Dungeons and Dragons (2000) — Rolling D20 on overacting

“Why don’t we just rob God while we’re up here?”

DnaError’s rating: Is it a homage or a rip-off?

DnaError’s review: I must confess, I was never much of a D&D player. Yes I know, it’s a crime against Geekdom, but I grew up in the world of fast computations and sound-blasting hack and slash. The methodical, detailed gameplay of D&D was appealing, but I never became an addict. So, I can write this review without the standard geekdom complaints of how the hair of the Elfin tracker was off color by three hues.

So, lets get down to the nitty gritty. Dungeons and Dragons, when taken as what it is — which is to say a great B-flick — is extremely fun. Sure, it’s basically “Star Wars with dragons,” right down to the soundtrack, but it’s a *good* fantasy-version of Star Wars. It does Star Wars better then Lucas did in Phantom Menace with non-stop action scenes, detailed backgrounds and costumes, a whole another world to explore, a little romance.

It’s just magic-blasting, dragon-riding fun. Sure, the plot is ripped straight from any RPG, and some of the dialogue is enough to make you cringe, but if you’re expecting deep, meaningful scenes of emotional realism and complex, look elsewhere.

The performances are good and suited to their needs. You have Ridley The Plucky Young Hero, Snails the Comic Relief, Merdina The Prissy Love Interest, and Profin The Villain. Jeremey Irons as the villainous Senator Profin has his mouth full of scenery chewing that his over-top, extreme-villain performance borders on comical, but such an over-action is required in such a movie. Only complaint I could think was that Thora Birch’s Empress seemed like she was eight years old. Give me Queen Amidala any day.

Aside from some scene slow down where you have all that stupid “character development,” the move hits the ground running and never stops. Only major complaint was that a good chunk of story was left out and just narrated to us. Had it been included, it would have made the story stronger and raised the quality. Also, since the movie was not made at Skywalker ranch, the quality of the CGI wanes, giving the movie a kind of game/cheap FMV look. But, besides from all that, I had a fun time and no major laws of the D&D; universe where violated so my more geeky fanboy brothers will be happy. If you want to relive Star Wars a bit with a fantasy edge and get a nice break from reality for 105 minutes, see this movie.

PoolMan’s rating: I swear, I really rolled that Charisma rating!

PoolMan’s review: The premiere film of the Mutant Summit 2: Lost in Canadaland was Dungeons and Dragons. I was pro-rental, Justin was con. Isn’t that so often the case? Hey, it was bad enough I dragged him into Blockbuster for a film, I picked one that he already had misgivings about. Oops… you wanted me to talk about the movie? Well, okay, but it’ll cost ya 10 GP.

Basically, Dungeons and Dragons is the victim of a grand dream carried out by people with the intellect of the film’s one and only dwarf. It was presented with the same test that F was given upon its release: Take a cult-worshipped subject matter, turn it into a movie, make it accessible to new fans, stay true to the old ones, and don’t fall prey to (but still exploit!) the clichés that riddle the subject. Of these four goals, X-Men scored a perfect four. For D&D, they managed one: turning it into a movie.

The story makes sense for the most part, but it’s incredibly unoriginal. You have a council of diplomats arguing over the removal of the Empress from her office, misled by an evil sorcerer. Incidentally, both the Empress and the sorcerer (Profion, played by a hilariously over the top Jeremy Irons) hold Rods of Dragon Control. Hers is gold, his is green (I guess). And there’s a fabled third Rod. Who could obtain that, I wonder? It might be the heroic warrior-thief, Ridley! He and his sidekick Snails (SNAILS?) end up getting swept away with all these goofs fighting for the Red Dragon Rod. And that’s about it. They quest for a sequence of items to get the Red Rod (!), use it, and kill all the bad, nasty people.

Justin made an interesting comment during watching this: How many thousands upon thousands of hours have been spent playing D&D, how many novels are there, how many deep, interesting fanfics have been written, and THIS is the story they went with? Holy crap. It’s not just an homage to Star Wars. It’s blatant theft. The hero with burgeoning powers and destiny. The cranky love interest. The evil sorcerer bent on overthrowing the government. His dark, brooding enforcer. The swooping aerial battle. The MUSIC, for God’s sake! Every two seconds, we’d tick off another “similarity” to Lucas’ work, not to mention many others. The Neverending Story comes screaming to mind. And then there’s the fact that I started singing the theme to Batman every time a building was shown from the outside. If you watch it, you’ll know why.

