Monday, March 21, 2005

Dragons: a Fantasy Made Real

Before I go on, I must post a word of warning. Here there be spoilers. If you have not see Dragons: a Fantasy Made Real yet and you don't want it spoiled for you, read no further.

Anyhow, as a child I have been interested in mythology and folklore since childhood. I have also been interested in pop culture since childhood. Naturally, these two interests meet when it comes to the subject of dragons. Dragons are very much a part of mythology and folklore, myths and tales about them being found among virtually every culture on the planet. Perhaps because of this, dragons have played a large role in pop culture, in movies (Dragonslayer, Dragonheart), games (Dungeons and Dragons, Everquest), books (Dragon Riders of Pern), and even songs (Puff the Magic Dragon). It was then natural that I was anxious to see the special Dragons: a Fantasy Made Real on Animal Planet.

I must say that I was not disappointed. Dragons: a Fantasy Made Real is a pseudo-documentary that treats dragons as if they actually existed. The framing story for this pseudo-documentary is that a group of scientists discover the body of a dragon in a cave in remote Roumania. As the scientists study the body, we are provided with both a history lesson on dragons and scientific explanations of how they may have been able to fly and breathe fire. I must say that everything sounds very plausible. I have never been good at science, but their explanations sounded reasonable to me.

Dragons: a Fanstasy Made Real is made all the more convincing by computer animation of dragons interacting with other dragons, other animals, and their envirnoment. The CGI work is very good, so much so that it hard to believe that the dragons aren't real. Disbelief is suspended even more given the script, which is well written and unfolds as any good nature documentary should, unfolding fact one at a time, from explaining how dragons breathed fire to how they died out. Kudos must go to Patrick Stewart, whose magnicent voice lends even more credence to what many might find implausible otherwise.

As I said, I found their explanations plausible, although I do have a few caveats. According to Dragons: a Fantasy Made Real, dragons breathe fire by releasing the hydrogen contained in their flight bladders, which is then ignited by platinum (which they eat precisely to be able to breathe fire). While this explanation sounds quite reasonable to me, I can see one problem with it. Platinum is very rare. I think it would be more realistic if they had chosen a different means of ignition, such as an eletrical charge (which is seen in nature--look at electric eels and electric rays). I was also disappointed with the lifespan they gave dragons. It seems to me that, unless I am mistaken, dragons only live 40 to 80 years. I have always loved the legends and folktales which have dragons living thousands of years. I have to admit that this probably would not be plausible had dragons actually existed, but would 100 to 200 years be out of the question? Just look at the lifespan of some tortoises...

Another caveat I had is that Dragons: a Fantasy Made Real was just too short. It was only about ninety minutes, with another half hour consisting of a "making of" documentary. I think it could have been a good half hour longer. They could have added a few interviews with "experts," discussing the habits and physiologies of dragons. They could have also recreated some of the legendary battles with dragons (Beowulf, St. George), rewritten as if dragons had actually existed.

Regardless, I did enjoy Dragons: a Fantasy Made Real very much. I think it is quite possibly the best thing that both the Discovery Channel and Animail Planet have ever done. I would recommend anyone interested in dragons to see it at once.

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