD-DVD transfer of Dragonheart so I cannot comment whether this BD image is the same, but Universal’s disc carries a VC-1 encode and is the recipient of some obvious noise-filtering, so I wouldn’t actually be surprised to find that it was. It certainly doesn’t look to have been freshly minted, the image isn’t very sharp, the contrast runs too hot and the DNR robs it of integrity.
Cohen’s film carries a rather sumptuous 2.35:1 aspect that the transfer retains as steady, clean and robust. The image is quite soft, something that I recall from the DVD, unless we are looking specifically at dragon scales or Draco’s face, as it is during the FX scenes that the picture is at its most lively, crisp and vivid. But of course this actually has the disadvantage of making the CG stick out a little more glaringly than we would want.
Detail isn’t great, I’m afraid. We’ve lost fine texture as a result of the digital tinkering – faces, castle walls, drapes and costumes, the foliage and the weaponry all look very nice at first glance, but they have a distinct lack of definition when you look again. Black levels are pretty good. Shadow-play is fine enough, and the darker scenes down in caves and dungeons and whatnot have an agreeable sense of depth with no crushing. Contrast within these scenes is actually more than decent, with flames and faces and pockets of illumination punctuating the image with vigour. Colours are okay, but the picture’s cast is sunburned and endlessly amber. This certainly has an effect upon the greens and browns, whilst reds and blues can appear stronger. Skin-tones are ruddy in the extreme and the overall palette is soft and golden, sunny bright, but unavoidably hazy. The scene when Kara visits her father at the mine is horribly orange. But, on the plus side of this, the masses of flame-play is dealt with an assured range of oranges, reds and yellows, but with that essential ball of roiling black that adds dimensionality to the inferno and a sense of inner-ignition, so the fiery elements do bring home the bacon. Burnt, of course.
This is a wonderfully warm and sunny image, regardless, and I can see how some people will be smitten with it ... at first. But this is also a very inconsistent image that has more wrong with it than right. Although grain is pretty much absent from the picture, there can be some vague levels of texture to skin and a fair amount of the more overtly pronounced detail at times – embroidery and stitching on Bowen’s costume, say. But then, on the other hand, there are also a great many times when this apparent texture is utterly smoothed out, making faces appear waxy and rendering detail sludgy and indistinct. The right and left peripherals of the frame can also be blurred during wide shots, although this is down to the original photography. I noticed some edge enhancement as well, but smearing or banding were not an issue, and the image seemed to be largely free from aliaising.
Dragonheart looks incredibly warm on Blu-ray, which may help to enhance the glowing imagery on offer, although I would say that it can be more than a touch too strong on occasion, and actually make the picture quite unpleasant. But it is the DNR that is going to upset many. Far too smooth and waxy, folks.
Picture score : 5
Well things definitely pick up with the audio.
Dragonheart was always one of those films whose soundtrack was a blitzkrieg of sub activity and exciting surround support, and this DTS-HD MA 5.1 track will surely not disappoint.
No issues with the dialogue – always crisp and clear and well prioritised. No issues with the score either, which is warm, dynamic and full of rich orchestral sweep and energy. The front soundstage is wide and reasonably deep. The surround activity is fine, frequent and well rendered, if a little obvious at times. There isn’t much in the way of subtlety, which will immediately mark this mix as hailing from almost a couple of decades ago, but there is considerable weight and power to it that is sure to raise a grin. Directionality is keen, and there is a concerted effort to sport smooth and detailed channel steerage. Arrows have a sure-fire zip and swords certainly clang. The fire-breathing effects add some smouldering velocity to the pot, literally creating a wall of hot, rushing sound that is well steered across the set-up. As I say, most of this is very good, but the movement around the speakers can sometimes come over as being a bit too artificial, and the mix can certainly lack some refinement.
There are a couple of pleasingly dexterous moments when Draco goes for a walkabout around the full set-up, and we get to hear and feel his thudding steps moving from speaker to speaker with some degree of atmospheric precision. This is even enhanced further by having him speak, and Connery’s voice travel all the way around us, too. However, as pleasing as this effect is, I will say that the actual “sound” of Draco’s speech, as he moves behind us, has a sort of dislocation to it. The volume and the timbre of Connery’s brogue alters a little too overtly to properly convince of the movement and steerage taking place. Draco suddenly seems to be too far away. I love the fact that we’ve got this sort of thing in the mix (and we get another couple of examples of this circular speaker engagement which both more subtle and more convincing), but this can’t help coming across as a touch primitive when compared to the smoothly directed panning that we get nowadays.
