Dragon Kingdom is a lot of things, but it can’t be accused of being unambitious.
This is the middle chapter of a presumed trilogy that kicked off with 2017’s Knights of the Damned.
It’s easy to write off Dragon Kingdom as a hopelessly out of its element, bargain budget rip off version of Lord of the Rings with a little Game of Thrones thrown in for good measure. That’s all true, but there’s something almost admirable about a film so far out of its depth trying to tackle a mammoth epic with atrocious CGI, uninspired set design and OK-ish performances. Or maybe laughable.
Rebecca Dyson-Smith plays Rebecca Dyson-Smith, the Daenerys stand-in Princess Elizabeth forced to flee after her brother Favian (Jon-Paul Gates) stages a coup. Helping to ensure her safety are a pair of knights, Sir George (Ben Loyd-Holmes, Skyfall) and Sir Richard (Ross O’Hennessy, Game of Thrones), and two Katori warrior women, Dimia (Zara Phythian, Doctor Strange) and Freya (Jemma Moore, Wonder Woman).
Screenwriters Aston Benoit and Loyd-Holmes have a huge vision even if the plot isn’t always clear. The big focus this installment is the party has to travel through a treacherous forest while fending off zombies and assorted creatures.
Loyd-Holmes definitely made sure to give George the big heroic moments and a goofy romantic subplot with Elizabeth. In one of the film’s most bizarre scenes, a passerby (Marc Zammit) offers to travel with them on their journey, but George dismisses him as if they’ve got some surplus of warriors/cannon fodder as they go to a place called The Dark Kingdom. George is certainly no Aragon, Jon Snow or even Harry Potter.
If anything, Dragon Kingdom made me appreciate Krull that much more. Krull was a 1983 fantasy film that wisely tried to establish a foothold in the teen adventure void as the original Star Wars trilogy concluded. Krull had some hokey special effects even by 1983 standards, but it had a ton of style, visually impressive villains and a bladed Frisbee that was cooler than it sounds. That film also had a clear agenda and focus while Dragon Kingdom feels like it’s stalling to stretch the film to three installments.
The third act is one long and not terribly exciting fight in the forest. At least George and the crew gave Elizabeth a montage worth of fight training. Probably would have been helpful to have another body around…
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For a film with such an obviously limited budget, it’s amazing that director Simon Wells wanted to pay off the title with numerous scenes featuring badly rendered dragons. The poster boasts Dragon Kingdom is from one of the GOT executive producers and the special effects team behind Harry Potter.
It’s possible this was the first crack effects team who laid the rough animation foundation while the second and third teams polished everything up to be big screen worthy. The dragon effects are as bad as you might imagine, but more surprising was the terrible post-edit blood sprays. Maybe there was a shortage of ketchup on set?
Some of the costume designs are pretty decent while others looked like the performers are wearing streamlined motion capture suits for effects that were never completed.
Effects aside, the fight choreography isn’t great either. Wells doesn’t have the best eye for the most appropriate vantage points in staging the action so it comes off looking choppy and badly edited. Wells also needs a steadier camera. In one scene with Favian, the camera was shaking so much it seemed like the palace railing decoration was moving.
The set designs are likewise uninspired with the film crew seemingly getting one isolated area in a forest and making a kingdom out of it. There’s little creativity or design work besides a few random rocks. So basically it’s the kind of kingdom a 6-year-old could create in the woods.
By any objective measure Dragon Kingdom is a bad movie. That doesn’t mean it doesn’t serve a purpose as a perversely entertaining diversion that seems to encourage ridicule and double takes. I’ve gotta be honest. Dragon Kingdom was such a bizarre experience that I kinda want to now go back and track down Knights of the Damned and am anxiously anticipating the third installment.
Rating: 5 out of 10
Photo Credit: Uncork’d Entertainment