Monday, November 17, 2014

Daenerys Takes Britain: Dragons Of Camelot

The Good: Timeless story, Moments of special effects
The Bad: Terrible acting/directing, Finer points of the special effects, Horrible dialogue
The Basics: While certainly not the worst independent film I have ever seen, Dragons Of Camelot suffers most from issues surrounding the script and direction.

It seems like each year right around this time, I end up taking in a truly independent film that reminds me of just how amazing tenacious filmmakers on a shoestring budget can be. Last year, the efforts of the completely independent film The Snow Queen (reviewed here!) garnered my attention (if not my praise) and this year, looking for a late 2014 release, presumably to try desperately to make up some investors’ money before year’s end, is Dragons Of Camelot. Dragons Of Camelot is a specific type of bad that is easily definable and the problems with it were so obvious and unfortunate that what shocked me most about the film was learning that its director, Mark L. Lester, is an experienced director. Lester has directed major motion pictures, like Commando and Firestarter. With a cast of virtual unknowns – Mark Griffin and Selina Giles have competently appeared in some bigger projects – Lester seems to have no patience and surprisingly little craft, which makes Dragons Of Camelot a project that could have worked, but does not.

Why put such heavy critique right up front? It’s simple; Dragons Of Camelot is the Arthurian myth (or rather the post-Arthurian myth), so much of the plot and characters is known. The story of Galahad and Lancelot wresting control of Camelot from the tyrannical Morgan Le Fay is an obvious hero epic that has a strong fan base of its own (thanks, in no small part in recent years to The Adventures Of Merlin); so the key piece of information reviewers can give about Dragons Of Camelot is how this film differs, qualitatively, from other iterations of the same story. Despite a lot of potential, Dragons Of Camelot gives up early and director Mark L. Lester rushes to get through the film with no apparent care.

In its most direct analysis, Dragons Of Camelot suffers most because Lester does not let his performers breathe. All of the dialogue is delivered with such speed that none of the performers are given a chance to actually act. Their affects are almost universally flat, as if they are just reading the lines off cue cards; they lack the emotional resonance of the words they are saying. Paired with repetitive jokes, ill-timed screams and such a lack of on-screen chemistry between the principle players, Dragons Of Camelot is mostly a mess of actors who seem like they (not their characters) are constantly racing daylight.

Opening with the death of King Arthur of Camelot, Morgan Le Fay enchants a dragon living in the mountainside near Camelot to give up its youngest dragon. Harnessing the power of the baby dragon, Morgan Le Fay takes over Camelot, imprisoning the now-powerless Merlin and Guinevere. Before she is thrown in Morgan’s dungeon, Guinevere tells Galahad that Arthur was not, in fact, his father; she tells him Lancelot is his biological father and the only one who can retake Camelot, if only Galahad can get Lancelot to reforge Excalibur. Armed with the shards of Excalibur, Galahad flees the castle and goes searching for his long lost father.

Almost immediately, Galahad falls prey to highwaymen – and their leader, Dindrane. While Morgan consolidates her power, Galahad and Dindrane form a relationship and start to find surviving members of Arthur’s Round Table. After finding Lancelot as a drunkard who is not interested in retaking Camelot, Dindrane and Galahad must convince him to reforge the sword, slay some dragons, and stop Morgan.

Dragons Of Camelot feels almost instantly like it is trying desperately to capitalize on the popularity of Game Of Thrones (season two is reviewed here!); Morgan does not seem to exhibit any real power or ability of her own until she gets the young dragon. Only by wielding the power of a dragon does she, like Daenerys, gain the ability to take the kingdom; only by extorting the same dragon after the death of its offspring does she retain control for so long. Unfortunately, Dragons Of Camelot has decidedly mixed special effects. The dragon looks initially good and when it tears the head off a rebelling peasant, it’s pretty cool. But the dragon in flight looks more like a parody of a special effect than a creature that exists in the real world; the wings move so formulaically they are obviously generated by a computer and the way the feet and hands of the dragon simply hang as it soars shows a distinct lack of understanding of real-world flight physics.

Actress Alexandra Evans plays Dindrane and she, especially, comes across as listless, like every line is just one she is trying to get out and right. In almost every scene she is in, I felt like I was watching a lost performance by Kristen Cloke, but without any character reason for the part to be played in an occasionally unsettling manner. Mark Griffin plays Lancelot without either the scripted addicted personality or the spark of humor in his delivery that could make Lancelot’s recurring joke work. Sandra Darnell is not given enough opportunity to make Morgan Le Fay a credible villain; there is nothing in the film that adequately explains why she wants to rule Camelot or even make her seem like a power-crazed madwoman corrupted by magical ability.

James Nitti plays Galahad and from almost his first frames on screen it is obvious that Dragons Of Camelot is his first major role. Whether or not Nitti has any innate ability that helped him win the part is a mystery after watching his performance in this film. He had no on-screen chemistry with either Griffin or Evans and his sense of timing is as off as everyone else’s.

Ultimately, Dragons Of Camelot is a study in taking the known and familiar and delivering it in such a way that mediocrity and failures of form prevail over anything that might recommend it.

For other fantasy films, please visit my reviews of:
The Mists Of Avalon
Alice In Wonderland


For other movie reviews, please check out my Film Review Index Page for an organized listing!

© 2014 W.L. Swarts. May not be reprinted without permission.
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