When news broke that a movie finally based on the legendary role playing game, Dungeons & Dragons was finally being made, there was debate between two camps as to which path this Fellowship of filmmakers should take. Hardcore dice rollers wanted the nature of the game faithfully recreated on the big screen while others, more fully versed in the beloved 80’s animated series (you know, Dungeon Master, Venger, that punk kid with the club?) hoped that we’d see a version of that instead – but regardless of their hopes, their opinions were united that version we could have gotten, it had to have been better than what limped its sorry carcass into cinemas back in 2000.
What made matters far worse is that cinema was about to undergo something of a fantasy renaissance what with both Peter Jackson’s Lord Of The Rings and the Harry Potter franchise both poised to launch a year later and the makers of Dungeons & Dragons smugly congratulated themselves on beating a bespectacled school boy and furry-footed Hobbit to the punch. However, with the benefit of hindsight, maybe they should have rolled those multi-sided dice for a better score for defence…
In the painfully CGI realm of Izmir, the young Empress Savina clashes with the wildly melodramatic mage Profion in regards to restoring the rights to the common people. Unable to stand against the ruler’s magical rod that controls golden dragons, the wicked sorcerer sends his elaborately shoulder-padded stooge, Damodar to violently find the location of the mythical Rod Of Savrille that would be able to help its wielder counteract Savina’s powers by summoning red dragons.
While this power struggle transpires high in the towers of the cities, a couple of charismatic thieves named Ridley Freeborn and Snail (someone was at the back of the line when character names were being handed out) find themselves caught up in all this nonsense when they decide to try and rob the local wizarding school and instead stumble across Damodar murdering his way to getting hold of a map that leads the way.
On the run with a constantly complaining young mage named Marina, the three reluctantly find themselves on a quest to find the various macguffins required to obtain the Rod Of Savrille while Damodar gets an extra incentive to beat them to it when Profion magically zaps a tentacled parasite into his head and on the way, our heroes pick up more allies in the form of a grotty Dwarf named Elwood and a secretive elf named Norda who is actually working for the Empress.
Battling through the various, standard, obstacles to get to their goal (trap filled maze, bar brawl, repeated run-ins with Damodar who reacts with little to no haste at all), it all eventually erupts into a full blown war between… actually it’s not made that clear – but rest assured that dragons are involved. Horribly rendered dragons….
If any genre has pulled its socks up over the last couple of decades, it’s the Fantasy genre thanks to directors taking the material seriously while infusing tales of monsters and magic with a new sense of maturity. I’ve already name dropped Lord Of The Rings and Harry Potter, but also we can’t ignore the persistent incest of Game Of Thrones too that’s gone out of it’s way to take the camp adventures of old and burn them away into nothingness with the hellish heat of dragon fire.
With all this being said, even if Dungeons & Dragons’ biggest flaw had only been that it had a childish, throwback sense of adventure, it still would have been make obsolete the very second Cate Blanchett deeply intoned “The world has changed” in the opening moments of The Fellowship Of The Ring, however, a far more pressing problem raised its head in the form of the movie actually turning out to be fucking awful. As casually entertaining as root canal performed by a hyena with dentist tools sellotaped to its paws, Dungeons & Dragons, despite its budget and the technological advances special effects had obtained by the year 2000, it doesn’t noticably look any better than the infamously bargin basement-looking dreck of Hawk The Slayer and plays even worse.
You get the sense that the filmmakers are trying to go a bit Phantom Menace as they try to add a bit of politics that sees a deranged Jeremy Irons hit his overacting sweetspot as he verbally jousts with a non-performance from Thora Birch who spends the whole movie looking like someone spiked her latte every morning. However, the script neglects to actually explain what they’re arguing about, lazily sketching out some guff about bringing rights to the common people when its obviously money they actually need. But then the common people hardly look like they’re starving, with Justin Wallin’s thrift store Han Solo obviously getting enough vitamins to unconvincingly swashbuckle his way through the unconvincing action sequences, so it kind of makes all this political bullshit completely null and void.
As our heroes whine and complain while suffering under the illusion that shrieking their lines at each other in various accents is endearing, you can’t help but wonder what Marlon Wayans thinks he’s actually there to do apart from act like a Wayans while wearing a floppy hat. His usual, high pitched antics are fine in stuff like Scary Movie or even G.I. Joe I suppose, but he’s supposed to be playing a master thief for crying out loud despite yelling his all his lines at the top of his voice while he’s supposed to be sneaking. Yes, you could argue that maybe I’m taking his role a bit too seriously, but I can assure you that it wouldn’t have been a problem if the things he’s shouting were actually funny, but everything falls embarrassingly flat – as rest the rest of the movie’s attempts at humor.
Among the flailing performances, acouple of the actors manage to his the right note; Jeremy Irons attempt to make every line as cartoonishly villainous as he can isn’t exactly logical, but it sure is funny to watch and Bruce Payne delivers a similar serving of ham as his bald flunky, choosing to grimace through blue lipstick as his prey gets away instead of actually breaking into a run and chasing them. There’s even some weirdly spot on cameos from arch masters of camp, Richard O’Brian and Tom Baker, who with limited screentime manage to be the most convincing things in the film.
Their certainly more convincing than the fucking dragons, who spearhead the laughably bad, Sega Virtua-Fighter level CGI the movie makers actually thought was going take attention off of Weta’s work at realising Middle-Earth. The final battle is awkwardly staged, plagued with muddy visuals and rendered unintentionally funny by the fact everyone is running about yelling the term “rod” alot and as a result, probably didn’t do much to erase the nerdy stigma that D&D was still saddled with at the time.
Borderline unwatchable on most levels, Dungeon & Dragons ends up being the very epitome of Chaotic Stupid.