Written and directed by Marc Fafard
Starring Max Von Sydow, Laurence Leboeuf and Serge Houde
Apparently, Salt Lake’s Clark Planetarium is feeling a little hemmed in by hard science.
Though the planetarium has sometimes lent its IMAX screen to the neighboring Megaplex 12, Clark’s own movie offerings have traditionally focused on either space or biological science. With “Dragons: Real Myths and Unreal Creatures,” the planetarium’s latest IMAX show, that’s clearly starting to change.
Whether this new direction will succeed, however, is an entirely different question. “Dragons” straddles an uneasy line between education and pure fiction, failing to deliver on the first genre while never quite letting itself stretch its wings enough to fully embrace the second. Though the movie has its charms, it never manages to overcome a major identity crisis.
Like with many Clark Planetarium movies, “Dragons” does have an educational element. The movie, which stars Max Von Sydow, accurately recounts several dragon myths found in European and Asian cultures. There are also a few seemingly random references to Carl Sagan, as if someone on the production team felt that the well-known scientist’s name would be enough to give the movie some factual grounding.
At its heart, though, what “Dragons” really wants to be is a fantasy. The movie focuses on two central characters – Skye Ingram, a gothic-looking girl who’s been plagued by strange dreams, and Dr. Alistair Conis, a collector of unusual, mystical-looking artifacts. Both take turns narrating the myths that make up the bulk of the movie, but they also drop cryptic clues about secrets in both their pasts.
Though the myths themselves are genuine, there’s little effort to tie them to any historical context and absolutely no effort at analysis or sociological framework. Instead, the focus is on the movie’s central mystery, emphasized with several fun, inventive visual touches. They start out relatively subtle, growing more obvious as actress Laurence Leboeuf’s once innocent-looking character grows more desperate and menacing. “Dragons” is far more interested in making a new myth than exploring the ones it’s gathered.
Whatever the movie lacks in analysis, it makes up for in visual punch. The dragons themselves are gorgeous, rendered in surprisingly detailed and realistic computer animation. They command attention every time they’re on screen, though their roars are loud and frightening enough that small children should probably be kept away. These creatures are beautiful, but they’re not in the slightest bit friendly.
As for the movie itself, it’s both fascinating and ultimately unsatisfying. People who enjoy the planetarium’s other offerings won’t feel like they’ve learned enough, and those who enjoy fantasy movies will feel cheated by the too-brief plot.
If Clark truly wants to broaden its horizons, “Dragons” isn’t the steadiest first step. Hopefully, their next offering won’t be quite so confused about what it’s trying to be.