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Wednesday, April 06, 2011


Dir: Ryan Little 2011

Dragons are the kings of monsters, more widespread, ancient and powerful than demons, vampires, werewolves or giants. They flap and slither through every culture on earth. They are depicted in cave paintings going back 25,000 years and have been venerated as far apart as Mexico, China and Babylon. Reports of dragon-like beasts still occur today in the oceans and in deep lakes in Asia.

So why is it that the top-dog of the monster world is so poorly served on the big screen? You would think there really would be more films about dragons but the handful that are made are usually mind bendingly egregious. Age of the Dragons is no exception; in fact it is so bad it stands out from the whole shabby crowd as one of the worst outings ever.

The idea is a nice one and if it had been properly approached it could have made a decent film. Age of the Dragons is a retelling of Herman Melville’s classic Moby Dick replacing the great white whale with a great white dragon. Trouble is that it’s not so great and neither is it a dragon. At about 30 feet long it’s bloody tiny as dragons go. The script writers and effects people have also made the same irritating error Hollywood seems to always make when portraying dragons, they only give it two legs. I hate to be a pedant but as a cryptozoologist this really grinds my gears. A true dragon has four legs and two wings. If it only has two legs it is technically a wyvern. A few moments of research can show this but it seems script writers are just too lazy. The same error has been repeated again and again ever since Disney’s Dragonslayer in 1981.

Aside from that there are plot holes that you could get Godzilla’s wedding tackle through.

Ahab (Danny Glover) is badly burn whilst failing to save his sister from the attack of a white dragon in his youth. All his life he has hunted for the beast. Land ships (of which, due to budget restrictions we only see one ridiculously small example of) hunt dragons for the vitriol in their fire glands that is used to light lamps. They use huge cross bows, harpoons and winches in this endeavor and the ships are iron clad to protect the crew from the beast’s flaming exhalations. It is never made apparent how these vastly heavy land ships move or are powered. They look unable to transverse anything more uneven than a glass smooth studio floor.

The hero, Ishmael (Corey Sevier) is joined by a suspiciously small crew including the odious Vinnie Jones as the main harpooner. The only upside to this film is that Vinnie gets toasted early on. Ahab’s adopted daughter (Sofia Pernas) comes on the hunt as the contractually obliged token woman and guess what, she can kick ass! I never saw that coming. Age of the Dragons is achingly predicable and has a standard of acting that would make Rentaghost look like the Royal Shakespeare Company. The one exception is Danny Glover who delvers his lines with real passion but even he cannot save this cinematic dog turd.

It will come as no surprise that the white dragon is harpooned by Ahab and drags him to his doom and that Ishmael and Ahab’s daughter live happily ever after. Surely the creature that decorated the Ishtar Gate, brought live giving rain to China and Japan and was feared across Europe deserves better than this. 0/10


Dale Drinnon said...

A Great White Drgon ONLY 30 Feet Long?? You have GOT to be kidding me! Probably if they did Moby Dick with an actual whale it would turn out to be an all-white Orca and not even an awe-inspiring outsized sperm whale. Nosiree, it's got to be three hundred, maybe five or six hundred feet long, like the bigger Sea-Serpent reports, a true Leviathan.

Trouble is then it is no contest and very soon no Ahab.

Incidentally Godzilla laid an egg from which Minya hatched. Godzilla is therefore a female and probably parthenogenic.

Syd said...

Mr. Freeman, you have implied that you were not too impressed by this film, why not tell us all exactly what you thought of it.

Dan said...

The problem with films is that you have to get all the necessary concepts into the head of the thickest film-goer, and you only ever get the one chance to do it. In a book, the reader can flip back and re-read pages; there's no way to do that in a film. Worse, when you're doing fantasy you're aiming at a teenage market, not one traditionally good at soaking up particularly difficult concepts.

Dragons in books are a very, very different class of creature compared to filmatic ones. A good example would be the dragons of, say, Mr Moorcock's Elric series where they are immensely powerful, immensely long-lived animals which have to spend a huge amount of their time asleep in order to survive. Negotiation with them is possible, but fraught with danger especially since to a dragon, humans all look very similar and the last time that dragon encountered one the human was busy trying to kill said dragon.

Steven Erikson's Malazan series also makes a very good job of describing dragons; his are again immensely long-lived, intensely magical and extremely opposed to the concept of cooperation. Since his world-scenario is effectively one of a very, very long series of wars with dragons intimately involved in most of them, you end up with a scenario where a dragon will by default assume that any other sentient it encounters is an enemy, a threat and quite often lunch as well. Add in a magical system which quite often slots any sufficiently powerful creature into one of its "job-roles" as a god of some description whether the creature fancies the job or not, and you begin to understand why dragons are traditionally extremely bad news.