Reviewed: November, 2022
In her introduction to the recent Dio autobiography, RAINBOW IN THE DARK Wendy Dio says the reason that the book took so long to publish, (almost ten years after his death in 2012) is that she needed time to grieve. Hot on the heels of that book, she and co-author, Mick Wall have collaborated once again to bring us DREAMERS NEVER DIE, a documentary film. I like to view this as a companion piece as they follow a very similar trajectory.
This very well produced and well-paced film runs about two hours and was screened around North America in theatres for a few days in early October of 2022. There were a few bonus scenes and word is the film will be available on streaming, Blu-Ray and DVD.
DREAMERS NEVER DIE is a conventional retelling of the life of Ronald James Padova (aka Dio), who was one of the vocalists of Rainbow, Black Sabbath and had a long and prolific career as a solo artist. He was of the earliest innovators and most successful performers in the entire Metal genre, If you are reading this review, it is very likely you know who he was.
The film follows his entire career from us early bands in the 1950’s to his final interview after his final show. The visuals are great, the soundtrack is great, the writing is great! The whole think looked and sounded world-class.
The film is loaded with celebrities, people inside the Rock/Metal community (Sebastian Bach, Lita Ford, Rob Halford and Don Dokken), many, many former band members, and people outside Metal such as an extended and amusing segment with actor Jack Black. Everyone had nothing but praise, from rockers to industry people to journalists like Wall and Trunk, he was truly loved.
In terms of content, DREAMERS NEVER DIE is packed with interesting information, as any good bio-pic /documentary film should be. As a petty committed fan I found there wasn’t that much new information in the film. There are four or five books about Dio on the market, including his own which was just published in 2021 and I’ve read them all. Accordingly, while the information was presented very well, there wasn’t that much new material. I was hoping they would pay attention to his later years (1990-2004) as a solo artist, but I knew that wouldn’t happen. What did happen was even worse…they glossed over every after 1986 and SACRED HEART!
The movie really falls short in many respects. Did anyone think to interview guitarists Robertson, Grijalva or Aldrich? Maybe the producers did and the guitarists refused or maybe certain interviews didn’t make the final cut, who knows? Huge swaths of Dio’s solo career, almost a quarter of a century(!) was skipped. The narrator practically said, ‘Dio made some more albums after ‘Sacred Heart’ … and that was it. I understand the movie is primarily about Dio (the man) and not Dio (the band) or Dio (the soloartist) but after 1986 the three were inextricably linked. To skip 23 years of his career was a as very poor choice. The producers of the film made the same fatal mistake on the documentary that so many have made before. The producers assume (incorrectly) that they know what the audience wants to see, or even worse, if they are aware enough to be cognizant enough to recognize that fact, they ignore the target audience.
I can see the production meeting now, “Well, we are running out of time and it will expensive to interview more people, and no in cares about KILLING THE DRAGON or STRANGE HIGHWAYS anyway because they didn’t sell very many copies, so let’s skip all that stuff. My response would be, ‘You are fooling yourselves. Who else is going to see/buy a film about a dead rock star, except the FANS of the rock star?’ The answer is, Nobody! Why they assumed they should make a generic documentary that would have some sort of mass broad appeal is perplexing. Once again the true fans, the people who are actually going to care enough to go see/buy a film about Dio, get the shaft.
When I left the theatre, I heard many comments from the assembled patrons (all 20 of us) about what material was left out. Lack of time is not valid reason for poor planning in the development phase or bad decisions in the editing room. There is a fine balance between making a commercially viable popular, mainstream documentary film for people who have never heard of Dio and a film loaded with obscure trivia that caters to a just s few die-hard fans. Unfortunately the producers choose to make a very safe film.
The last mildly negative thing I will say this is very much Wendy’s film. She controls the narrative. For example, Dio’s first wife, that he was married to for 10 years does not get mentioned, neither does his adopted son. Wendy glosses over the fact that she and Ronnie lived very separate lives since 2002 (or earlier) and of course she would not mention she got remarried less than two years after Dio died. That would interfere with the uncomfortable weeping widow scene where she attends his (admittedly massive) grave site.
Another example is the infamous Campbell/Dio feud, it was fairly balanced but of course its Wendy’s movie and she gets the last word. In the previously mentioned official biography, Wendy admitted that Campbell was correct in his main complaint, he WAS getting paid less than the light crew! That little detail doesn’t make the film. (Of course Campbell was on a retainer and got paid wether he worked or not, unlike the light guys! Of course there are two-sides to every story) The whole feud should been covered fairly and impartially or completely skipped. I’m not sure why the filmmakers dedicated so much time to an argument that happened almost 40 years ago now! Campbell is rich and famous, Dio is dead…get over it. It’s ancient history. I would rather have seen that valuable screen time spent instead talking about ANGRY MACHINES or MAGICA.
As a side note: my personal feeling (I have no proof) is that Wendy wanted to address one of the only people (Campbell) who is openly and vocally critical of Dio, because Campbell is the only one who can legitimately tarnish Dio’s near saintly reputation. A wife can criticize her husband but if anyone else dares criticize her husband (who in all fairness can’t defend himself now for obviously reasons)… out come the claws!
This circled back to my comments about how it would have been nice to hear from other members of the Dio band, guys like Tracey G (for example) who were slogging it out with Dio in the bars when times were hard. It is much easier to celebrate the good times than dwell on the bad. There is higher marquee value filming Tony Iommi saying nice things about Dio than interviewing keyboard player of 17 years Scott Warren or touring bassist Larry Dennison. Of course, if Tracey G, (or whoever) had a negative opinion about Dio, he would not be dumb enough to share it with the producers of a Dio tribute film. If, Tracey G, for example, did have some controversial, negative or comments outside the narrative of the film, it probably would get cut from the film anyway. Why shoot your self in the foot and risk getting the negative reputation of being that guy who slammed Saint Dio when he was dead? Campbell can afford to tell his version of the truth, Tracey G (or any other ex-members of the lean years) probably can’t.
To her credit Wendy openly states she wanted to dedicate her life to sharing Ronnie’s talent and gifts and this film is the perfect vehicle. It enshrines and immortalizes Dio even more and I sincerely believe the accusations of Wendy exploiting the estate of Dio for financial gain are unfounded. She was his greatest champion for decades even if their romantic lives together did not work.
Which brings us to our conclusion. Sure DREAMERS NEVER DIE is biased and incomplete, but what documentary isn’t? Once you reconcile these simple facts and set them aside, it really was a fantastic film. As a tribute to the golden voiced god of Metal DREAMERS NEVER DIE is a total success!