“Guest Review: Dungeons & Dragons” by Patrick Cassels of 10YearOldMovies.com

Written by Patrick Cassels of 10YearOldMovies.com

Dungeons & Dragons

Year 2000 Trademarks:
  • Early Marlon Wayans attempt to leave Wayans Brothers empire (see: Senseless)
  • Predicts the great Lord of the Rings fantasy boom of a year later
  • Thora Birch
In this blog’s last entry, I pondered weather the dated computer-generated monster effects in Paul Verhoeven’s Hollow Man – and bad CG in general – could possibly age as well as practical, KNB-style puppetry and makeup. In retrospect, I should’ve saved that question for 2000’s Dungeons & Dragons, the big screen adaptation of the legendary role-playing game that popularized the 12-sided die and coined “immersive” as the go-to term for trying to make fantasy sound smart. Dungeons & Dragons features armies of dragons (though no dungeons?), each one rendered in the absolute best computer generated effects a $30 million fantasy film in 2000 could afford – which today looks roughly as good as Sci-Fi Originals’ Boa Vs. Python, made four years later for a tenth of the budget.

Dungeons & Dragons tarnished the perfect record for movies based on board games that began with 1985’s Clue and ended with 1985’s Clue — the only other board game film made (unless Sneakers is based on Scrabble).  Unlike Clue, which followed the Parker Brothers’ game so closely it even had random endings, Dungeons & Dragons wasn’t really interested in its source material. Aside from a two-second, appease-the-fans appearance of a beholder, the movie uses Gary Gygax’s creation only for the namesake, a hook on which to hang a worse-looking Willow:

In the kingdom of Izmir, people are divided into two social classes: the lowly peasants, and the aristocratic mages (another D&D reference, though a dated one) whose ability to wield magic keeps them in power. (Making all magicians greedy instead of wise was a novel touch.) The fair Empress Salvina (Thora Birch) dreams of changing this unjust caste system — a dream she professes in a series of senatorial addresses to a room full of grumpy politicians. There’s a strong similarity in these addresses to Amidala’s trade disputes in The Phantom Menace. If you weren’t already convinced that decade-old films are relics from the past, let this open your eyes: they were taking their cues from Episode I.

Standing in Salvina’s way is the evil mage Profian (Jeremy Irons), who seeks a magical rod that will allow him to control red dragons — the most dragony of the dragons — and help him stage a coup d’état, ousting Salvina and keeping mages on top of the social pyramid. Irons plays Profian with a nobody’s-seeing-this-anyway intensity that makes him one of the crown jewels of the movie — not exactly a Herculean task, but admirable nonetheless. Roughly 90 percent of his screen time is spent shouting, spinning, gripping his rod (heh heh) and gesticulating at imaginary dragons:

Summoned to keep the Rod from Profian’s hands are two cunning thieves: Ridley (Justin Whalin) and his anachronistic-jargon-shouting sidekick, Snails (Marlon Wayans). Whalin, Izmir’s answer to Han Solo, is probably best known for playing Jimmy Olson on ABC’s Lois and Clark: The New Adventures of Superman, though former USA viewers will always remember him as grown-up Andy in Child’s Play 3, which the network was legally required to play at least three times a week. D&D probably remains Whalin’s biggest role, and one can only imagine the high hopes New Line Cinema had for the handome young star, whose floppy bangs made him the poor man’s River Phoenix, or the poorer man’s Jonathan Brandis, or the rich man’s Corey Feldman.

In a choice that represents either brilliant post-modern storytelling or lazy writing, the movie’s standard ”call to arms” scene — it’s Council of Elrond or “Help Me Obi Wan Kenobi…” if you will — in which our hero (and we) learn exactly what the hell is going on, takes place entirely off camera. Ridley is sucked into a magic map (as will happen) and reappears several minutes later with full knowledge of his quest. It’s like the narrative trickery used in Mission: Impossible 3, which skips its climactic heist scene. There’s something admirable about admitting we’ve seen your plot so many times before we need not bother with the specifics: Hero seeks rod.

But deconstructing our very perception of linear storytelling as we know it isn’t the only brilliant part of the Dungeons & Dragons movie –- there’s also a maze! Ridley’s quest leads him to the Antieus Thieves’ Guild maze, a booby-trapped labyrinth that’s claimed the lives of many an Izmir thief — MANY an Izmir theif. Sounds corny, but I cannot overstate the primordial fun of watching someone navigate a maze. I had more-or-less written D&D off as a unmitigated disaster and was prepared to attack it in print as ruthlessly as though I were wearing a +3 constitution belt. But when Ridley began dodging bladed pendulums I grew enchanted. If young filmmakers take nothing else away from the Dungeons & Dragons movie (and they won’t), take away this: put a maze in your movie. It’s the attention-retaining equivalent of that insanely hot pool scene in the otherwise-boring Species. Or that insanely hot pool scene in the otherwise boring Color of Night. Mazes are like sex in a swimming pool.

The maze is the most “fun” aspect of the D&D movie by leagues — the only other competition is the it’s incredible score, which is more epic than any Marlon Wayans film should be. The Antius maze is so fun, in fact, that it was adapted by Wizards of the Coast into a playable Dungeons & Dragons RPG Adventure as a tie-in for the movie. (That’s right, not a movie. But REAL.)

Incidentally, during this trip to the WotC website to search for the tie-in, I stumbled upon the company’s official page devoted to the then-“new” D&D movie. Frozen in time since 2000, the page has a now-tragic enthusiasm for a film that was doomed to Blockbuster 3-for-$10 shelves. It was like meeting one of those Japanese soldiers deserted on a South Pacific island who think World War II is still being fought.

Patrick Cassels of 10YearOldMovies.com

Feel Free to leave me a comment down below and let me know what you think, if you enjoyed the review or what you want me to review next. I’ll pay attention. After all, you are my only reader.

5 Responses to ““Guest Review: Dungeons & Dragons” by Patrick Cassels of 10YearOldMovies.com”
  1. Lemmiwinks says:

    great background you have here! followin

  2. ImmaFrog says:

    Yeah, I remember this movie. Customes and actores sucked, but I still liked it so who knows.

  3. MarkoManager says:

    Very nice and interesting post…

  4. LS says:

    do you have Mr. Cassel’s permission to post this here?

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