Dragonlance: Dragons of Autumn Twilight (2008) — D&D done slipshod

“She’s handling powers of a god, you dolt. I’m wresting arcane energies from the very fabric of the universe – it’s completely different.”

Lissa’s rating: Here Be Dragons – and Spoilers

Lissa’s review: When I was younger, I wanted to play Dungeons & Dragons. However, I grew up in the eighties, when there was that big uproar about it being Satanic and a bad influence, and my mother wouldn’t let me. (My guess is she also didn’t want me becoming as big a geek as that would make me, but that was kind of a lost cause anyway. Sorry, Mom.) In college, the big thing was Magic: The Gathering (I’m surprised they haven’t tried to make a movie out of that!), and so it wasn’t until grad school that I finally entered the Forgotten Realms of Dungeons and Dragons. I had an awesome group, and the DM’s philosophy was that playing was essentially telling a story.

I know there are other schools of thought, but personally, I think he was right. Now, here’s where I should segue into how I discovered the Dragonlance series, which is essentially the transcripts of a D&D campaign, but the truth is I read them back in junior high. But they are an excellent example of what my DM said – D&D is a story-telling game, and a good game will have a good story.

Okay, yeah, so Dragonlance IS a D&D campaign, and D&D is ripped off from Tolkein. The names are ludicrous. The plot is fairly predictable. And some of the writing is admittedly terrible. (Note how often the following phrases are used: bearded half-elf, ridiculous topknot, honey-colored hair, hourglass shaped eyes, golden skin, red curls….) But the fact remains I’ve re-read these books every year or two for the past (oh, good Lord) twenty years, and I’ll continue to do so. They’re fun, and yeah – in some ways, they are good. There. I said it.

Anyway. Needless to say, I had no idea a Dragonlance movie was coming out, but when I found it to be so I rushed to Blockbuster the next day, resisting the impulse to just buy it from Amazon. I have to admit, I’m glad I did. (And yes, I’m being deliberately vague there.)

As an adaptation, it’s quite faithful, I must concede that. However, the story is squeezed into 90 minutes, which meant a lot of stuff got cut. Now, most of the cuts were side-adventures that it didn’t really make a difference if they were there or not. (Example: Tas and Flint rescuing the captured group by controlling the wicker dragon. Fun, but it doesn’t exactly change the outcome.) More my objection to what they cut was how they cut it. The pacing sucks. It really does. There were moments – the healing of Elistan, most notably – that really needed to be stretched out a little longer. You don’t just get healed from what is essentially cancer and jump up and say “Hi, I’m Elistan,” like he did in the movie. (I’m not being figurative here, by the way. That’s literally how it went.) Oh, and there’s a point, too. Don’t understand parts of the last paragraph? The movie probably won’t enlighten you too much. I suspect if you haven’t read the book, you won’t follow certain parts well. But then, I also suspect if you haven’t read the book you aren’t watching the movie anyway, so that point is probably moot.

While I’m fine with cuts, there were some things that had me scratching my head. One thing that really irks me: if the book specifically says one thing, don’t specifically say the other. For example, in the book, Raistlin explicitly says he does not have the gift of foresight. He could not be any clearer about it – I’m pretty sure those are his exact words. In the movie, he talks about a vision. To be geeky about it, WTF? Not only does it not serve a purpose, it actually makes things more convoluted to have Raistlin know about things through visions rather than simple thought. And I’m still not sure why Tanis was a blond, especially when the fact he’s a redhead is mentioned every other page in the novels. Oh well. I also wasn’t thrilled about the visualization of a few of the characters – Laurana and Gilthanas in particular. (Gilthanas looked like he just walked out of 300, and Laurana wasn’t passing for the most beautiful woman in the world that she was touted to be.)

So, yeah, reasonable adaptation. Now, let’s talk animation.

The animation SUCKED.

Seriously. Thundercats was better animated than this, okay? The animation is a combination of badly drawn, too few frames two-dimensional animation and mediocre computer animation that is probably only mediocre by comparison with the hand-drawn stuff. It’s TERRIBLE. There are continuity goofs, bad dubbing, bad jiggling (trust me on this), choppy actions, immobile background characters… let me put it this way… it goes on the scale with Rankin-Bass’s The Hobbit or that animated version of Lord of the Rings, okay? Seriously – it’s that bad.

That said, it completely baffles me how they got the voice talent they did. Kiefer Sutherland (Raistlin)? It’s not like he’s wandering around out of work these days. Lucy Lawless (Goldmoon)? She’s doing okay. Michael Rosenbaum (Tanis)? Michelle Trachtenberg (Tika)? They have some steady gigs. I just don’t quite get it. But I do have to admit, the voice talent does help make the movie more palatable. While the facial expressions of the characters might be way over the top and over “acted”, the vocal delivery is at least acceptable.

If the animation had been even worthy of a Saturday morning cartoon, this movie would have been a million times better. As it is, the cruddy animation is so distracting it comes pretty close to ruining the whole thing. Even if you are a die-hard fan of the series, rent this one first before you buy it, because I would not deem it worth buying at the current price. (If you find it in the five dollar bin, however, go nuts.) It’s sad I have to say this, but the animation really does make it horrible, and then once you’re already mocking that, it becomes way too easy to mock the rest of it. (And yeah, it’s mockworthy already, even at its best.)

But it is Dragonlance. Which means that when they make Dragons of Winter Night, I’ll see that, too. Even if it’s just as bad as the first. That’s geekdom, baby. That’s geekdom.

Didja notice?

  • How often they said “Gods of Light”? Ergh, that really just annoys me, even if it’s vaguely true to the source material. (But really. How many people go around SAYING “Hi! We’re evil!”)
  • If we’re going to rip off Lord of the Rings, can we be a LITTLE more subtle about it than having the old mage fall into a chasm? At least the book was better on that score.
  • The background people rarely move. Even when dragons come flying at them.
  • For that matter, when you punch people, their bodies don’t respond in any way. Who needs Newton, anyway?
  • Sturm can start bleeding, stop, and then repeat the same bleeding again! Wow!
  • How the heck did Raistlin know about the Disks when they keep talking about how no one knows about them?
  • Tika jiggles. I nearly died laughing.
  • Elves or rabbits – you decide.

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