FRYEAN MYTHOS: *adventure*
CAMPBELLIAN FUNCTIONS: *psychological, metaphysical*
DRAGONHEART is neither the first or best film to posit the bonding of a human being with an intelligent nonhuman. But if one happens to want one about sympathetic dragons, I suppose one could do worse than DRAGONHEART, which has managed to generate both a sequel and a prequel on the strength of the human-dragon bond.
The original film is a melding of two narrative ideas that don't really mix. One idea-- purportedly the one that served as the film's original "pitch"-- was that of a medieval knight and a dragon teaming up after the manner of 1971's SKIN GAME. Some viewers may find this section funny, but it leaves me unamused.
The stronger idea is that the human-dragon bonding takes place as the result of a frustrated human-human connection. The film begins with thirty-something knight Bowen (Dennis Quaid) easily fending off the sword-strokes of Prince Einon as the two conduct a practice duel. From this and other scenes, it becomes evident that the childless knight has developed a paternal interest in the young man, even though the prince's mother and father are both alive-- at least at the film's opening.
Einon and Bowen join Einon's tyrant father when the king seeks to put down a peasant revolt. The king dies in the battle, and Einon is mortally wounded. Desperate to save his life, Queen Aislynn and Bowen take the price to the cave of one of the last remaining dragons in Britain. The dragon, who does not initially give his name, is concerned that the race of men is seeking to exterminate his race, so he makes his own Faustian bargain with humanity. He performs a "half-heart transplant," donating a portion of his own heart into Einon's body, which allows the youngster to recover from his wound. The dragon hopes that this infusion of immortal power will cause Einon to become a king well disposed toward dragons.
Instead, because the dragon-heart in Einon's body makes him proof against mortal harm, the new king becomes as bad a tyrant as his late father. Aislynn realizes that the prince has inherited his dad's worst tendencies, but Bowen, in a dubious leap of logic, decides that the dragon-heart has corrupted Einon. Bowen then goes on a crusade to exterminate all the dragons he can find, ironically doing the exact thing the mystery-dragon had hoped to prevent. Rather unbelievably, the single knight is able to kill all the dragons in Britain, except for one: the one who gave his heart to Einon. Despite the fact that the mystery-dragon possesses the distinctive voice of Sean Connery, Bowen doesn't tumble that this is the mystery-dragon, simply because he didn't get a clear look at the dragon back in the cave. The great, Scot-voiced beast tells Bowen that his name is Draco and that he's the last of his race. The two fight until they're at a point where both will die, at which point Draco convinces Bowen to put aside his crusade and to begin playing at dragon-slaying in order to bilk the local populace. All through this sequence-- which exists to provide an excuse for human and dragon to bond-- Bowen still doesn't tip to the fact that Draco is the one he was blaming for infecting Einon with evil. When Draco does reveal the truth, their bond prevents the knight from attacking the dragon despite being angry about the sin of omission.
Happily, this section is soon over. Bowen finally realizes that Einon is responsible for his own evil, and he and Draco join a group of rebels seeking to overthrow the new tyrant. Interestingly, Kara, female leader of the rebel group, is the same person who, ten years earlier, accidentally gave Einon his mortal wound. In one sequence Einon captures Kara but seeks to seduce her rather than simply killing her-- which makes for an odd psychological reflection of his mother's fate, for Aislynn seeks to bring about her evil son's death, and he ruthlessly slays her, even though she's responsible for his prolonged life. A more psychologically dense script might have made more of the "woman-as-womb-and-tomb" trope.
At any rate, because Einon is immortal, he can only be killed if Draco sacrifices his own existence-- thus setting up the narrative for a big dramatic renunciation scene at the end.
DRAGONHEART is a film with a very problematic script, but at least there's some potential in some of its ideas.: A NEW BEGINNING is jsut a programming reshuffling of the earlier film's structure, and aimed more at a juvenile audience, given that this time the human-dragon bond takes place between a teen stable-boy, Geoff, and an immature dragon named Drake, whose egg survived Bowen's holocaust.
The script makes a moderate attempt to give Geoff a valid dramatic arc: despite his low station, he aspires to be a knight. Though he doesn't befriend Drake with any notion of gain, his association with the putative "last dragon" gives Geoff stature at the court of the local ruler Osric. However, the scenes of the Geoff-Drake bonding are predictable and hackneyed, and it doesn't help that Geoff is a pretty dull character. Thus, when he faces his challenge-- wheher or not to trust Osric when the lord wants a "heart transplant" from Drake-- Geoff's flat character doesn't really bring much vitality to the table. Osric turns out to have secrets beyond just being an acquisitive tyrant, but in essence he and Geoff reverse the parental postures of the first film, focusing this time on a mature man betraying the trust of a younger fellow. There's also a subplot about two Chinese travelers trying to prevent the unleashing of a fatal dragon-curse, and the female member of the group, played by Rona Figueroa, gives the slow-moving film some verve with her kung-fu fighting.
Neither film is a complete waste of time, but neither one uses the material to best effect. The second film tantalizes by asserting that at the dawn of mankind the dragons played a rather Prometheus-like role by helping humans advance to their present state, but this concept is merely tossed off and not exploited to its full potential.