Dio: Dreamers Never Die

"One of the best music documentaries out there today"

by Christopher Thelen

dio_dreamersneverdie_500A documentary film, obviously, is meant to tell a story. A good documentary keeps the viewer locked into every moment, and leaves them disappointed when it finally ends. Dio: Dreamers Never Die is not a good documentary.

It is a great one.

Anyone who has read Ronnie James Dio’s autobiography will probably not find many surprises in this film, but that won’t stop them from taking in every detail, from his birth as Ronnie Padavona and his musical start on the trumpet to his days with Elf, Rainbow, Black Sabbath and his own band. Dio’s voice from numerous interviews interspersed with tales from his wife/manager/widow Wendy Dio, as well as former bandmates and heavy metal legends, all paint a picture of someone who not only was one of the best at what he did, but also never forgot his connection with his fanbase. (Yes, it also addresses the origin of his name and the use of his famous hand gesture.)

Dio: Dreamers Never Die isn’t afraid to tackle the tougher aspects of Dio’s life. His departures from Rainbow and Black Sabbath naturally had to be covered… but the car accident which nearly cost Dio his life (and did claim a band mate’s) only demonstrates the absolute drive Dio had to make a name for himself in the music world. Likewise, it tackles Dio’s final illness with candor and respect – and even 13 years after his death, the viewer is left hoping that Dio would kick cancer’s ass. To the credit of everyone involved, the filmmakers did not shy away from the controversy surrounding the departure of Vivian Campbell from the initial Dio lineup—and while all the questions surrounding it will never be completely answered, it does leave the viewer feeling like they heard both sides of the argument.

Weaknesses? This film has precious few. It did feel like Dio’s first aborted reunion with Black Sabbath that resulted in Dehumanizer is quickly glossed over—but that’s also an argument that could be made for some latter-day albums such as Killing The Dragon. Granted, Holy Diver and The Last In Line needed to have more attention put upon them—not only because they were key points of Dio’s success, but because they’re fantastic albums—but it would have been nice to have had some detail and insight provided on some of his lesser-known works.

Granted, the target audience for Dio: Dreamers Never Die might seem to be limited to those who grew up with Dio’s music in their lives… but don’t rule out the possibility of this film introducing Dio to an entirely new audience. When watching this film, my wife – who is not particularly into heavy metal – was in the room, and was listening to the movie. Even she admitted she found Dio’s story to be interesting. Whether that means she’ll be asking to borrow my copies of Heaven And Hell or Sacred Heart remains to be seen. (She admitted she was taken in not only by Dio’s earlier works from the ‘60s, but by “This Is Your Life,” which appears near the close of the film.)

That is, perhaps, the greatest success that this film has. Whether you are a neophyte to the world of Dio’s music or you’ve worn out several copies of Rainbow’s Rising from repeated listens, this film holds the power of rekindling the viewer’s passion for the music, and might inspire them to dig out their well-worn copies of albums that Dio graced and give them a deeper listen. It has inspired me to give his work with Elf a listen, as well as to go back to some Dio albums that aren’t held up as high as Holy Diver.

At two hours 16 minutes, Dio: Dreamers Never Die still feels like it only scratched the surface of Dio’s life and music, and it leaves the viewer craving more. Even the 20 minutes of bonus footage doesn’t feel like it’s enough.

For the fans of heavier music, this film will easily find a home next to the documentary about Lemmy—which, seeing the two are buried in the same section of Forest Lawn, only seems appropriate. It truly is one of the best music documentaries out there today, and is well worthy of your money and time.

[Editor’s Note: in addition to its limited theatrical release on September 28, Dio: Dreamers Never Die will be available for purchase beginning Sept. 29 in both DVD and Blu-Ray+4K formats.]

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