Dungeons & Dragons
review by Joe Barlow, 15 December 2000
Courtney Solomonís Dungeons
& Dragons is a film that seems like it was specifically
designed to annoy its viewers.
Although supposedly based on TSRís phenomenally popular
role-playing game, this cinematic adaptation contains almost nothing
in the way of dungeon crawls and hack-and-slash -- the very aspects
that gamers no doubt expect to see in a movie bearing this name.
Instead, Solomon and his screenwriters allow the story to
collapse into dreary political maneuvers and petty bickering.
It bears about as much resemblance to the Dungeons &
Dragons game as it does to, say, the movie Willow.
Political wars have become the
dominant fad in contemporary sci-fi/fantasy stories (witness Star
Trek: Deep Space Nine, Star Wars: The Phantom Menace, and Babylon
Five), and Solomon uses his debut film less as a means to
entertain than to preach a dual message of racial tolerance and
environmental awareness. In
Dungeons & Dragons, the plot of which exists only in the
same vague sort of way that America currently has a president, we
learn of a class struggle in the kingdom of Izmer. The
land, which has been segregated since time out of mind into mages
(magic users) and commoners (everyone else), is starting to feel the
effects of this segregation, with members on both sides arguing for
-- and against -- reunification.
But not everyone supports this
plan. The evil overlord
Profion (Jeremy Irons) -- who, by the way, is so evil that he keeps
a large, pixelized CGI dragon as a pet -- fears that a life of
harmony will somehow jeopardize his power (exactly why is never made
clear). As a result,
Profion and his henchmen embark on a quest for the Dragonís Eye, a
magic scepter that grants its holder power over all the red dragons
in the kingdom. Itís
a weapon that practically guarantees invincibility.
A group of adventurers gets wind of
the plan, however, and moves to thwart the tyrant.
The lot includes two thieves (Justin Whailin and Marlon
Wayans), a young mage (Zoe McLellan), a dwarf fighter (Lee Arenberg),
a 234 year-old elf named Norda (Kristen Wilson) and, finally,
Nordaís breasts, which receive such attention from the camera that
they deserve their own screen credit.
The quest largely consists of the heroes walking around,
hunkering down in dark places, and telling each other -- repeatedly
-- to watch out for danger. Probably
a quarter of the filmís dialogue consists of variations on such
helpful phrases as "Watch out!" and "Be careful, man!"
It might at least have been
possible to enjoy Dungeons & Dragons as a dramatization
of a mediocre game campaign if only the movie had any sense of
the film drops the ball on the little things, making errors that any
player who has given the D&D Playerís Guide even a
cursory glance would catch -- the fact that the thieves in this film
are allowed to use swords, for instance.
Or the fact that Marina, the groupís mage, spends most of
her time fretfully watching her companions during combat -- have the
screenwriters forgotten that she possesses magic powers that would
be useful during the fight scenes?
Or the fact that the film (hilariously) seems to have no
idea whatsoever how portals work; sometimes they close shut
immediately after our heroes (or the villain) enter them.
Sometimes they stay open for inexplicably long periods of
time, thus allowing our heroes or the villains the chance to catch
up with the other (and artificially increase the level of suspense
in the process). Sometimes,
when two people enter a portal at the same time, they emerge
simultaneously at their destination; sometimes one gets there
several minutes ahead of the other.
The lack of rhyme and reason is puzzling, though the visual
effect is admittedly impressive.
Even more incomprehensible is the
filmís bizarre use of dialogue.
The characters speak a sort-of medieval high-brow
ghetto-speak, with "thees," "thous," and "by your leaves"
alternating with phrases like "Yo, man, check out that chick."
The biggest offender here is Marlon Wayans, who plays a thief
with the unlikely name of Snails. Wayans seems to have learned subtlety and dramatic nuance
from the Chris Tucker School of Acting, where he apparently
graduated with honors. Iím
sure his "hip" language was intended as comic relief (from what?),
but it only makes an already bad film even worse.
Itís hard to take a story for racial tolerance very
seriously when one of the characters is a live-action Jar Jar Binks,
mugging to the camera in every scene while the rest of the cast is
mired in stiff medieval-speak.
I really wanted to enjoy Dungeons
& Dragons, but such an act was quite simply beyond my
ability. Thereís not an original moment contained in the movie, and
the familiar scenes that are here arenít particularly well
done (indeed, the few scenes of dungeon crawling that made their way
into the final cut are so obviously ripped off from the Indiana
Jones trilogy that I almost expected someone to say, "Short
Round, get my stuff!"). This,
along with the atrocious acting, a laughable screenplay (which
contains nary a sentence that it isnít an impossibly stale clichť),
and a blatant disregard for the rules of the very game upon which
the film claims to be based, made me angrier than a Beholder with an
eye infection. The
temptation to leave midway through the screening was almost
unbearable; fortunately, I made my "Repugnant Piece of Cinematic
Garbage" saving role, which allowed me to stay for the duration --
but just barely. Thank
goodness I had that +3 bonus in Bad Movie Constitution.
producer/director Solomon reportedly lobbied the game manufacturer
for eight years to get permission to make this film.
Dungeons & Dragons was his dream project, the goal
towards which he dedicated his life, and he deserves congratulations
for getting the movie made. Itís
just too bad that all his hard work resulted in something that
stinks like an orcís litterbox.