I have to mention, by the way, that until about five minutes left in the movie, I WAS deeply impressed with the fact that they killed a MAJOR character, and he was actually dead. Not saved by magic, not turned into an hilarious but clumsy zombie, and (thank goodness) not brought back as a glowing blue Jedi ghost. You’ll notice I said I *was* impressed. As I was about to shower the writers with kudos for the courage they showed by actually doing that, they throw in a loopy trick ending that suggests that he’s not dead (even as they stand over his grave). Then they all turn into Tinkerbells and fly away. I ask you: What the HELL?

So was there anything worth watching for? Sure! The effects were good, especially during the big dragon fight at the end… that was cool. The bad guys were (to me, anyways) genuinely entertaining, although not for the intended reasons, I’m sure. The creatures you see from one scene to the next are awesome… but you only get fleeting glimpses. I nearly leapt out of my skin with excitement when I saw a Beholder guarding a castle entrance, only to learn that it was only there to occupy roughly twenty seconds of screen time. The Orcs in the bar were flat out brilliantly designed, and looked very true to the game’s origins, but do we get to see them actually DO anything? Nope.

Speaking as a longtime RPG fan, a casual D&D; fan, and a self-titled movie nerd, Dungeons and Dragons is an exercise in frustration. More often than not, you see where you’d like the flick to go, but it never does. It just lifts another scene from Return of the Jedi, throws a special effect in front of you, and hopes you don’t notice the man behind the green curtain. There’s stuff here worth seeing, and despite my gripes above, I was entertained. But it just didn’t feel like the grand tradition of D&D. And that’s just a waste of one of the most beloved geek treasures that ever was.

Justin’s rating: Supersize the cheeziness

Justin’s review: I feel really bad for fans of cult movements sometimes. And no, I don’t mean shaving your head bald, wearing purple Nikes, drinking funky Koolaid cult movements. Just various books, comics (GRAPHIC novels, Mike), and even board games — like Dungeons & Dragons — that capture the minds of large chunks of weirdos out there… our kind of weirdos! So after years and years of immersing themselves into everything related to that world, memorizing minute details, and being fluent in a second language such as Klingon, some movie exec decides that it would be a swell idea to make a buck or two by taking something cherished of yours and committing it to the big screen. If it succeeds, then you got a huge new boost of life into the genre. If it fails… well, it’s akin to a cranky warthog taking a nice big scat on your face for the rest of your life.

I say this because despite the enormous and incredibly deep world of Dungeons & Dragons that has emerged over the past quarter century, D&D fans will now have to hear forever, “Man, that movie was HORRIBLE” if they admit their hobby in public.

Nothing in Dungeons and Dragons is original… in fact, most of it is ripped off from Indiana Jones, Star Wars, and even Batman (If we had to watch one more pan up to an impossibly high tower overlooking the city, I was sure to pass out with frustration). The music also is constantly two notes from being a John Williams score.

Worse than being a plagiarist, however, D&D fails to contain the feel of the universe created in the game or the novels. Sure, there are dungeons, and there are dragons, but any one of us could roll a better character than the ones they come up with. There’s the Princess Amidala-type (Thora Birch, who we kept betting would say “I will not condone a course of action that will lead us to war” sometime during the film), a mysterious elf-type who does nothing but wear Bat-nipples, a fiery Princess Leia-type (who’s such a horrible mage that she must be somewhere in the negatives, level-wise), a blue-lipped muscle guy who must really love his Fun-Dips, and of course, an over-the-top villain (slowly lisping Jeremy Irons, still upset that Bruce Willis kicked his tush in Die Hard 3). To top it off, of ALL things, our two main heroes are thieves, and one looks and acts annoying as Wesley Crusher, and one is a WAYANS BROTHER ALERT Wayans brother. I mean, Star Trek itself could not devise a more blandly diverse bunch of line readers. I just kept begging the screen, “Please, please, oh please give me a dwarf with a battleaxe!”

Miraculously, there IS a dwarf with a battleaxe. PoolMan and I spent some time trying to figure out (1) what his name was and (2) why he kept tagging along with the good guys. But what brief bits of humor there was, Mr. Dwarf provided them. Not quite up to Gimli, but he’s a good, solid second cousin to that family line.

