Tuesday, June 03, 2008

Here Be Dragons

"A dragon is no idle fancy. Whatever may be his origins, in fact or invention, the dragon in legend is a potent creation of men's imagination, richer in significance than his barrow is in gold. Even to-day (despite the critics) you may find men not ignorant of tragic legend and history, who have heard of heroes and indeed seen them, who yet have been caught by the fascination of the worm."
So sayeth Tolkien himself. And he ought to know, since he created one of the most famous ur-dragons of all fantasy-time: Smaug. And now of course, director Guillermo del Toro will be charged with visualizing this monster-character on the big screen. Which is a worry, because it's obviously not easy to make dragons as impressive on screen as they may be when you imagine them in your own head while reading a book.

GdT had this to say over in TORN's forums about what kind of dragon-look he will be going for:

”I am a big Dragon fan. . .

“And although its always impossible to agree on the “greatest” of anything, I bring forth these two as the main film contenders for that title: Eyvind Earle / Disney’s Maleficent dragon ( a triumph of elegance of color and design) and Vermithrax Pejorative from Dragonslayer.”

Good choices. No snub-nosed dragons, no overly-muscular and heavy dragons. Both nice and lithe and rather graceful. Just like the dragons Tolkien himself drew. You can see his own drawing of Smaug at the top of this post. (The image is from Tolkien Gateway.) I hope GdT relies heavily on Tolkien's own artwork when he creates his Smaug for the movie. And that he remembers how Tolkien describes dragons both in The Hobbit and elsewhere: they are not to be trifled with, not comic relief but deadly enemies full of malice.

Btw, it's interesting to note that one result of Bilbo's journey in The Hobbit is the destruction of Smaug. This fact is brought up by Gandalf in the appendix of LOTR when he says:

"Yet things might have gone far otherwise and far worse. When you think of the great Battle of Pelennor, do not forget the battles in Dale and the valour of Durin's Folk. Think of what might have been. Dragon-fire and savage swords in Eriador, night in Rivendell. There might be no Queen in Gondor. We might now hope to return from victory here only to ruin and ash. But that has been averted--because I met Thorin Oakenshied one evening on the edge of spring in Bree. A chance-meeting, as we say in Middle-earth."
That puts things in perspective, doesn't it? As in, what would have happened if Peter Jackson would have had to contend with a dragon too when he made the LOTR movies? Would he have had Legolas boogie-boarding down its back? (Just kidding! I think.)

Dragon movies are a mixed bunch. The already mentioned Dragonslayer is one that still holds up really well, even though it's rather old. (Since I remember when it came out it pains me to admit that this is an old movie...) Dragonheart is a good one as well, even though the dragon there seems a bit too clumsy for my taste. His wisecracking kind of makes up for it though. If you haven't seen Reign of Fire, and I know lots of people haven't, you really should if you're at all into dragons. And Christian Bale. (He's shirtless and sweaty in one point, just in case you need encouragement.) Is it a good movie? No. Is it entertaining? Hell yes. And the dragons are very cool. I especially like the scene at the beginning of the movie when the sleeping dragon in the bowels of London's underground is awakened and chases people out of the cramped tunnels. Excellent stuff. As a whole, the movie is cheesy but it has so many redeeming features: fire, explosions, a post-apocalyptic Star Wars reenactment and did I mention shirtless sweaty Christian Bale?

And no, I'm not going to talk about the the overgrown shih-tzu-dragon of "Neverending Story" fame.

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