Why Have Dragons Had Such a Hard Time Making It to the Silver Screen?

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Dragons are easily the most prevalent villains in fantasy literature. With their soaring wingspan, reptilian look, and ability to breathe fire, they’ve inspired thousands of stories… Yet dragons have only been sparingly used on film, and most of their movie appearances have been small hits at the box office, if not outright failures. Why have dragons had such a hard time making it to the silver screen?

The answer lies in special effects. Animatronics might have worked
for smaller or cuter creatures, but a slow moving, mechanical dragon is
nowhere near as frightening. This works in favor of friendly dragons,
like Falcor from The Neverending Story,
but that’s the exception that proves the rule. As effects moved away
from animatronics and into CGI, new technology presented its own
problems.

Up until recently, CGI had a problem with “things riding on things,”
so to speak. Creatures on their own could look pretty good, but once
you put one figure riding on another, the believability of both
figures went down the drain. And since fantasy has a long tradition of
dragon-riders, conveying this on film simply wasn’t possible.
Similarly, while CGI artists have mastered metal and smooth surfaces
long ago, hair, and biological surfaces (read: Scales), have taken a
far longer time to perfect. So you could have effectively portrayed a
metal dragon, but what tales feature one?

Recent advances in FX technology have rendered these problems
obsolete; individually rendered hairs have become far easier for CGIers
to convey. So while 1996′s DragonHeart may have had to experiment with more primitively depicted dragons, later movies such as 2002′s Reign of Fire mastered the art.

Check out the groundbreaking dragon effects yourself. For a full schedule of Reign of Fire on AMC, click here.

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