D&D Movie

Johnny Angel’s Review of Dungeons & Dragons

[Warning: this review contains slight spoilers, but mostly of predictable developments, and some gratuitous D&D terminology that the author hasn’t bothered to define for the squares]

I didn’t ask much of this movie, and it failed to deliver. I went in with full willingness to suspend disbelief, and tried very hard to let the film sweep me away, but Dungeons & Dragons did nothing to reward my indulgence. It failed as a movie in general, and failed especially as a movie for D&D fans. It barely ever rose above mediocre, even by the generous standards I chose to judge it by.

Justin Whalin, as Ridley, cuts a dashing figure of a swashbuckling rogue when he gets to do something, which isn’t often enough. Mostly, like every other character, he’s a mouthpiece for empty dialogue. We get to see him use the traditional D&D thieving skills – he reads languages, finds traps, picks locks and suprisingly even gets in a devastating backstab, though by D&D rules, he was cheating.
Ridley’s sidekick Snails, played by Marlon Wayans, smacks very much of the sambo characters of another era. He’s cowardly, inept, and never contributes anything worth his share of the XP. I don’t mind him being comic relief, but a better movie would have given him some skills, made him a solid guy you could count on in a pinch. It’s been done before, and audiences respond well. Look at Bull Harris in Howard Hawks’ El Dorado. He amounts to more than the sum of his dagnabits and tarnations – he knows his job and does it well. But Snails is a throwaway character, and the movie does indeed throw him away.

The mage, played by Zoe McLellan, knows two spells – Magic Missle and Dimension Door – and doesn’t bother to cast them often, largely because she doesn’t bother to carry any spell components. However, those of us who play D&D know that neither of these spells actually require material components. McLellan is the love interest for Whalin, though they appear to have fallen in love in a scene that was cut.

Lee Arenberg’s portrayal of a dwarf is exactly what we gamers like a dwarf to be. Scruffy, mean, violent and loud. Unfortunately, he doesn’t do much, doesn’t have many good lines, and could have easily have been cut out of the story altogether.

Kristen Wilson’s elven ranger was appropriately high-tone and laconic, but this unfortunately means that we never get to see any depth to her personality. And her costume is absurd, both because her metal breastplate violates the D&D armor restrictions for rangers, and because under it she appears to be wearing khakis or longjohns or something. She does get to be the love interest for Snails, since she is the only other black person in the movie. Clearly, the human/elf race line is blurry, but the black/white race line is cut in stone.

The Empress Savina is played by Thora Birch, much lauded for her role in the Oscar-winning American Beauty, who delivers the worst performance I’ve ever seen outside of a Billy Jack movie. Everbody in the movie has lousy dialogue, but Thora Birch chokes on hers. To be fair, hers is the worst. But this doesn’t explain or justify her abysmally bad, constipated and simpering delivery. We all know she can act; it’s not clear why she decided not to.

I thought Jeremy Irons’ over-the-top performance as the evil mage Profion was marvelous. He delivers every line with his face quivering, his voice trilling, his fists clenching and flailing, even when there seemed to be no need for it. He was absolutely my favorite character, and if he had been given any good lines at all, he would have stolen the film and set the standards for villians for years to come.

Bruce Payne is the badass evil henchman, who for some unexplained reason has periwinkle lips. He has a strong presence, and makes a decent villain, though he doesn’t actually do anything all that interesting. Yet, he’s more involved in the plot than Irons.

Tom Baker has a cameo, and he does a good job of delivering a bad speech that sounds like it has something to do with the plot, but doesn’t.

Yes, there is a plot. But it’s so confused that to be charitable we have to assume that the original script must have been four times the size of the one that made it to the screen. We seem to be missing a lot of explanation.

Irons tries to create a rod of dragon control, and fails, ruining his scheme to take over the empire and foil Birch’s attempt at enlightened despotism. He needn’t have worried much. The Empress is no Voltaire. She clearly hasn’t thought this through, since no attempt is made to explain how she expects to enforce universal equality in a world where the nobles can all shoot fireballs out of their finger-tips, except that apparently she plans to throw dragons at the problem. She has her own rod of dragon control, which she apparently can’t use yet, until at some point in the movie she suddenly, and without explanation, can.

