Newly restored in eye-popping 4K Ultra HD under the supervision of the legendary director and co-writer Matthew Robbins, Dragonslayer arrived on 4K Ultra HD, in a Limited Edition Collector's 4K Ultra HD SteelBook, and on Blu-ray yesterday, March 21, from Paramount Home Entertainment.
An essential cinematic adventure with groundbreaking and Oscar-nominated visual effects, the movie continues to win over fans more than 40 years after its initial release, not the least of which is Guillermo del Toro.
Robbins and del Toro's latest collaboration, Pinocchio, recently won the "Best Animated Feature" Oscar and they reunited to record a fascinating new audio commentary for this re-release. The disc also comes packed with an hour of additional new special features, all of which are an absolute must-watch for new and old fans alike.
Earlier this week, we sat down with Robbins to discuss his excitement for Dragonslayer's 4K re-release, gaining illuminating new insights into that bonus content, what it was like to work alongside George Lucas and Steven Spielberg so early into their respective careers, and how his movie made use of what was groundbreaking technology at the time.
The filmmaker also reflects on how his work inspired both del Toro's career and HBO's Game of Thrones, sharing an unexpected link to The Lord of the Rings along the way.
We think you'll really enjoy this one and the full interview can be watched in the player below.
Looking back, would you say your collaborations with George Lucas and Steven Spielberg prepared you, if at all, to take the helm of your own fantasy epic?
Hmm, somewhat [Laughs]. I had been on movie sets with both of them for pretty big movies which I thought might be helpful. It made sure I was acquainted with some of the demands ILM would be making as I’d seen them go through that. In terms of the day-to-day operation of a movie that size, I don’t think there’s a way you can ever be fully ready to have so many people involved and so many special effects people. There were also some very challenging locations…so, the answer is, in part [Laughs].
There’s a tonne of great new bonus content on this re-release, but what was the experience of going back and delving into the making of this movie all over again like?
It was very touching to see all the interest the movie still has. I was not aware of it. You can’t help but look at the way we laboured to bring things to life and the old technology and how it would be done now [Laughs]. I can’t help but think that, in many ways, we were a little bit too early. I’m very happy with the movie. It was unusual in its time and it broke ground in giving dignity to a monster, so to speak. There’s some sadness as well because Caitlin Clarke passed away far too early and she was so gifted and had a lot of presence when you see the film. She was really something. I had a wonderful, interesting relationship with Sir Ralph Richardson during the shoot. You know, the interesting thing is I was 36 or 37 and he was 79 which is my age now [Laughs]. He was this immensely old man and, here I am, an immensely old man, but it’s one of those peculiar things and unexpected to stumble upon that odd bit of chronology.
The technology you pioneered to create the dragon was game-changing, but as a filmmaker watching today’s movies and TV shows, do you wish you had CGI to work with or is Hollywood missing those practical effects, in your opinion?
I wish I had them at my disposal as easy as they are today [Laughs]. It was such a difficult thing and, you can tell from my background from a writer/director that I bank on story first, and I think if the characters are given enough and the story is gripping enough and you get people involved, the whole issue of how the effects were done is a footnote to things. There are fans who will complain about CG and they do all the time; it’s a tradition [Laughs]. I appreciate the hand-crafted effects, but if you’re the one that has to do it and get it done by 6pm and move on to the next day, you’re asking and concentrating on, ‘Is this really coming to life as a story?’ If I had those means at my disposal and would have trusted myself to integrate those effects with the live-action in such a way that I would hope it would be a non-issue. George [Lucas] who was, and continues to be, a pioneer in all these areas is still a very dear friend and I’m very much on his side in that…I think most working filmmakers who have to endure the difficulties of live-action effects…and my dear friend Guillermo del Toro is very much into the hand-crafted thing as well…as long as the movie works emotionally and is making you feel something, the whole question of technique is separate and a footnote.
Someone you definitely inspired, of course, is Guillermo del Toro, and your movie, Pinocchio, recently won an Oscar. What’s it been like to watch his career develop and how does it feel to see the movie receive that sort of recognition?
I’m very happy about the acknowledgement, of course. In regards of Guillermo, I can stay on topic, because when we met 20 years ago before he had a career in Hollywood, it was in Guadalajara where he’s from and the basis of our friendship and future affiliation was the fact he was a rabid Dragonslayer fan. Even back then, it was a vintage movie whose technology was already on its way out [Laughs]. He was so passionate about it. We talked endlessly about it and, as you’ll see in the bonus materials of this new release, it still holds a pretty film grip on his imagination which is terrific.
You and Guillermo also sat down to record an audio commentary for this release, so how was it to revisit the film alongside a friend, collaborator, and fan of the movie?
I wish we had a couple of boxes of popcorn because I really felt like I was a boy again with a boy pal at an afternoon matinee [Laughs] of a classy monster movie. His enthusiasm is very infectious so it was a great treat to have him by my side. We’d never done that. We’ve talked about the movie but never sat down and watched it together, so there’s some spontaneity there, particularly from him with the way that went. It was really fun and great. I hope people enjoy it.
The 4K remaster is something I know fans are massively excited for, so is that a process you were quite hands on with and, either way, what’s it been like to see the results of that?
I was very hands-on. Paramount reached out when they decided to produce this cleaned-up version, I was thrilled. The original DVDs made so many years ago along with the video tapes of that era were really inferior. It was mass-produced without any time and attention at all and, over the years when I would go to seminars, festivals, or workshops and they would say, ‘Oh, Mr. Robins, we’re going to show Dragonslayer tonight,’ I’d know they would have one of those tapes or DVDs and would never go. I’d go for the Q&As after, but couldn’t bear to watch. You could see matt lines, grainy skies, and all kinds of really distracting artefacts and this was a pretty good-looking movie when it was shot on screen and ILM really knew, back in those days, how to handle all of that on film. In the process of transferring the original video tapes and DVDs, it was a huge step down in terms of quality. This was a very, very welcome change and I sat it with a very talented group of video and audio artists and technicians at Paramount as they went to work and they had anticipated almost everything. [Laughs] The pleasure of seeing them address so many of the issues I had for years…I did have a voice, but it was mostly just to be there and make sure I wasn’t dreaming this was happening after all these years.
People often point out the similarities between Dragonslayer and Game of Thrones, but what is your take on how your movie might have helped lay the groundwork for that series?
I’m aware of that. I’ve never seen of Game of Thrones but guess, someday, I should strap myself in and go through the entire thing as it’s gotten so much attention. I’m sure it’s a wonderful series and the first time I became aware of the influence of the design of the dragon being felt was Peter Jackson’s The Lord of the Rings movies. When I met Peter, he told me that. I should also mention that, while I was very involved in the design of the dragon, we had an artist on the film, David Bunnett, who was the prime mover on the creation of that dragon. We always enjoyed that, in profile, David and the dragon looked a lot alike [Laughs]. He’s passed, I’m sorry to say, but it was a wonderful contribution he made and it’s too bad he’s not still here to see that so many of the elements he pulled together for this creature were inherited by other filmmakers.