[Spoiler Ahead] But before I end the review, I want to go back to the Wayans brother, who plays a guy named Snails (I so wish I was making this up). Snails gets killed, which made me extremely glad since all he did was shriek and bubble about like Chris Tucker on speed. But the filmmakers must have thought we’d care more about his death, because he gets a looong spiraling death shot, his friend breaks down into hysterical sobbing, and I left for the bathroom. And yes, Snails comes back in some matter at the end of the movie, which just sealed the strench right into this package.

I’m sorry, D&D fans. Lord of the Rings is there to soothe your wounds from this film. It’s a tragedy of unparalleled proportions that will never be equaled. Until the sequel.

Rich’s rating: Batman & Robin set the bar; Dungeons & Dragons lowered it with room to spare.

Rich’s review: What ho, old chaps and chapesses. Now, before I foray into this bloody marvelous review, some ghastly people on our lovely forums have had the temerity, nay, the bold-faced cheek to suggest that my reviews don’t do enough to maintain the glorious stereotypes of our fair and sceptred isle of the United Kingdom, and that I should be exercising my writing talents to the utmost to bring you the very pinnacle of stereotypically British mannerisms in written form.

Well, I don’t want to be a tosser, but I can’t do it. Not when I’m writing about Dungeons & Dragons. I daren’t take the chance that the important message I’m trying to convey to you in this review is obfuscated or overshadowed in any way. I have a civic duty to perform here, and like those signs which warn you about the dangers of pouring concentrated acid on your hands and the like, clarity is the order of the day. I can do no less for all those who might still be spared.

Whether it’s due to our stereotypically British politeness, or perhaps an underdeveloped sensitivity for spectacularly bad films on my part, but I have never, ever walked out on the film at the cinema. Sure, I’ve stopped several rental films mid-watch with a simple “Sod this, I’m not watching any more of this garbage”, but once I’m in my seat in the movie theatre, I’m there for the duration, come what may.

That’s not to say I haven’t had this theory tested to destruction though. In all my years of filmgoing, only two films have ever, ever had me considering abandoning them half-way through and breaking my solemn code of cinema. The first test was Batman & Robin. Despite a lot of negative reviews, I had quite enjoyed Batman Forever, but I absolutely could not stomach the fourth installment. As the music-video-disguised as a film played out in front of me, I shifted in my seat — I was ready to go. Could Joel Schumacher have forced me to abandon my entrenched beliefs? A glance at my watch and a quick calculation told me I only had 10 minutes of running time left to endure, and I still hadn’t seen Alicia Silverstone in her Batgirl costume, which to be honest was a big part of the appeal of the film in the first place, I hunkered down, endured, saw Ms Silverstone in her PVC, and left as soon as the credits rolled.

For the following three years, Batman & Robin was the benchmark, measuring stick by which all other bad movies I’d seen at the cinema were judged, the only one which had oh-so-nearly driven me to abandon my seat and my principals. And for those three years, I saw some bad movies, but nothing ever came close to topping Batman & Robin.

At the dawning of the new millennium, however, something happened that even the worlds most powerful prognosticators (that’s fortune tellers for those without dictionaries) could not have foreseen. A force more powerful and terrible than Batman & Robin was unleashed on an unsuspecting movie audience, and there was nothing, nothing that could stand in its way.

Until it came head to head with me.

One summer night in 2000, my friends and I decided on the spur of the moment to fill an evening by visiting the local multiplex. Importantly, because I hadn’t been expecting this, I’d left my wallet at home, and was going to beg off until my good friend Jamie said he would happily pay for my ticket. What possessed us to pick Dungeons & Dragons to see that night still eludes me. Whatever the reason, half an hour after buying our tickets, there I was, strapped into my uncomfortable cinema seat, popcorn on my lap, ready to be entertained.

As the film unfolded in front of me, my incredulity began to reach boiling point. “It must get better than this, surely?” I thought to myself. “Oh dear, there’s Jimmy Olsen as a thief. Look, there’s Wayans Brother #2 as his thief friend. Oh hooray, a snooty mage and obvious love interest… Thora Birch as Princess Amidala, I mean Empress whatever-her-name is… Jeremy Irons overacting to such a degree I think he’s going to hurt himself. A comedy dwarf. Richard O’Brian as the camp master of the thieves’ guild. Tom Baker as Elrond-Clone-Elf-Number-One.” (Yes, I know Fellowship came out the year after.)