Because the council of mages, at Irons’ urging, has voted for Birch to give up her rod, the heroes go in search of yet another one, hoping to pull a sly one on the council by allowing the Empress to comply without relinquishing her power. This entire premise is shot to hell when the Empress summons her dragons before the new rod is found, making the entire quest pointless. Yet, the quest continues anyway, though the only thing it can accomplish at this point is to deliver the rod into the hands of the bad guys, which is just what happens. Mother Theresa may have been charitable enough to read this as ironic. I am made of weaker stuff. I took it as sloppy writing.

There are some things D&D fans will like about the film, but a lot more things they won’t. It’s nice that they threw in a beholder, an infamous creature in D&D, but for some reason, it’s being used by humans as some kind of a guard dog. In D&D, it’s beholders who use humans, often as food. The difference between gold and red dragons is never explained (gold dragons are good, red ones are evil), and dragons never seem to be more than snarling brutes, in contrast to the deviously hyper-intelligent spellcasters gamers know them to be. Their breath weapons come in short bursts of fire, rather than the streaming cones described in the Monster Manual. I could point out more, but you get the point. They didn’t try very hard to get it right.

Although there were action sequences in the movie that I enjoyed, nothing particularly interesting happens until the second act, and even then the story fails to gather any momentum. If the movie had been distilled down to the perhaps thirty minutes of battling dragons, swinging blades and magic swords clashing, the story would have made just as much sense and would have been a treat to see. As a bonus, I wouldn’t have had to sit through the Birch’s blubbering speeches, which were embarassingly bad attempts at social commentary and courtly intrigue. But the good stuff doesn’t make up for the bad stuff. Not nearly.

Even with all the things I liked about the film, the dungeon crawling and the dwarf hollering and the atmospheric set design and computer-generated architecture and the (usually) decent costuming, I cannot in good conscience recommend this film to anyone at all, not at full price. If you’re curious, go and see it when it comes around to the El Cheapo, or wait until it comes out on video and give it the MST3K treatment. Just don’t expect it to be worth the money. I’d like to support the production of D&D movies, but I sure don’t want to send the message that this is what gamers are looking for.

Conan the Barbarian still remains the closest thing to a D&D movie ever made.

Dude, I HAVE to see this movie!

If for no other reason than to find out if you were overly critical.

/. is discussing it right now.

The meta reviewer RottenTomatoes shows it has collected one of the worst assortment of reviews I have seen so far (one marked “good” was that it was a better B-movie then SW Episode I was in epic sci-fi).

A couple of people who gave it good reviews on /. did so by saying they thought the lame acting and script brought to mind a group of teenage kids playing around at D&D.


/. is discussing it right now.

Didn’t notice I had cut n pasted the url outside of the “” marks.

Please, please, please see this movie. Do it for me. If it gets a lot of money they will make a Drangonlance movie. If it flops, no Dragonlance movie. I want to die a happy man. Oh please, kindly donate to me 2 hours of your life. Hell, I saw it twice yesterday.

They might make a Dragonlance movie?

::running to the theater::

A dragonlance movie with the same director?
Do you really want that to happen?

Lithe figure, boyish good looks, impossibly agile…a rogue by any standard! Too bad they had to fucking ruin it by making him a swordsman throughout the whole god damn movie.

Without a doubt, and as much as I hate to say this…Marlon Wayans gave the best performance out of anyone in the movie. He had a role–he played it well (and I LOVE his high-pitched squeal). Can’t say the same for anyone else.

This character was so incredibly shallow that you could have taken a cardboard cutout of her with a stunned look on her dirty face, and it would have had the same effect (if not more) than the actual actress did.

