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DUNGEONS & DRAGONS

It sucked and nobody cares, but the film was so bad that I just have to say something about it, even at this late date.

By Steve Biodrowski     December 29, 2000

Man, this movie was so bad that I didn't even bother to review it when it came out. After all, we already had plenty of other coverage on the movie, and anybody could tell from the trailer that it was going to suck big time. So I figured why waste my brain cells spending more thought on the writing of a review than went into the making of the film? Well, now that the initial shock has worn off, I would like our review section to be as complete as possible, and it just seems wrong not to have some kind of criticism of the film on our site, so I figure what the hell? Besides, with the New Year approaching, new genre releases are few and far between, so I have some time on my hands.

First things first: the movie is so incoherent that a coherent review would misrepresents the film; therefore, I'm just going to toss out some random thoughts that are still bugging me all these weeks later. Since this approximates the way the script was written, it seems a fair approach to take.

Okay: Jeremy Irons, as you've all heard by now, gives the worst performance of his career, but why should we care when he obviously doesn't? After all, he just took this role so he could pay off the bill on his castle. What is moderately interesting about this is that it shows that not every great actor knows how to walk away from a bad film unscathed. The late, great Vincent Price used to be a master at this; the stench of his worst films just never attached itself to him, no matter how bad they were. He managed to walk through the creakiest of cliché-ridden claptrap, always with a little smirk and a wink to the audience, telling us he knew as well as we did that the proceedings were worthless. Marlon Brando also has a certain gift in this direction; besides superb craftsmanship, there is also a certain knowing irony in his performance in The Island of Dr. Moreau that leaves him likewise unscathed. For whatever reason, Jeremy Irons hasn't mastered this approach, and he ends up coming across as overblown and hammy.

As bad as Irons' scenes are, the kids who play the leads are infinitely worse, so whenever they're on screen, you find yourself--incredibly enough--actually wishing for the film to cut back to Irons and/or his henchman, played by Bruce Payne. Payne himself is capable of delivering a good performance as a baddie, but his decision here to speak every line in an intense whisper results in a one-note delivery from beginning to end. At least a couple of his fight scenes are halfway decent, and he does get to kill the obnoxious comedy relief sidekick character played by Marlon Wayans (the only moment in the film that had me leaping out of my seat, cheering).

One thing that bothered me throughout the film was that after the brief initial appearance of a dragon in the opening sequence, we have to wait through the rest of the film to see anymore. I was really starting to wonder whether the plural in the title was merely a vestigial remnant of the game; it seemed as if the film should have been called Dungeons & Dragon. But then I realized I wasn't seeing many dungeons, either. Oh sure, there is a cave or two, and even a maze the hero must negotiated in order to get some important object or other that will allow him to get another object that will allow the good guys to controls some dragons (the Red, I think, but it really doesn't matter). Anyway, it just confirmed my suspicion that the only thing the filmmakers cared about was getting the name of the game on the screen; the movie itself was a mostly irrelevant afterthought.

About those dragons, there are Gold and Red ones in the film, but the film never makes any clear distinction between them. Since there are two opposing forces in the film, viewers not familiar with the game assume that one side has the Gold Dragons and one side has the Red Dragons, but in the end it seems that all that really matters is who's holding the magic wands that control them. So what the hell difference does it make? None that matters to the plot.

The dragons themselves are very unimpressive. The special effects go for quantity rather than quality. You're supposed to be impressed by the sheer number of dragons filling the frame. The problem is that the numbers work against establishing a sense of scale. The myriad flapping creatures end up looking like a flock of birds; there is no shot the really impresses you with an awesome sense of size. Check out any shot in Dragonheart for a better example of how to achieve this. Even Godzilla 2000 managed the trick with its neat shot of the Big G swimming slowly up from the depths and past the camera, for all the world as impressive as an Imperial Star Destroyer swooping past in one of the Star Wars films.

In spite of everything, there were a few meager moments of entertainment in the film. Richard O'Brien (The Rocky Horror Picture Show, Dark City) pops up briefly as a King of Thieves, and he is properly amused and amusing. For a brief moment, when his lair is invaded by Bruce Payne, one starts to hope that a decent dramatic scene might develop now that two real actors are on set together, but the film squanders the opportunity by letting the sequence erupt into a standard issue fight. Oh well...



And good ol' Tom Baker (the fourth Doctor Who) shows up in the briefest of cameos as some kind of oracular fairy king. Unfortunately, he's called upon to deliver the film's Yoda-dialogue (about magic being all around us and binding us together), but it's nice to see his face on the big screen even if he is being wasted.

Well, that's about it for this trashing of Dungeons & Dragons. There is probably much more to be said about the film's many failings, but that would require more brainpower than I'm willing to spend on this movie. Let's just say that if it weren't for Lost Souls (also a New Line release, coincidentally), this would be a strong contender for the Worst Film of the Year.

COMMENTS AND RESPONSES

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todd890 11/16/2006 1:07:00 PM
dispite it's campy terrible look, D&D was good in it's own way. Maybe a terrible film, but it deserves to be remade into something even better. Not LOTR, but as a good adventure with an even better story line.
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