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Wednesday, 1 June 2011

52 Dragon Movie Challenge – Merlin And The War Of The Dragon Empire Review

Another week, another Dragon Movie! This was in week number 6 and I’ve selected “A Mark Atkins Film” to watch. This is the guy that brought us DragonQuest so I hope that it’s an improvement on that movie. The one good thing is, the guy knows how to put dragons on film, so hopefully if this movie can improve on the awful hammy acting and forced storyline of his last feature we should be in luck. Here goes...

Well the film doesn’t mess about! No titles, no voiceover (yet) just straight in, a guy on horseback and a Dragon!

This must be making amends for last week’s practically 90 minute wait for a full on dragon scene. The special effects look good, the dragon looks nice, and the guy on the horse looks in trouble. Great start to a Dragon Movie!

After the initial eye opener of the dragon attack we then get the obligatory voice over, this time done over a story book. The voiceover tells us it’s “Britain, 420AD...” and “The dark ages of Britain have begun...” Very quickly we get our second dragon movie tick box checked, a shot of a castle! Inside the castle, a young “demon child” is being born, which results in a bit of a bicker between two wizards, they quickly resolve their conflict with a spot of Star Wars-esque lightning magic. It transpires that the “demon child” is actually Merlin, and we’re soon skipping forward in time.

20 years later, Merlin is training to be a magician and a powerful wizard, but is curious as to who is true father is. His foster father (the magician lecturer) has a powerful spell book. Merlin uses this to try and see who his true father is. With the use of some powerful music and decent special effects we soon learn that Merlin’s father could be some powerful, dark, dragon related demon.

Thankfully, it’s become pretty clear already that the acting this movie is a little better than Atkins’ last effort. The trouble is, a quick look on imdb shows that this director is just pumping out lame movies that are knockoffs of real Hollywood counterparts! (Battle of Los Angeles, Journey to the centre of the earth, Allan Quatermain and the temple of skulls, War of the Worlds 2: The Next Wave, 2012 Doomsday, AVH: Alien vs Hunter) the list goes on, and each of these I wouldn’t watch in a million years. Luckily, this movie, despite being based on Merlin, isn’t a cheap replication of a pre-existing Hollywood film and so far seems as original as it can be.

Back to the story and Merlin – still recovering from that frightful vision of his demon father – gets a bit of a kiss to help wake him up from what I’m guessing might be his love interest. The Mage, Merlin’s foster father, is played by Jurgen Prochnow in a cast of otherwise unknowns. Admittedly, you might not recognise this guy’s name either, but his stand out movies include The Da Vinci Code, Air Force One and Das Boot. Whilst Merlin is getting some care and attention, his other companion and fellow orphan has gone AWOL, and suddenly found himself what looks like a dragon egg. This can’t be good news.

Another dragon scene shows an attack on a bunch of people in a field, I’m guessing there from a village somewhere but the movie doesn’t really explain this! Really I’m not too bothered about explanations and story right now, especially following the last films dragon shortcomings. Instead I’ve seen some pretty cool effects and the longest, uninterrupted shot with a dragon in it for a straight to DVD movie, over 25seconds of cool dragon screen time!

Merlin’s rival orphan wizard lines up his shot...

Wizards 1 – 0 Dragons. He made that look easy, just one arrow!

The story is at least pretty interesting so far, Merlin’s rival is pretty mean and he possesses some dark secrets and tricks with dragons, LOTS of dragons!

Check out all these bad boys!

This movie has a lot of potential right now. I’m really enjoying it for the sheer amount of cool dragons! They look awesome, and their designs are really interesting and unique!

Oh no! It looks like Merlin has been earmarked as a danger – being the son of a demon and all that – so, the King has been advised that he needs to kill him. A death warrant, lots of cool magic and dragons. The movie is building up nicely after 30 minutes.

There’s a nice bit of horseback sword fighting before a very cool dragon attack on Merlin and his posse. It has to be said that for the amount of CGI that’s in this straight to DVD movie, it really is holding up very well. The dragon scenes have been pretty excellent so far. One thing I haven’t mentioned yet as I’m watching is the scenery. It’s incredible! I’ve since learnt that this movie was shot entirely on location in Wales in the UK, over a period of just two weeks. So far, I’d have to say, what an achievement. I just hope the rest of the movie lives up to the promise of the first 40 minutes.

Running is a good idea

Yet more dragons join the attack!

Merlin performs his first bit of anti-Dragon magic

With all these dragons around, Merlin’s foster father sets him a task. To fetch Excalibur. Before his task can begin however, we get yet another cool shot of some dragons flying over the Welsh landscape. I feel spoilt considering the low expectations I had before watching this movie!

Merlin arrives at the lake for the classic lady in the lake scene; I cannot wait until we see Merlin and his sword Excalibur trying to defeat all of these dragons that are flying about. I just hope that any climactic battle will live up to all of the dragon scenes that have been in the film so far.

We soon learn that Excalibur can only be used by the just and the true. Let’s hope when the time comes Merlin will be up to the job. What this movie is doing is a surprisingly good job of keeping me entertained and drawing me into the story. Whereas DragonQuest was a bit ridiculous, Merlin is definitely a far superior movie, and a good story.

The rival orphan is really kicking into another gear now with his very effective scheme of controlling all of the dragons in Wales. The dragon scenes keep coming thick and fast and before long there’s a big battle in the Welsh valleys. The action is really well done, nice music and great sword and axe fighting. But before long this is what I really liked...

“Send in the dragons!”

Seriously how epic does this look? Straight to DVD, filmed in two weeks, and you get a bunch of dragons about to attack a thousand strong battle. Result!

Merlin’s magic comes in very useful when he discovers a spell to turn his accomplices into dragons to even the odds! This makes for one hell of a lot of dragons flying over some spectacular scenery, all executed with great CGI for a straight to DVD movie. This has been such a fun, dragon heavy movie! You cannot fault the scale and the ambition and the execution of this movie in the slightest!

Incredibly, this is another Dragon Movie, and it features another Star Wars reference! Did I miss the fact that there were dragons in Star Wars or something? “Join me” says our evil orphan wizard whilst shooting electric from his fingertips, “and we can rule Britain!” (I know it’s not quite the galaxy, but it’s a start!) “Never” croaks Merlin. Gripping stuff. Thanks George Lucas.


There’s a good final twist to the battle and a good revelation too. I won’t spoil it here as for once the plot isn’t as join the dots as these straight to DVD movies usually are! Needless to say, Merlin has a bit of fun with Excalibur, and the end is very exciting and well acted.

Final Score: This movie well and truly deserves 8/10. (Bearing in mind we’re rating them as dragon movies and not, in comparison say, to The Godfather)

Despite its budget limitations, is ram packed with ambition, and well executed dragon action. Forget those films with just one dragon, this film has scenes of dragon action throughout, good CGI, and most importantly, loads of cool dragons!

Next week it's Age Of The Dragons!

If you live in the UK, you can purchase the DVD of Merlin and the War of the Dragon Empire from our preferred DVD retailer, Play.com, at the link here

All Images featured in this blog post are Copyright of Shooting Star Pictures and Asylum. 2008. All Rights Reserved.

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