The bass, though. Now we’re talking. There is badass, deep-level, gut-crunching .LFE to be enjoyed here. And there’s plenty of it too. Buildings crumble, masonry falls. Horses thunder over hills and meadows. The sound of pitched battle gets an added severity as axes thunk into torsos and combatants hit the deck. But, of course, it is Draco, himself, who bestows us the majority of the foundation-trembling sonics. His mighty wings flap with sub-tickling finesse. His roar is a Stygian bellow from the depths. His landings upon the ground are enough to make the sofa hop a couple of feet into the air. He rips huts and battlements to kindling, wrenches customised siege-weapons from their moorings. The “getting-to-know-you” skirmish he has with Bowen lops trees and lays waste to a fair chunk of the environment – and all of it rattles the windows with considerable force and gusto. The sound of the heartbeat thudding away is also very keenly felt as well as heard. Dragonheart was always known for this thunderous approach and this lossless DTS mix more than does it justice.
It’s all a bit obvious and the mix stumbles in its enthusiasm and determination to please, but there is great deal of properly exciting stuff going on.
Sound score : 8
All the same stuff as the DVD, folks. Nothing new to report, I’m afraid. But the old supplements are still pretty solid. I believe the HD DVD release had an image gallery, but that is not present here.
We get Rob Cohen’s interesting and enthusiastic chat-track and the 44-minute making-of that can be played as individual chapters, or one continuous feature, which I’d recommend.
The making of is a great one, offering the sort of coverage that we don’t get enough of. We have interviews with Cohen, Rafaella De Laurentiss, Phil Tippet, Dina Meyer, Dennis Quaid and David Thewlis amongst others, and there is lots of detail afforded the original concept, the design and location work, the gathering of the cast, the shoot, itself, a fairly comprehensive look at the copious FX work, and the whole thing delivers a very reasonable chronicle of the production from its ambitious, though troubled beginning to final cut.
The disc also provides us with some Outtakes. Not bloopers, I hasten to add (which I would have loved), but a couple of discarded scenes that offer up deeper characterisation and some background story elements. Neither looks very good, and they would add nothing of actual importance to the final film – the first one is actually a modification of an element seen differently in the finished cut – but they are worth looking at, regardless.
There are a couple of trailers and the disc is D-Box enabled.
Extras score : 6
I have a soft spot for Rob Cohen’s fantasy romp, Dragonheart. The story is fine, if slight and simplistic. The mock Dark Age is anything but dark, being extremely sunny and inviting, but this has the effect of making the film gorgeously resplendent and the complete opposite of a lot of big screen fantasies, which tend to be dour and gloomy and overcast. The action is plentiful and there is that slightly amped-up level of physical violence which is always nice to see in a supposed family film. It is great to see Dennis Quaid as a noble knight fallen on hard times, and not taking things too seriously. And it is surprisingly great to hear Sean Connery’s voice as a mythical fire-breather and you do come to see Draco as a bonafide Connery character. Dina Meyer is the fittest peasant girl you’re likely to see in this or many other realms, Pete Postlethwaite gets into a bad habit as he unleashes his inner comic and David Thewlis makes for a refreshingly ugly, ungainly and whimpering villain.
People complain that the effects haven’t aged well, but the visuals are actually still very satisfying, albeit a little too cartoonic in comparison to more modern extravaganzas.
Universal don’t do the film justice with its video transfer, though, with a clearly filtered image that is sure to cause consternation. The audio side of things fares much, much better with bludgeoning bass levels and a clever and active use of the surrounds. There’s nothing new to be found in the extra features and fans of the film may well have wished that its sequel had been thrown in to sweeten the deal. As I say, I haven’t seen the HD DVD version of Dragonheart, but this BD is certainly a disappointment in terms of image quality.
Overall score : 6
1,884 word review written by Chris McEneany.
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