Of all the big studio/distributors, Universal is probably the best at banging out late-arriving, low-budget, direct-to-video sequels that always seem to take you by surprise at the video store. “What? There’s a Scorpion King Part FOUR? Hey, is that a sequel to Jarhead? Oooh, a new Chucky movie! And exactly how many Beethoven movies are there? Eight?!?” Suffice to say that Universal 1440 (aka Universal Home Video) doesn’t look to be slowing down any time soon. In a few short weeks we’ll get something called The Man with the Iron Fists 2, but until that one shows up, it’s time for Dragonheart 3: The Sorcerer’s Curse.
Why exactly someone decided to resurrect this particular franchise is anybody’s guess, but it probably has something to do with those darn Hobbit movies making dragons cool again. The first DragonHeart (1996) was a decent enough (if highly forgettable) family-friendly fantasy movie, and while it wasn’t exactly a box office smash (it barely cracked $50 million), DragonHeart went on to become a very popular movie on DVD and cable — and that led to the first “DTV” sequel, the flat and inert Dragonheart 2: A New Beginning (2000), which, despite what the title says, was not the beginning of anything.
So now it’s 15 years later and apparently it’s high time to bang out a Dragonheart Part 3, but is it any good? Well, kinda, sorta, if you’re in a good mood. Frankly it’s a hell of a lot more interesting than Part 2, and while neither the plot nor the dialogue are likely to win any awards, there’s something to be said for a low-budget fantasy adventure that’s actually OK for kids and makes a concerted effort towards quality in the face of very limited means. If the end result looks a bit like an episode of Hercules or Xena, that’s fine. Lots of people enjoy movies about knights and wizards and dragons (oh my) enough to forgive a few wooden actors and some sloppily-cut action sequences.
Aside from the premise, which involves a talking dragon who bonds with a reluctant hero — and the magical strains of Randy Edelman’s original DragonHeart theme — there’s no connection to the previous movies. Here we have a young man who yearns to become a knight, but he alienates his king by refusing to beat up a poor merchant, which means the stupidly noble Gareth (Julian Morris) is now unemployed. (But since his king is an evil bastard, it sort of works out pretty well.) It doesn’t take long before our greedy little eventual hero builds himself a team that includes a talking dragon, a pretty archer, a skinny thief, and a goofy cleric.
In addition to the evil king who fired Gareth, there’s also a very nasty sorcerer who can turn dragons into ghosts whenever a light source is handy. (It all gets pretty goofy, albeit in a slightly tongue-in-cheek Dungeons & Dragons sort of way.) Compared to a big-budget theatrical release, Dragonheart 3 is plainly lacking in all sorts of visual departments (the digital animation isn’t half bad) but longtime TV director Colin Teague seems to know how to stretch a budget to its limit, as well as how to cut around some of the more troublesome areas.
Aside from Ben Kingsley, who provides the voice of a heroic dragon tasked with defending a batch of eggs, the cast is a collection of newcomers. Morris does a fine job with a simply-drawn character, and Tamzin Merchant (as an archer who carries a serious grudge) provides a nice spark here and there, but generally speaking the dragon is the star of the show. Both of the villains get to be superbly evil and say very silly things, but that’s nothing new.
But a talking dragon that turns into a ghost when the sun goes down? Now that’s pretty new.
Bottom line? Judged solely on the “Universal’s Home Video Department” scale of quality, Dragonheart 3: The Sorcerer’s Curse ranks higher than the Scorpion King sequels, but not quite as well as the Death Race sequels. (Yeah, I like those.) If you have a soft spot for all things related to dragons, castles, and wizards, you may have a little fun here. But don’t expect a Lord of the Rings-level explosion of jaw-dropping majesty.
2.5 direct-to-microwave burritos