DIO: DREAMERS NEVER DIE is directed by Don Argott and Demian Fenton. The film features a combination of archival footage and newly-filmed interview clips with family, friends, admirers, and collaborators of Ronnie James Dio.
Ronnie James Dio was born in 1942 and passed away in 2010. From his younger years, Mr. Dio had a wide and diverse musical career, from playing trumpet during his school years to touring regionally with garage bands, eventually landing a record deal with his band Elf, and rising to rock stardom with bands that included Rainbow, Black Sabbath (in which he replaced Ozzy Osbourne), and eventually his solo band, Dio. He even raised funds to fight world hunger with his Hear N Aid project in the mid 1980s.Did I mention he’s the one responsible for popularizing the “heavy metal horns” hand gesture? Even through changes in the music business, including heavy metal being seen as old hat, Dio persevered, continuing to tour and make audiences around the world bang their heads, before his unfortunate death from stomach cancer in 2010.
It seems like ever since ANVIL: THE STORY OF ANVIL came out just over a decade ago, increasing numbers of musical artists (and in the case of deceased ones, their respective estates) have jumped on the documentary bandwagon. They can’t all be great, but there have certainly been some gems, with last year’s THE SPARKS BROTHERS arguably being my favorite. When I heard that a documentary was being made on Ronnie James Dio, one of the greatest rock vocalists of all time, was to be made, I was understandably skeptical, but became happy and relieved to hear that the final product would be sanctioned by Ronnie’s widow Wendy Dio, and being helmed by an experienced and dedicated crew, not to mention that it would feature interviews with a wide and eclectic mix of guests.
The movie premiered at a film festival earlier this year, having a proper Hollywood premier at the Chinese Theater a few weeks ago. The film was shown in theaters on two days only, the first of which being Wednesday, September 28, and the second being Sunday, October 2. Here in the Vegas Valley, it was being shown at three theaters. I and several local heavy metal fans attended the Wednesday night showing at Regal Red Rock (note that this was not a press screening; I actually had to purchase a ticket for this one). The theatrical exhibition featured some additional deleted scenes following the closing credits; this was thankfully mentioned and advertised before the feature so people didn’t accidentally leave the theater (these will presumably be bonus features on the inevitable home video release down the road). One nice bonus too was that there were no trailers prior to the movie, allowing this theater full of headbangers to “cut to the chase,” so to speak.
So, did this movie do justice to its larger-than-life subject? Writing reviews like this is difficult because I’m both a die-hard heavy metal fan, and a serious film critic who assesses movies from every point of view. Well, I’m happy to say that both the headbanger in me and the critic in me alike were satisfied with DIO: DREAMERS NEVER DIE, which expertly utilizes newly-filmed interviews, vintage footage, and brief reenactments to tell its story in a largely chronological fashion. It beautifully paints a picture of Ronnie James Dio’s nearly 70 years of life, with all the music you know and love and some stories you might not have. Running roughly two hours, the movie has a monumental story to tell and hits the high notes. It’s epic, it’s emotional, and at times, it’s hilarious (and the latter surprisingly never feels out of place). Some portions admittedly seem rushed for time, and it ends on a rather dour note, but this will be a great film for both Dio newbies and veteran rock and metal fans who’ve been listening to his songs for years.
Let’s start by talking about the vintage footage utilized here. Everyone’s seen the music videos Dio recorded in the early-mid 80s. I’m happy to say that DREAMERS NEVER DIE digs deeper, showing us rare photographs and audio and video footage of a young Ronnie; this guy was a doo-wop singer before even The Beatles began their career! Hearing these rare early recordings is worth the price of admission alone, beautifully showing just how diverse and powerful a voice Mr. Dio truly had. The doc being sanctioned by Ronnie’s widow, Wendy Dio, means access to some great material the world might not have had a chance to see otherwise. While much of this footage will likely be familiar to you, there’s plenty of it you’ve likely never seen. Some material for which no video footage exists, be it exploits of some of the band members or fans listening to a record for the first time, is depicted in the form of reenactments, but these don’t feel out of place or obtrusive, and actually manage to enhance the final product.
Of course, no doc like this would be complete without newly-filmed interviews. And there a TON of people who loved Ronnie James Dio who appear in this documentary. Among those interviewed are (but not limited to) Wendy Dio, Lita Ford, Eddie Trunk, Geezer Butler, Jack Black, Bill Ward, Vinny Appice, Sebastian Bach, Don Dokken, Craig Goldy, Simon Wright, Jeff Pilson, Dave “Rock” Feinstein, and Dan Lilker. Even Wendy gets in some interesting stories regarding her relationship with Ronnie, including her first impression and time as a movie extra prior to meeting her future husband. I won’t go into details regarding the interviewees’ comments; I’ll keep this stuff a pleasant surprise for those who want to go see the movie. These segments run the gamut from humorous laugh-out-loud wisecracks to the persons involved being in tears by Dio’s death. And it’s all fantastic.
The doc is surprisingly well paced, managing and juggling these elements surprisingly well. Despite a nearly two-hour running time, it’s never boring, taking the viewer on an epic rock and metal journey with the best vintage footage and new interviews. Personally, feel the movie is just the right length; it’s not so short that it feels rushed and incomplete, yet doesn’t feel so long that audiences will find themselves looking at their watches. The balancing act required for a good rock doc is handled surprisingly well here.
That said, there were a few minor issues with the doc. While I don’t feel that the movie is rushed overall, some parts don’t quite get the emphasis that they deserve; Dio’s 90s/early 2000s musical output probably being the biggest offender in this regard. I appreciate the albums getting mentioned, but the emphasis on them is minimal at best. The ending is also surprisingly downbeat, with Wendy visiting her late husband’s grave… and then the movie ends. Another five minutes talking about the legacy Ronnie left behind for fans and contemporaries, as well as the sanctioned spin-off tribute bands Dio Disciples and Last in Line, would’ve been appreciated (ironically the movie actually DOES interview people who now play in those bands). A few days prior to this, I rewatched a doc on Randy Rhoads which handles this aspect extremely well, covering that guitarist’s post-death legacy, despite that doc only running about 90 minutes.
There are also a few missed opportunities for interviewees; I don’t know if these people were reached out to or not, but their absence in the interviews is hard to ignore. Some of these names include Angelo Arcuri, Rowan Robertson, Paul Shortino, and Ann Boleyn. No one can argue with the quality of the people assembled who did participate, but these folks missing from the final product was something I noticed as a fan.
One other thing worth mentioning, though not exactly a flaw, is that the film isn’t going to have a ton of surprises for the most die-hard of Ronnie James Dio fans who’ve followed his career religiously and read books and articles on the subject over the years. This isn’t necessarily a bad thing; it serves as a great refresher course for the old fans and a great “jumping on” point for the newbies who may be curious about Dio’s career from start to finish.
DIO: DREAMERS NEVER DIE is the movie Ronnie James Dio fans have been waiting for, and the final results don’t disappoint. It’s a fantastic combination of footage, interviews, and reenactments that brings this story together in the capable hands of an experienced and passionate film crew, endorsed by the Dio estate as well. DREAMERS NEVER DIE will bring you to tears; both the kind of sadness from knowing Ronnie’s gone from this world, but also the kind from laughing hysterically due to many of the stories and moments the film so expertly conveys. Is it perfect? Not quite, but I don’t think too many people are going to notice or care. For fans of Dio, old and new alike, or music fans just curious about exploring his career, it’s a fantastic film. Absolute highest recommendations!
FANS ATTENDING THE LAS VEGAS SHOWING AT REGAL RED ROCK: