An instant hit in its 1983 arcade debut, Dragonís Lair has now been digitally restored and enhanced with an all-new 5.1 surround sound mix. The video has been transferred directly from the original film and cleaned frame by frame by Digital Leisure and authoring studio Infinite HD, creating a truly vibrant image. In addition, Dragonís Lair is the first release to be authored in the Blu-ray Java environment, or BD-J, an advanced format that allows users to enjoy a fully arcade-authentic experience.
For more about Dragon's Lair and the Dragon's Lair Blu-ray release, see Dragon's Lair Blu-ray Review published by PeteR on September 26, 2007 where this Blu-ray release scored 4.0 out of 5.
Valiant knight Dirk the Daring traverses a castle filled with deadly traps and even deadlier creatures to save the beautiful Princess Daphne from the dragon.
It's a kid's game! Really!
It's a game? It's a movie? Well, it's both. Released in mid-1983 to U.S. arcades, Dragon's Lair was the first LaserDisc based game. What they had done was create a film that had several different outcomes depending on how one moved the joystick or pressed the sword button. The arcade cabinet contained a LaserDisc player and a circuit board with the programmed moves that told the LD player what part of the disc to play. Before that, gamers were used to cute, low resolution sprites like Pac-Man and Donkey Kong, with sound no better than bleeps and blips. If you were lucky, some games had a MIDI music score. Suddenly there was a game with near-feature quality animation, with sound and music to match. Needless to say it caused quite a sensation and raked in millions of dollars in quarters, quite a few of them mine.
You really can't reviewDragon's Lairthe same way someone would review a film or a game. It really is unique. The story is simple enough for the uninitiated to pick up instantly (move at designated times, hit the button to draw your sword). The game itself is fairly short, even shorter when you consider several sequences are repeated (mirrored). Perhaps it's biggest flaw is that once you've conquered the game, there's little reason to play again, except perhaps to try to make it all the way through without dying. Fortunately Digital Leisure has included enough extras to round out the package and make it more of a buy than a rental. For true fans of the arcade original, it's a nice way to own a little bit of electronics history. Kids will get a kick out of the animation, and Dirk's various deaths are still amusing after all these years.
Playing nearly 25 years later, I found that I remembered a great deal of the old moves. But not all of them: I also found several new ways to die. The timing of a few sequences are just as frustrating as they were in 1983. Good thing there's an unlimited lives option or I'd probably still be trying to play all the way through.
Over the years, various incarnations of Dragon's Lair came out for home gaming consoles and computers. Unfortunately those versions never measured up to the arcade, either they used the same primitive sprites of other types of games, or was in low frame rate, low resolution video that didn't do justice to the animation. Imagine playing the new (remastered) The Fifth Element on your cell phone for an idea how poor the home versions looked compared to the original. It wasn't until 1998 when Digital Leisure brought out a version on DVD that allowed the full experience of the original film and sound of the original LaserDisc to be experienced by the home user. Digital Leisure re-released it on DVD in 2003 to celebrate the 20th anniversary of the original, adding behind the scenes extras and a new video transfer.
For this new edition, Digital Leisure has gone back to the original elements to create a brand new 1080p high definition master, remixing the sound for Dolby Digital 5.1.
Encoded in MPEG2, this new 1080p transfer is more than likely the best anyone outside of the Bluth studio has seen. The new transfer is a dramatic improvement over the previous DVD incarnations, to say nothing of the original arcade LaserDisc. The most noticeable difference is the color. I didn't realize how pale the original version was until I directly compared it to this new version. Grain and film flicker has been reduced, though can still be distracting at times. Oddly, the film's transfer seems uneven as far as the restoration goes: some scenes look clean and solid, but others look a bit battered and dirty in comparison, and can even vary from shot to shot. It's still miles ahead of the DVD version, but could still use further refinement. MPEG2 artifacts are minimal.
My biggest gripe with the transfer is that it has been cropped from the original 1.33 aspect ratio. The framing isn't compromised too much, it appears the filmmakers left themselves some room for overscan on the old arcade monitors, but it is often too tight for comfort. The scene with the black knight and the electric floor panels is a good example: the knight's head in the overhead shot is slightly cropped off. As an OAR (Original Aspect Ratio) advocate, I would liked for Digital Leisure to have at least offered a 1.33 option. This knocks half a point off my score.
Remixed for 5.1, the sound design is hit and miss. Some scenes have a terrific envelopment, some are missed opportunities. Perhaps the best sound remix is the river scene, with rushing water in the rear channels, the "hints" in the proper left and right channels, and a bass rumble with the whirlpools. Dialogue is clear (what little of it there is), from Princess Daphne's Marilyn Monroe coo to Dirk's various grunts and screams. One oddity though is the last scene, where the majority of the sound (dialog, music, sound effects) moves to the surround channels and then back to the front.
The sound design is low budget, consisting of mostly stock sound effects, and unfortunately the remix exposes the weakness of the score: it sounds very much like a Casio keyboard. You won't mistake it for the Jerry Goldsmith or James Horner scores in Bluth's feature films from that era.
One nit about the sound: since there are rapid scene changes depending on what you choose to do, the sound on my receiver kept clicking on and off whenever it re-locked onto the Dolby Digital signal. I recommend you change your output from "bitstream" to "PCM" for this title.
"Watch"(various running times): lets you watch the entirety of Dragon's Lair without playing, including the various deaths from each sequence. I recommend you play before watching, lest you spoil the ending for yourself. You can also choose a particular scene.
"Video Commentary" (0:19:11): Filmmakers Don Bluth, Gary Goldman, and Rick Dyer discuss the making of both the film and the game. A must see for any fan of the game since they tell many interesting behind the scenes stories. Listening to them makes you not only amazed that they pulled it off, but how they so did in such a short time. Utilizes the BD Java feature (and makes you wonder why major studios like Warner Bros. can't do the same).
Creator Interviews (0:22:56): Stand alone video of the filmmakers discussing the creation, history, and restoration of the game. A continuation of the video commentary.
HD Restoration(various): Short, repeating/split-screen clips of the before and after the video restoration.
Dragon's Lair Time Capsule (0:01:43): Split screen segment showing the various transfers of Dragon's Lair to the home. Contains spoilers.
Previews (various): Arcade attract modes for Dragon's Lair, Space Ace, and Dragon's Lair II: Time Warp. The clip quality is the same as the feature, so it would seem Digital Leisure will also be bringing out restored HD versions of these LaserDisc games to Blu-ray.
There are a few maddening glitches that I personally encounteredÖfor one thing I could not get the disc to play at all with CyberLink's PowerDVD Ultra (v7.3), even the latest version installed on my PC. The first time I tried to play it, the disc locked PowerDVD up hard and I had to reboot to close the application. After trying to uninstall and doing a clean install, PowerDVD no longer locked up, but simply refused to play the disc.
Moving on to the PlayStation 3, playback was smooth and flawless, save for the Java based menu systems. The Special Features menu uses a text overlay over a still background. Except for a split second glimpse of the background, the PS3 only displays the text. With no PC playback it's difficult to tell whether it's the PS3 or an authoring issue. Again, it's not a fatal flaw, but it can be annoying when trying to choose a single scene for playback.
For hardcore fans of the original who have a Blu-ray player, this is a no brainer to pick up. Other than the OAR issue and the aforementioned glitches, I found it a pleasant surprise and a welcome addition to my library.
Digital Leisure has announced that they will bring the sequel 'Dragon's Lair II: Time Warp' to Blu-ray on June 2nd. You play the role of Dirk the Daring as he tries to save Princess Daphne once again. The legendary game (originally released on LaserDisc) has been ...