This was probably the most true-to-D&D aspect of the movie. A short, strong dwarf with a huge battle axe and a chip on his shoulder the size of…uh…what was the kingdom’s name? Anyway…his description of stout dwarf women with something to hold onto had me in stitches.

Another totally forgettable character whose breastsplate was probably more dangerous than any other weapon she could have used. Ridiculously cold even for an Elf, she was a terrible representation of the race as a whole.

All I could think of whenever I saw her: Amidala. A young ruler trying to prevent an evil rebel from wresting control of her empire for his own diabolical use. Is it Savina? Is it Amidala? You decide. An awfully written and acted character.

Please tell me you’re joking…PLEASE. This character was SO overacted it’s disgusting. It just made him look silly. I couldn’t stand to even look at him the whole time.

A rebel without a cause would be a perfect description of this character. I loved his battle attire and fighting style, but his performance was reduced to a number of cold stares and lifeless dialogue.

I don’t know who you’re talking about here, so I’m not going to comment.

I agree totally. Why didn’t the dragons talk, at all? What “evil” was it that the Rod of Red Dragon Control radiated and instilled in its user? Why were fireballs flaming from the moment the mages threw them, instead of exploding soon after deploying? Why was it so easy to gain access to a major thieves guild? Why were two rogues so adept at using swords? Why did Snails name get scratched off the rock at the end? Where the hell did the red dragon eye take the four? How the hell did they end up WITH the red dragon eye, after he used it to gain access to the crypt? How did they gain access to an extremely high spire in the mage tower? Why did they only show beholders for 20 seconds? What was Snails planning to do with the magic dust (which, by the way, seemed to be the universal spell component throughout the movie) he swiped from Damadar’s room? Was the elf who healed Ridley a cleric, or a druid?

There are so many (more) unanswered questions it almost scares me.

If I wasn’t such a fan of the genre, I’d give it a 0. As it is…it gets a 1.5.

From what people have been saying:
They made the movie for non D&D fans. They played on the well-known stereotypes for each class (rogues are always witty swash-bucklers. Did they have rapiers?). It also sounds like they loaded the movie with too many characters for each one to be well developed (there are a ton of X-Men, they dealt with about 5).

Then, they forgot that the main audience for a D&D movie would be: people who love D&D and know what the people SHOULD be like, rather than the stereotypes.

Sound good?

What I found even more annoying is that Ridley’s the only guy who really gets to do anything successful in the whole damn movie. Even the villains can’t do anything right.

You notice there was one skill that neither of those two bumbling buffoons never seemed to use: MOVE SILENTLY!!! They made more noise than two cats in heat! And their wall-climbing skills were less than impressive, at least to D&D players who are used to thieves who climb sheer walls with their bare hands.

[qoute]Ridley’s sidekick Snails, played by Marlon Wayans, smacks very much of the sambo characters of another era. He’s cowardly, inept, and never contributes anything worth his share of the XP.

Amen, pardner. Couldn’t have said it any better. I hated what they did with that character.

I would have hated to see him cut, just because he was the only thing that made the first half of the movie bearable. Arenberg does the best job in the whole movie.

Actually, no rule says rangers can’t use metal armor; they just temporarily give up a few of their special abilities to do it. Although that particular metal armor . . . just how do you bend over in that thing?

As for everything else you say, and most especially the black/white race line, the most eloquent thing I can say is: Ditto! You tell 'em!

No, I gotta go with Davidson on this one. Payne is over-the-top, and enjoyable. Irons is just parodying himself.

Overall, I would say the movie is worth while seeing as long as you walk in an hour late, or fast forward through the first hour on video. Thereby you spare yourself the irritation of Snails, and see the only part of the movie that is worth seeing: the dragon battle over the city.

Your exposition of the movie’s flaws is, overall, superb.

Danimal (now forging his longsword +3, +6 vs. Courtney Solomon.

I just got back from seeing the movie. I was very disappointed. And, like Johnny Angel, I wasn’t expecting much to begin with.

Others have already pointed out many of the films major faults. One that I was particularly annoyed with was the portrayal of relative fighting skills.

