Monday, October 12, 2009
Fiery surprise: the awesome beasts of Dragon Storm
In an earlier post, I promised to reveal the only other cinematic dragon that came close to rivaling the awesome Vermithrax from Dragonslayer. I discovered it quite by accident on a Saturday night, on the SciFi Channel (now known phonetically as "SyFy").
Those of you familiar with these weekend original movies know they're usually one thing: crap. Bearing titles like Mansquito, Mega Shark vs Giant Octopus and Rock Monster, these movies sport bad acting, Photoshop-worthy special effects and the same Eastern European scenery whether set in East Tennessee (Megasnake) or the mythical land of Lockland (Attack of the Gryphon). They used to be fun, in an MST3K kind of way; lately they've just been dreary and worst of all, boring. Occasionally there's a great idea (as in Warbirds, in which an all-female WWII bomber crew fights pterodactyls) but it's usually derailed by inept and sloppy execution (as in Warbirds).
And yet occasionally, like the daisy blooming atop a manure pile, you can spot an incongruous bit of beauty. Such a film is 2004's Dragon Storm.
I'm not proclaiming this a great film; far from it. It suffers all the defects typical to made-for-SciFi/SyFy movies: bad acting, illogical writing, "kingdoms" populated by less than two dozen people and metal props so clearly made of plastic they wave in the wind. Maxwell Caufield, in a Barry Gibb wig, plays the woodsman hero and handles his bow and arrow with all the dexterity of a porpoise trying to send a text message. John Rhys-Davies, who can't possibly need the money this bad, is the evil monarch in a crown that looks like it came from a Burger King kids' meal. Former Playmate Angel Boris plays the strong-willed princess (there's no other kind, after all). And the whole thing is directed by the actor who played Flounder in Animal House.
So what makes this movie so special? The dragons.
I don't know how they managed it, since the rest of the movie looks like it cost about five dollars. But the dragon effects are absolutely top-notch CGI. Somebody clearly went above-and-beyond the call of duty here. The beasts are designed well and logically, they're composited into the scenes with care, and they have a tangible reality that many of the flesh-and-blood actors don't manage.
The credits list Yancy Calzada and Stephen J. Brooks as the visual effects team leaders; I can only assume one or both of them has a soft spot for dragons and put in lots of overtime to make these look as good as possible. They look so good, in fact, that they make the rest of the movie appear even worse. It's as if Industrial Light and Magic designed the UFOs for Plan 9 from Outer Space.
Here's the trailer, with glimpses of what I'm talking about.
If you've seen a SciFi/SyFy original movie that surprised you by being, at least in some aspect, actually good, leave a comment about it before 10 PM Saturday and you could win a signed copy of my upcoming novel Burn Me Deadly.