Did you know there was another big-budget CGI Dragon movie out? While I will never say that this one has as much heart or a screenplay up to Dreamworks’ How To Train Your Dragon (Matt’s Review), it certainly wins the contest for visual imagination. French studio Futurikon and creators Guillaume Ivernel and Arthur Qwak have certainly succeeded in an act of wondrous world-building with Dragon Hunters. The film enjoyed a fairly wide release in Europe in 2008, but went straight to DVD in North America at the same time that HtTyD’s theatre run ended.
As to the rules of the world, the filmmakers do not offer much in the way of why or how, rather let the strange geography of floating islands and micro-planets which exist in the world-of-the-sky play out like a dream that the characters simply take for granted. And the characters themselves seem like a amalgamation of Norse, British, French and Chinese archetypes (The English Voice dub has Ghost Dog himself, Forest Whitaker, the french Dub as Gaspar Noe regular Philip Nahon) as the heroic and gentle Lian-Chu who leads a rag-tag bunch (a con artist, a dog-rabbit-thing and a little girl) on a quest to kill the worlds largest dragon at the behest of a more than slightly insane (and tellingly blind) lord of the land. The dragon designs are magnificently malevolent: A vicious pair of electrical beasties, thousands of bats that merge to form a fluid fire-breathing Frankenstein, a Hayao Miyazaki inspired rocket-powered pig-like things, and of course the megasized (with a great tree looking like a toothpick next to it for scale) World Gobbler who seems to be death itself (in skeletal form) and may or may not be the source of the worlds strangely unbalanced gravity. The camera work (if that is the correct term) is constantly trying to find the proper ‘horizon’ line while the characters often feel like they are in a real life ‘mario brothers’ game moving from floating platform to floating platform. The only draw back (although if you go with the ‘dream theory’ it is not so bad) is that the characters are able to take way more physical pummeling than even by the standards set in usual CGI kids fantasies.
OK, so the first 15 minutes of the film are a total slog, and the dialogue is at times hilariously offensive (not in a pop-cultural way, but rather like if aliens had came down and watched a few too many Dreamworks movies (or some of the snarkier entries of Disney and other purveyors of popular childrens entertainment) and made their own without really understanding the nuance of making the characters wise-ass. The language is harsh and the plotting clumsy, but boy oh boy is this a stunner to look at. Someone give these guys a real script, pronto.
I have read a few speculations that Canal+ and the other European distributors held off with a North American Theatrical release, because there was an argument with potential domestic distributors over up-converting this to 3D. Further speculation of my own is that it would have conflicted directly with How To Train Your Dragon which was advertising at the time, but released about a year later. And the TV show that the film acts sort of as a CGI-prequel is not really known outside of certain European markets. And yet, Dragon Hunters apparently has a ‘system-demo-level’ Blu-Ray release, and it sure looked stunning on HD-Netflix Instant Watch when we sat down for ‘family movie night’ in the home theatre. No, I still have not watched Kung Fu Panda (which admittedly is praised for many of the reasons stated above.)