Dragon Hunters [Blu-ray]
Blu-ray ALL - America - Peace Arch Home Entertainment
Review written by and copyright: Anthony Arrigo (24th August 2009).
The Film

I have to be up-front here and admit that I’m not the biggest fan of animated films. Well, contemporary animated films, I should say. Call me too old-school, but to me nothing comes close to watching the classic, hand-drawn cells of an era before computers sent traditional artists to the end of the unemployment line. I have yet to see a single computer-generated film that stirs anything within me, and that includes anything Pixar has churned out over the last decade as well. I just can’t get into the films, even if they aren’t half bad, because I’m such a staunch advocate of 2D artistry.

So, that being said, I wasn’t exactly anticipating watching “Dragon Hunters” (2008), also known as “Chasseurs de Dragons”, a French film that is just now making it’s stateside debut courtesy of Peace Arch Entertainment. From the cover art (because, let’s face it, when you haven’t seen a film you’re literally forced to judge it by its cover), I was expecting a saccharine-laced, kid-friendly, poorly animated borefest with little to keep anyone over the age of 7 even mildly amused. Surprisingly enough, the film isn’t nearly as pedestrian as I might have thought, though the animation did leave something to be desired.

Lian-Chu (Forest Whitaker) and Gwizdo (Rob Paulsen) are a couple of half-assed dragon hunters more interested in collecting a payout than vanquishing any terrorizing beasts. One night they run into Zoé (Marie Drion), a young girl who tells them of her rich Uncle, Lord Arnold (Philippe Nahon, who horror fans will remember as the killer in 2003’s “High Tension”), a blind king who tasks the two men with destroying The World Gobbler. If they succeed, they have been promised a fortune in gold. Not one to turn down a pay day, Gwizdo convinces Lian-Chu to accept the offer and the trio, along with Hector, a dog/pig/rabbit creature, set out to the end of the world, where the evil World Gobbler awaits.

Though the film is geared towards children, I was surprised to find that it also played rather well for someone my own age (mid 20’s). The writing is simple and, on occasion, clunky, but the themes running throughout the film were mature enough to keep me from losing all interest. Things progress as expected, but the film manages to take some turns that weren’t as obvious, including the ending. Though I might complain that, for a film about dragon hunters, there sure weren’t many traditional looking dragons to be seen, save for the final battle. They even managed to add a few crude, scatological jokes that, for me at least, were pretty funny, such as Hector’s one magical ability: to pee fire; and an army of flatulating hogs. It’s comforting to know that no matter how old I get, writers of just about any film can throw in some fart jokes and I’m relatively satisfied.

I appreciated the dichotomy between Lian-Chu and Gwizdo. Lian-Chu is a man of few words, very few (he maybe has 25 lines of dialogue total), whereas Gwizdo is a fast-talking, snake oil salesman type. Though it’s usually typical to have such polar opposite characters paired together, these two had a… um, unique relationship. I may be reading into things too much, but I detected a slight undercurrent of homosexuality between the two. The entire film neither man has any type of love interest and they both keep talking about the big day when they can live together on a farm, herding sheep and making bread. I really can’t say whether this was intentional on the part of the filmmakers or not, but my gaydar went off often enough that it wouldn’t surprise me.

As I said before, I’m not a big fan of computer-generated imagery in my movies. I’m an old-schooler who grew up on a healthy diet of practical effects work that took master craftsman endless hours to perfect, so if a film I’m watching does have CGI it better be damn good. Unfortunately, the animation here is not. The film looked more like cut scenes from a Playstation 3 game than a fully-realized feature film. This is the kind of low-rent work that keeps me away from these films to begin with because it just doesn’t do anything for me. There is some detail to be found, but more often than not characters and environments seemed too simple, too blocky. Still, as I said the film itself is not nearly as insufferable as I had thought, so the lack of more polished animation can be (somewhat) overlooked.

I will give credit to the animators for coming up with some cool creatures, however. There is one in particular, the poorly-named Silly Dragon, which is actually a large, pumpkin-headed beast made up of thousands of red bats. I found it to be a unique, original design with some very cool attributes, such as the ability to breathe fire and form parts of itself independent of the whole. The Jimbob Dragons, another poorly named beast, were also a great design. They looked like the velociraptors from “Jurassic Park” (1993) if they had the ability to shoot lightening. Even the final baddie, the World Gobbler, a gargantuan skeleton dragon with fiery red eyes, was rather ominous and impressive.

So, despite some flaws in both the animation style and the writing, the film is worth a watch, especially for fans of this type of movie. Casual or non-fans of animated films might lose interest, though at a scant 82 minutes you’d have to have a serious case of ADD. Those looking for something outside of the norm, i.e. not made by Pixar or DreamWorks, would probably be pleased with this on home video.

Video

As you might expect, the film features a near-flawless transfer with amazing clarity and detail on display. The 1.78:1 (the packaging mistakenly says it is 2.35:1) 1080p 24/fps AVC MPEG-4 encoded image is pretty much perfect. There is no obtrusive grain, no macro-blocking, no edge enhancement, no DNR… it’s about as good as you can get. Now, since this is a new animated film I think it would be foolish to expect anything less than what we get, but it is pristine and I can’t deny it looks great. Colors, especially the end of the film, are radiant and glow with astounding brightness. Black levels are rich and deep, and fine detail and clarity never suffer no matter how dark it gets. Blu-ray is able to provide the most impressive technical presentation for films such as this, and this picture is certainly one of the best I’ve seen so far.

Audio

Equally as impressive is the film’s English DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1 surround sound mixed at 48kHz/16-bit. The sound here is LOUD, seriously. The packaging, again, mistakenly says the film has only a paltry Dolby Digital 5.1 surround sound track, so when the film started up and Lian-Chu’s first battle was taking place, I thought it sounded incredibly good for a standard Dolby Digital track – too good, in fact. It was only when I checked my receiver did I realize that this was something far more robust. The surrounds are given lots to work with here. Just listen to characters walking out of the frame, bats flying overhead and wind whistling through the trees. Even the LFE track is hearty, booming with some thunderous bass during the film’s battles. Also included is a French DTS 5.1 surround soundtrack.
Subtitles are available in English and Spanish.

Extras

A meager package, “Dragon Hunters” gets a short interview featurette, some fairly lame biographies of the film’s characters, locations and dragons, and the theatrical trailer.

“Interview with Forest Whitakerfeaturette runs for 4 minutes and 23 seconds. The Academy Award winner talks about his role in the film and his character, Lian-Chu. We also get a quick interview with Marie Drion, who provides the voice of Zoé.

Character biographies are provided for Gwizdo, Lian-Chu, Zoé, Hector, Lord Arnold and Gildas.

Dragon gallery contains information on The Silly Dragon, The Jimbob Dragon, The Farting Dragon, The Mamularus and The World Gobbler.

“The Universe of Dragon Hunters” contains text-based information on the film’s fantasy locations, including Lord Arnold’s Fortress, The Western Bridge, The Fields of Water Lilies, The Stinky Forest, The Jimbob Dragons’ Forest and The Great Western Wall.

The film’s theatrical trailer runs for 1 minute and 2 seconds.

Overall

The Film: C+ Video: A Audio: A- Extras: D Overall: B-

 


DVD Compare is a participant in the Amazon Services LLC Associates Program and the Amazon Europe S.a.r.l. Associates Programme, an affiliate advertising program designed to provide a means for sites to earn advertising fees by advertising and linking to amazon.co.uk, amazon.com, amazon.ca, amazon.fr, and amazon.de.