Jeremy Irons in Dungeons and Dragons.
I recently wrote an article lamenting the dearth of quality Fantasy Movies. In it, I expressed anticipation that one of three upcoming Fantasy movies (Dungeons & Dragons, Lord of the Rings, Harry Potter) would bring the long wait to a final end. The first of the trio of those films has now been released. And with the opening of Dungeons & Dragons I can now faithfully report that I am still waiting for a quality Fantasy Film.
Fantasy movies usually have four faults:
Generally, in the past, the special effects in these movies leave much to be desired. This is not the case with Dungeons & Dragons. The movie does create a visual style that sets a tone that is carried throughout the length of the movie. Even if it is obvious that the effects are all computer generated and the dragon fight at the end almost looks like a scene from one of those computer generated cartoons that are becoming more popular. Still, it is a quality look and it is sustained.
Fantasy movies are generally rather juvenile, as if aimed at children. Dungeons & Dragons manages to miss this common error as well, but only just. Instead of being aimed at children, it's aimed a bit higher, at the adolescent range. The target audience for this movie I would judge to be 13 or 14 year old boys.
Also in this type of film, the acting is usually sub-par. Normally this is due to the fact that no big name star ever appears in them. This isn't the case here. There are several well known faces in this movie and they still manage to carry off some very poor acting. The biggest name, Jeremy Irons, doing some of the very worst. To say he over acted would be to say that the Hindenburgh was a minor air accident. Thora Birch plays a very weak imitation of Queen Amadelia from Phantom Menace. And the supporting characters, not to be out down by the stars, do their best community theater, amateur style acting. With the possible exception of Marlon Wayans who provides the occasional comic relief.
The last error is usually found in the script. The dialogue in most fantasy movies seems to be written by complete amateurs with no ear for the way people actually speak. Dungeons & Dragons goes far beyond this. It appears that this script was written by ten year olds. It is painful to listen to and I can only imagine how awful it was for the actors to say. The fact that all the characters and places have been given the usual ridiculous Fantasy names does not help. Why is this always done? The characters all speak English and yet their names make them sound completely foreign. Of course you could say they have to speak English so we can understand, but then why do the bizarre name thing at all? If the dialogue is translated so we can understand, why not translate the names into something sensible?
You may have noticed that I didn't mention the plot. That is for good reason. While there is a plot, it is completely nonsensical and not really worth going into. If you're curious, more pity you, then please feel free to go and see this movie, but you have been warned.
As an old time D&D player in the years of my youth, I had hoped that even if the movie was poor, I would still receive some nostalgic value. You know, the spells, monsters, character classes and those sorts of things which would remind me of the game. Even in this, the movie let me down. Oh sure, there was the occasional moment. I actually got to see a Beholder in motion, but this movie did little to remind me of the campaigns of my teenage years.
In fact, anyone whom I played D&D with in those days could easily have come up with a better movie than this one. We obviously spent more time creating our characters and worlds than the creator of this movie.
So, if you were hoping, as I was, that finally, a classic Fantasy movie had been made, you will surely be as disappointed I was.
Thora Birch in Dungeons and Dragons.
As a former Dungeons and Dragons aficionado, I was filled with much anticipation in seeing this movie. Since Scott gave it such a bad review I lost a lot of interest in seeing it. So with very little expectation (that always helps) I rented the DVD.
From practically the first scene I feared that Scott would be correct in his review. The first appearance of Jeremy Irons exaggerated walk down some stairs and subsequent scenes of lousy acting were as he described. Was the director too intimidated by him to not rope him in and give him the simple direction to downplay. The best fantasy villain of this sort is the Bishop from Ladyhawke. His performance was subtle yet very threatening. Completely opposite of Jeremy Irons hammy routine.
Also, as Scott wrote, the dialogue is fairly bad. Too often it attempts to be witty but lines such as, "Just like you thieves, always taking things that don't belong to you." demonstrate that these jokes were written for, or perhaps by, an elementary school student.
Now I do disagree with his opinion on the plot. No it's not The Usual Suspects but it is passably entertaining. This movie suffers in the sense that their is absolutely no characterization. Had this movie been a better success I feel the sequel would have been much better. As stated on the DVD by creators of the movie who played the game; 'The campaigns got better and more elaborate as we continued to play.'
Now to totally disagree with Scott, I did have lots of nostalgia in watching this movie. As one character was beating the crap out of another I found myself thinking 'there goes his hit points.' When a character heals someone I announced to my sons' blank faces 'he's a cleric.'
If only the makers of this movie had known as much about making movies as they did about playing the game, this film could have been great. That is, as long as Jeremy Irons' part got played by absolutely anyone else.
Zoe McLellan, Marlon Wayans, and Justin Whalin in Dungeons & Dragons.
It's funny that you compared this movie to the then upcoming Lord of the Rings and Harry Potter movies Scott. We all know how that turned out. Well as they say two out of three ain't bad. Just how bad is this movie? I'll put it this way. In one scene Marlon Wayans as Snails says to Justin Whalin's character Ridley, “I got a new name for dumb. Ridley! This is the Ridleyest thing I've ever heard!” Well this is the Ridleyest fantasy movie I've ever seen!
I too played Dungeons & Dragons for a short period of time in the early 1980s and I'm a pretty sentimental guy, but this movie failed to ignite even a spark of nostalgia in me. I was too busy marveling at the terrible writing, bad direction, over-acting, and cheesy looking special effects.
Oh and Eric, despite the fact that this movie cost 45 million dollars to make and earned just 33 million dollars in worldwide box office receipts a sequel was eventually made. Two in fact. Although neither one saw the inside of a movie theater. There was a made-for-TV sequel, Dungeons & Dragons: Wrath of the Dragon God in 2005 and Dungeons & Dragons: The Book of Vile Darkness, was a direct-to-DVD release in the United Kingdom in 2012. But I would honestly rather be locked in a dungeon with a dragon than sit through either one of them.
Photos © Copyright New Line Cinema (2000)