By Tom Ue.
The opening of Dragonheart Vengeance (2020) juxtaposes two seemingly unrelated narratives. First, we learn of the appearance of the dragon Siveth (voiced by Helena Bonham Carter) in a war-torn kingdom. Where formerly it was greeted as a beacon of hope, it has now been banished, becoming the stuff of whispers. Second, we meet Lukas (Jack Kane), whose family was one of six killed by four vicious raiders and their gangs, and whose farm was burnt to the ground. As the film unfolds, however, the narrative threads are closely intertwined: Lukas recruits Siveth and the mercenary Darius (Joseph Millson) to help him with seeking revenge, only to find that the raiders speak to a much larger political plot that touches all of their lives. King Razvan (Arturo Muselli) hopes to distract the public from the food shortages, for which he is directly responsible, by generating a culture of fear.
Dragonheart Vengeance meditates, to productive effect, on the different answers to injustices. In what follows, I discuss, with director Ivan Silvestrini, this latest chapter in the Dragonheart series, the processes of location scouting and filming in Romania, and how the film came together in postproduction. Silvestrini graduated from Centro Sperimentale di Cinematografia in 2009. Ever since, he has directed film and television. He directed several Web series, before making his first film Tell No One (Not a Word) in 2012. In 2016, his indie movie 2night appeared; and he co-wrote and directed his first international feature Monolith (IT/US). Silvestrini he directed the first season of Lejos De Ti (IT/ES/CZ) in 2018.
Dragonheart (1996) has spawned a number of prequels and sequels. Did you feel intimidated when you took on this project?
I felt honored. Raffaella De Laurentiis made it very easy for me to settle in. I felt the challenge, but it was so exciting to get onboard and there were so many things to do that I honestly had no time to feel intimidated. Over the years, Dragonheart has become a family, and a very welcoming one.
How do you see this film fitting in with the others?
I was familiar with the saga, but it’s quite an anthological one, where movies are connected because of a theme – not the stories themselves. I approached it like it was a whole new movie, paying homage to the Original Myth. This movie was structurally very different from the others, so I was kind of free in terms of style and storytelling. At the same time, I didn’t want to drift too much from the tone that the script suggested. I think I’ve been as faithful as possible.
In what ways does this new chapter offer something new?
Well, we have a female dragon. That’s something hard to miss. It’s a road movie: we travel through different lands and landscapes. There’s more humor, and it gives the movie a slightly different vibe.
What was it like to film in Romania?
I honestly didn’t know what to expect, but when we scouted locations across Transylvania I found myself amazed with its nature. We needed to give the idea of very different locations, including deserts, forests, and mountains. We found them all there, and also got heavy snow for the final climax. It was a Revenant-like experience to shoot in such freezing weather, but it looks astonishing in the movie.
The film looks beautiful, and it’s often hard to tell when photography ends and when visual effects begin: how did you scout the locations?
I was very specific with not wanting the movie to look the same from the beginning to the end, so the location managers had a really hard time making ends meet with all our needs. Production was distributed in three different – very faraway – areas, between Bucharest surroundings and studios, between Rasnov and wilder wonders in deep Transylvania. I can tell you, there are not many visual effects in the landscape: it needed no big enhancement to look gorgeous.
Much of the film relies on Jack Kane’s performance as Lukas. Often, he is responding only to Siveth. How did you cast him?
Casting was pretty quick. Gillian Hawser made a terrific pre-selection in London, so we basically spent two days there to pick 80% of the cast.
Jack was there by chance. He was there for another audition, but was kind enough to trust Gillian and audition for us. We had a call back the day after and we chose him. He was a pleasure to work with, always listening and never afraid of anything.
What kinds of training did Kane go through?
We turned him into a middle-ages man: we taught him to ride a horse and to use a sword. Almost from scratch. It’s incredible what he could do by the time we were on set.
Voicing is, of course, quite important: Were the recordings done before or after shooting, when you have a clear sense of what the picture looks like?
We recorded after. We needed the movie to have been cut already. There was still some room to try new things when Helena joined us, and I tried to push her to be creative, not that she needed any push.
What kind of directions did you give Carter?
The female voice has a very different spectrum from the male one. I had to find the right tone and tune with her. It’s not like she would do anything wrong – she’s a goddess – but sometimes I had to try different sounds with her, not to sound too big (the visuals were big enough) or too soft. I felt like she could modulate her wonderful voice as much as she wanted, but on her first words in every scene, it would still need to be believable that that voice was coming out of a dragon. She was great of course, and understood immediately.
In terms of character, it was very clear from the script itself what Siveth was like. But we did our best to make her sound surprising and peculiar thanks to Helena’s inventiveness.
What do you think moves Siveth and Darius to help Lukas?
They want to help Lukas do different things: Darius lives to pursue his own impossible revenge by helping others get theirs. Siveth is wisdom made in a dragon – she’s a pacifist – but even she will be put to the test before the end.
With the removal of the king, Lukas’ world seems to be at peace: Siveth had saved, in her ice cave, half of all of the crop seed that she has been paid, and she shares it with the people. But is it?
You must have noticed something very subtle I tried to squeeze out of him. Even though things may seem to end well, some adventures leave a scar. That’s life. You have to learn to carry your burden without letting it become too heavy. Always look up.
What is next for the series?
I’m pretty sure Matthew Feitshans has already ideas for it.
What is next for you?
I have written two scripts and a TV show bible. Hopefully, I’ll be working on one of them soon.
Tom Ue researches and teaches courses on nineteenth-century British literature, intellectual history, and cultural studies at Dalhousie University. He is the author of Gissing, Shakespeare, and the Life of Writing (Edinburgh University Press, forthcoming) and George Gissing(Liverpool University Press, forthcoming), and the editor of George Gissing, The Private Papers of Henry Ryecroft (Edinburgh University Press, forthcoming). Ue has held the prestigious Frederick Banting Postdoctoral Fellowship and he is an Honorary Research Associate at University College London.