As anyone who’s played the game knows, thieves, fighters and mages all have definite fighting styles: fighters fight well, thieves fight so-so, and are better at sneaky tactics, and mages suck at it. In the movie, the mid-level (at best) thief out-fights the much stronger, high-level warrior-henchman (the fight between the henchman and Snails, I thought, was much truer to the game). The Evil Mage out-fights said thief by using a staff one-handed (I should point out, however, that the movie’s version of ‘out-fighting’ in this case involves the Evil Mage simply hiding behind his staff, as the thief-guy swings his sword at it). This is way off from the way things would happen in the game.

Personally, I feel that the movie’s biggest failing was in attaching the “Dungeons & Dragons” name to it. By implying that the movie is going to essentially be a D&D adventure come to life, fans of the game (or even RPGing in general) are going to have certain expectations. The director (and probably everyone else involved) has apparently never played the game, so had no idea what these expectations were, and as a result, missed the point. The movie had a lot of potential, whether played seriously, or even camped up as a film version of what tends to happen in an actual game (personally, I think the latter would have been a real hoot). Unfortunately, it failed to live up to any of its potential.

They only needed to roll a 10 to score a hit and probably make most of its audience happy.

They rolled a one.

Dark Lord Davidson wrote:

I took him to be of the Swashbuckler kit, from The Complete Thieves’ Handbook. They select a favorite weapon, and go up in THAC0 with that weapon as a fighter of the same level. In any case, clearly Ridley was at least 10th level, so he was probably a pretty good swordsman anyway.

My favorite line was, “If I’m not drinkin’, you’re not shoppin’!”

We’re obviously shins and knees on this one – you loved Wayans’ performance, but didn’t like Irons’. I just can’t see it.

Tom Baker was the very popular fourth Doctor, from the show Dr. Who. In this movie, he played the elf king.

Danimal wrote:

For a D&D movie, the whole party needs to be competent. Even if you’re going to have one party member be a focus character, the rest need to be highly competent too. Look at how well this worked with Tommy Lee Jones and his team in The Fugitive.

Under the basic D&D set I once had, climb walls was called `climb sheer surfaces’. I imagined Steve Martin in The Man with Two Brains, licking his hands and using them as suction cups. But if Snails had at least been good at sneaking around, and hiding in shadows, his cowardace would have been less irritating.

That’s right. I should have known this, because I just got done playing Baldur’s Gate II.

And having a load of fun with it. I myself had a load of fun doing my Profion impression. My friends were sick of it within the hour, but I’m still enchanted.

The writers, I noticed on IMDB, both also worked on Where the Money Is. Now I’d like to see this other film, and find out if the problem might just be them.

My reaction to the D&D movie: Star Wars without guns. They simply substituted “magic” for “The Force”, magic swords for lightsabers, dragons for X-wings, and a dwarf for Chewbacca. They didn’t even substitute the Empress… they kept the queen they had in TMP.


The acting was horrendous. I originally thought that Marlon Wayans would ruin the movie, but it turns out he was the best actor in the whole thing, with Justin Whalin coming in a close second. Nobody else even comes close.

Profion was a pretty good villain, but he looked like a Wall Street executive. I half-expected him to pull out his cell phone and say “Sell my Mage Corp. stock!”

The best part of the movie was listening to the hardcore fanboys in the theatre whispering about the movie… “Ooh, a spell of binding… aha, a dwarf!.. wow, an Elven blade!.. oh, no, Beholders!”

On the way out, me and my friend started a list of what the typical D&D enthusiast would think after seeing the movie… here’re some of the better ones:

“They didn’t roll dice once in that movie!”

“That was horrible… they made him take 17 points of damage when EVERYbody knows he should have only taken 15!”

“Y’know that part where they had their lips pressed together? What’s that called, anyway?”