The more I watched, the more I realised that this film was on course to do this impossible. The awful acting, the barely coherent plot, the blatant theft from Phantom Menace (and, I mean stealing from Phantom Menace? How desperate do you have to be?), the terrible, terrible jokes – they were all adding up to the film that could be as bad, if not worse than Batman & Robin. And I was only half-way through the film. And there was nary a hint of Alicia Silverstone in PVC to keep me in my chair.

I think it’s fair to say that Dungeons & Dragons is a film with absolutely no redeeming qualities at all. Even Thora Birch, who I had last seen in the wonderful American Beauty was horribly bad; though I suspect she might have realised what a bomb she’d signed up for and phoned in her performance. Everything about the entire film just made me sad, disgusted, and amazed that something of this quality could be conceivably green-lighted and filmed no doubt at the expense of hundreds of millions of dollars.

It’s a horrible slap in the face for people who like D&D, because it plays like it was written by the high school jock whose knowledge of D&D was mainly absorbed by osmosis through the knuckles from beating up the D&D players at school and stealing their chocolate milk. It’s an offence to every other movie-goer because it’s plotted like it was written by five-year-olds and seems to be acted by the Amateur Dramatics society of Yeehaw, Kentucky, population 48.

The only remotely worthwhile thing about Dungeons & Dragons is that someone sat in the audience might watch it, think “Hey, if THIS can get made into a film, I guess anyone can be a filmwriter” and start work on the script for the next classic film of our generation.

While I’m loathe to admit this, there were a couple of related things in D&D that I thought managed to claw themselves to “acceptable” or “amusing,” which for this film was quite the accomplishment. The Darth Vader clone of the Film, Damodar, was actually a pretty funny guy, got a couple of good lines, and was appropriately callous enough to make me appreciate him. The other is something of a spoiler, so be warned – though in the case of this film, spoiler is hardly an accurate term. Anyway, if you want to see this film in all its un-adulterated glory, then skip over the next paragraph.

Everyone still with me? Thought so. Anyway, the other thing I really liked was Damodar’s crowning moment, in the middle of the film where he brutally kills the irritating Wayan’s brother. It actually made me smile for the first time since the film had started, and is still my favourite part of the film. In fact, if the film had just been that scene repeated 20 times for the running time, I would probably have loved it. But horror of horrors, the ending robs us even of the simple pleasure of knowing that Snails is dead and gone from our lives by mystically hinting at his resurrection.

Right, spoiler over. More hate now.

If I spent the time to go through and list everything about Dungeons & Dragons I found annoying, badly done, trite, clichéd, or just plain awful, this review could stretch on for pages, but I think I’ve made my point pretty clearly. Even if it were released straight to video, this film would still be one of the worst at all time; giving it a major cinematic release must surely count as a federal crime in some country in the world.

But despite everything that was so, so wrong about it, I managed to sit from credit to credit in my seat and endure Dungeons and Dragons without walking out, regardless of the lack of shapely PVC clad females. But the only thing, the ONLY thing that kept me in my seat was this: Someone else had paid for my ticket, and I was too polite to waste their money. So, the legendary British reputation for politeness saved my perfect cinema viewing record, but at the cost of my sanity and years of therapy I can never get back.

But once more, dark clouds are gathering on the horizon. Whispers of a great evil surface from the bowels of Hollywood, and night after night, I awake in a cold sweat as the ever growing presence turns my dreams to nightmares of a foe that even I may not be able to defeat.

Coming in 2005: Dungeons & Dragons: The Sequel.

The world may never be the same again.

Didja notice?

  • When the Governor is walking, the soundtrack plays a stripped down version of “The Imperial March”?
  • The character Nilus, played by O’Brien, Richard, speaks the line, “You finish the maze, you win the prize!” Richard O’Brien often spoke this line when he hosted the British gameshow, “The Crystal Maze.”
  • Dr. Who is an elf! Whoohoo!
  • Anytime a bad guy makes a deal and you call him on his promise, you have about a 99.6% chance of him saying “I LIED!”
  • The mage Marina, who bravely handles the two thieves in the start of the film, barely finds the nerve to defend herself even ONCE during the rest of the movie. I refer to this as “simpering heroine syndrome”. See also: Robin Hood Prince of Thieves (Maid Marion).
  • Damodar’s blue lipstick doesn’t appear on the box art for D&D.; Apparently someone finally noticed it.
  • In the “maze” to the Dragon’s Eye gem, the rooms are all open topped, meaning someone could just walk into the last room. But the thief guildmaster claims he’s been waiting YEARS for someone to retrieve the gem.
  • Ridley looks a LOT like Wesley Crusher…

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