Wednesday, December 7, 2011

DRAGON CRUSADERS

The latest fantasy epic from micro-budget studio The Asylum and director Mark Atkins (PRINCESS OF MARS, DRAGONQUEST) is probably their best genre effort yet. DRAGON CRUSADERS (2011) is a lively and exciting mini-epic that benefits from a reasonably original story, a good cast, and gorgeous Welsh location work.

A small band of outlaw Knights Templar are accidentally cursed with a magic spell that will turn them - one at a time - into vicious, bat-winged gargoyles. The only hope of breaking the curse is to journey to the mountain stronghold of an evil wizard who not only controls a flock of fire-breathing dragons, but has the ability to become one himself.

With DRAGON CRUSADERS, Atkins fulfills the promise I perceived in his earlier fantasy epic, MERLIN & THE WAR OF THE DRAGONS, with a beautifully shot, well-paced, sword & sorcery adventure. Returning to many of the same picturesque and appropriately Medieval locations seen in MERLIN, and once again employing some very talented Welsh actors, CRUSADERS - shot in 14 days on a shoestring budget - plays and looks far more expensive than it is. Atkins' cinematography and editing are both very slick, and his screenplay is perfectly tailored to make the most of his limited resources.

The cast is uniformly solid. Dylan Jones (who previously appeared in various supporting roles in other Asylum productions, including MERLIN) is appropriately stoic and heroic as the leader of the knights, and handles the swordplay and riding with aplomb (the multi-talented Jones was also the horse master for the film). Sexy stuntwoman Cecily Fay makes a convincing (if tiny!) warrior woman, and Merlin himself, Simon Lloyd-Roberts, is memorable as the youngest of the cursed knights. Really, though, everyone in the cast is surprisingly good.

Production-wise, the costumes and props look fine, the digital creature effects appear to be somewhat more polished than usual, and Atkins makes terrific use of some truly impressive - and authentic-looking - locations. Composer Chris Ridenhour once again rises to the occasion, with another sweeping, epic musical score.

The Asylum DVD presents DRAGON CRUSADERS with a crystal-clear, rock-solid 1.85:1 anamorphic widescreen transfer. The viewer's audio options are 5.1 Surround or 2.0 stereo. Supplemental material consists of a "Making Of" featurette, a gag reel, and an assortment of trailers for other Asylum titles.

I must say I was pleasantly surprised with DRAGON CRUSADERS. We all know that I'm a pushover for fantasy material, but my expectations were far exceeded by Atkins' accomplished film. If you're an aficionado of dungeons and dragons and mystical tales of heroic deering-do, I suggest at least giving this one a rental - or checking it out when it makes its inevitable SyFy Channel showings. I enjoyed it quite a bit, and you may, too.

BUY: Dragon Crusaders