AD&D players: Please see my sarcastic review of the movie at http://www.hit-n-run.com/cgi/read_review.cgi?review=53538_rogermw, in which I re-tell the entire plot using AD&D rules terminology. :wink:

Oh, and I’m sure that wasn’t metal breastplate the elven ranger was wearing. It was probably a silver lamé 1-piece swimsuit, which sounds like the perfect garment to be wearing in the middle of the woods at night. :rolleyes:

Johnny Angel wrote:

No no no, she also knows the “make a rope appear around Justin Whalin and Marlon Wayans, tying them together” spell! (It couldn’t have been a “bind” spell because that requires her to throw a real non-magical rope at them and hit them with it, and it couldn’t have been a “hold person” spell because “hold person” prevents someone from speaking and Justin Whalin just wouldn’t shut up.)

And that other spell she cast at Bruce Payne twice might not have been “magic missile”, it could’ve been “lightning bolt.” What with those little electric arc bolts and things. (Of course, lightning bolt requires material components she didn’t have, but then again, dimension door should’ve been too high level a spell for her to cast anyway.)
Dark Lord Davidson wrote:

They weren’t fireballs, they were magic missile spells! :wink: They missed the gold dragons because, as of the 2nd Edition Monstrous Compendium/Monstrous Manual, adult and older gold dragons have magic resistance. They must’ve all made their magic resistance rolls.

Now now, thieves are allowed to take swords as weapons of proficiency.

He must’ve been a cleric. Pure elves can’t be druids in 1st edition OR 2nd edition. (And in 1st edition, only NPC elves could be clerics, and they couldn’t progress past 7th level, which would mean they couldn’t cast raise dead – therefore, if that was a raise dead spell he cast on Ridley and not merely one of the “cure xxx wounds” spells, that proves they were operating under 2nd edition rules. :wink: )

I haven’t seen the movie, and don’t plan to (sorry Goose). D&D doesn’t have a distinct setting. A Dragonlance movie would have been a better idea, it has a plot ready for convertion as well as a definite setting that is at least somewhat different from generic fantasy.

Besides this it was cleary WotC thinking, “Hmm we have a nice fan base, most everyone at least knows of D&D. Does anyone else smell profit?” Now there isn’t anything wrong with making money, but the movie’s point was just money. I doubt much thought, passion or effort went into the film.

cough cough

Congratulations! Welcome to the world of “How can Hollywood screw up this franchise?”

For those of you unfamiliar with this game, I suggest you do an archive search for “Heinlein” in MPSIMS and IMHO. (Here, I’ll save you the trouble.)
Heinlein Books and Movies: http://boards.straightdope.com/sdmb/showthread.php?threadid=20966

Starship Troopers: did anybody understand it?: http://boards.straightdope.com/sdmb/showthread.php?threadid=43651

One of the threads has a link to a web site by one of the screenwriters for Robert Heinlein’s The Puppet Masters. It is an eye-opening look at how Hollywood goes about screwing up a good thing. From a person deeply involved in the process, and crying the whole way. There is also a link to an interview of the director of Starship Troopers, and how he decided he didn’t like Heinlein’s premise and views, so set about destroying the story by his interpretation.

Here’s the link to the story.

Someone said that the surest way to tell when a story most deviates from the author’s version is when they list the author’s name in the title. I think that applies here.

One of the reasons for the bad script is it took them 10 years of rewriting before they got it greenlit. Then, whenever they came up with a good idea, the director would go “Yeah! great! let’s do it!” and the next day “Nope, sorry, it’s crap. Start again from scratch.”

This guy got so obsessed with making a great movie, he forgot to make a great movie.

Or so I’m gathering from these reviews. (I ain’t seen it yet)

What, did you major in ‘kill little boy’s dreams’ in college!? :wink:

Did anyone else see Darth Maul in Bruce Payne? What about Yosemite Sam in the dwarf?

Johnny Angel wrote, in the OP:

But he’s not wearing PLATE MAIL!
What fighter doesn’t wear plate mail? Or plate armor, when that became available in the Unearthed Arcana supplement to the 1st Edition rules. But at least plate mail.