DragonHeart is about a 10th century English knight turned dragonslayer and a talking dragon who forge an unlikely friendship and team up to battle an evil king who betrayed them both in the past. The CG dragon Draco, was voiced by none other than Sean Connery, and created by Industrial Light & Magic with technology that pushed the boundaries of what Jurassic Park did with its dinosaurs by not only being a photorealistic dragon, but also one that could talk and act alongside humans.
Unknown to most, DragonHeart had an interesting development as it was being made, and the film that was released is in fact far from what it was originally intended to be. The movie was supposed to be a serious and transcendent epic fantasy that explores the nature of morality and ethics but due to executive meddling from Universal Pictures and decisions made by director Rob Cohen, it was dumbed down into a cheesy, cliché "kiddie" film. To sum it up, Universal and director Rob Cohen made DragonHeart family-friendly when it was written for a mature audience.
Even though there is a lot of nostalgia attached to the film, I think it's one of those movies that could use a remake because it had a great premise that was executed poorly. It didn't fare well at the box office but went on to achieve cult classic status and gain itself a fan base over the years since then, a fan base I am a proud member of. The film has also spawned a franchise that includes a sequel DragonHeart: A New Beginning, and two prequels, DragonHeart 3: The Sorcerer's Curse and DragonHeart: Battle for the Heartfire. DragonHeart has now celebrated its 20th anniversary, so why not have another look at it?
I found a great multi-part interview with Charles Edward Pogue from Mike Hodel's Hour 25 online radio show that includes a section roughly 15 minutes in where he goes into great detail on the production of DragonHeart and how it went downhill. Pogue reveals how his highly praised screenplay for DragonHeart was affected by the choice to make Draco through CGI, poor decisions made by director Rob Cohen as well as some questionable and unacceptable behavior on Cohen's part.
During the making of the film, the decision to make Draco through CGI is what caused him to be shown less in the movie than he was supposed to be, plus the fact that computer animation was extremely expensive at the time. This also meant that several scenes involving Draco had to be either changed or removed completely. Charles Pogue's original screenplay for the film was praised by all who read it, claiming it sent them on an emotional roller coaster and that it was one of the best scripts they had ever read, but Rob Cohen wanted to show off Draco as the main selling point of the film, causing the story to take a backseat. He chose to cut important scenes from the film that not only served the story but also contained vital moments of character development. To add insult to injury, Cohen not only removed material that was crucial to the film's story, he put in new material just for laughs and added things without putting any apparent thought into them. At the end of it all, Pogue’s lauded screenplay was diminished and the final product was a mediocre film at best. It was deemed a disappointment by both him and Johnson; a feeling shared by audiences and a fair amount of critics alike, who praised the visual effects but felt the story was lackluster and the script was either underdeveloped or cliché.
As I read Pogue's novelization of the film, I easily imagine how it would appear as a movie with gorgeous imagery on par with today's fantasy films like Harry Potter and The Lord of the Rings. This book is truly what the film should have been and it shows what original director Patrick Read Johnson and Charles Edward Pogue wanted to accomplish but couldn't. All in all, a remake based on this book would be amazing. Some elements removed from the film that are revealed in the novelization include:
- A scene where Kara, Gilbert, and the rebels gift Bowen with a new shield and suit of armor they design and make, adorned with a coat of arms made of the symbol of the Old Code (a silver sword hilt up within a golden circle) combined with stars that form the constellation Draco.
- Features removed from Draco's design due to budget, lack of time, and software issues such as the iridescent scales, nictitating membrane, glowing eyes, and maimed right hand.
- A scene where, on the eve of battle, Bowen flies around the rebel camp and Einon's castle on Draco's back as his scales change color to match the night sky and enable them to fly around undetected.
- A scene where Einon returns to Draco's cave after the encounter at the waterfall and finds Aislinn there.
- During the scene where Bowen and Draco scam Lord Felton, Draco causes more damage to the lord's property as his fireballs cause a blizzard of flour to cover everything and Draco causes a huge grist wheel to crash into the side of Felton's house. Bowen charges toward Draco on horseback and the 'fight' ends abruptly when Draco pretends to eat Bowen and flies off carrying his horse toward their waterfall base, leading to Bowen and Draco's discussion about the latter's longing for death.
For more in-depth information on the book and its differences to the film, feel free to check out its page on the DragonHeart Wikia.
This goes to show that had Universal trusted Patrick Read Johnson's direction and followed Pogue's screenplay instead of taking it apart and juvenilizing it to appeal to children when it wasn't written for them, there's the chance that DragonHeart would have been an instant hit and would be taken more seriously nowadays, instead of only being noted for the Oscar-nominated effects work on Draco, being the first film to use ILM's Caricature software, or being commonly referred to as "the movie with Sean Connery as the voice of the dragon."
In 2013, Patrick Read Johnson expressed a desire to remake DragonHeart, with the possibility of bringing back Liam Neeson and Sean Connery. Plus, with today's technology, the features that were removed from Draco during the production process due to money, lack of time, and the state of CGI tech at the time can now be easily implemented. Thus making it possible for Draco to have far more screen time and for there to be more scenes of interaction between him and the actors. As the DragonHeart franchise is currently cranking out prequels, the word is that they might one day lead to the original film getting remade.
I reached out to Johnson about my petition on Twitter and he is all for it. I have also spoken to Scott Squires, the visual effects supervisor on DragonHeart, and he said the film can definitely be remade but studio executives need to be convinced that it's worth revisiting. I think that with dragons currently enjoying a huge surge in popularity and all of the fantasy based movies and TV shows being made these days, there's no reason why a DragonHeart remake couldn't work. Some films have benefited from a remake or reboot because they were handled properly. Although studios interfering with the directors, screenwriters, or producers of a film can be beneficial at times, it can also sometimes completely ruin a film. Studio heads usually do this for a variety of reasons: because they fear the film to be too much of a risk and will fail at the box office when they want to turn a profit, they believe the audience doesn't want a film of its kind, the audience can't handle a film with deep messages or an unhappy ending let alone one that's close to or more than 3 hours in length.
Many classic films like Gremlins, Back to the Future, and even the Lord of the Rings trilogy were nearly ruined by executive meddling. It just so happens to be the reason why the infamous Superman III and Superman IV: The Quest for Peace turned out the way that they did. With Liam Neeson as Bowen, Sean Connery returning to voice Draco, an all-English cast like Johnson originally wanted, proper medieval-style costumes, a longer running time, and the right direction, DragonHeart could become the serious, compelling epic fantasy it was always meant to be.
In this Nostalgia Critic video, Doug gives some reasons I agree with on why a DragonHeart remake can work.
If you'd like Universal Pictures to #RemakeDragonHeart more faithful to the novelization, sign the Care2 petition here and help it reach its goal of 100 signatures or more. Feel free to voice your opinions in the comments below. It's important that this petition gets spread around to as many people as possible, especially before Sean Connery passes, as he is the only one who can give life to Draco and make us look "to the stars."
- Patrick Read Johnson's 2001 interview with IGN (parts 2 & 3)
- Draco - Monster Legacy blog