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Dungeons & Dragons, Reviewed by Gash

This film caused a HUGE divide on the Sorcerer's Place boards, and it became clear that people either fell into two distinct camps - those who loved the film, and those who hated it.

The story takes place in the Kingdom of Izmer, where magic users form the ruling class and the non-magic using 'commoners' are second-class citizens. The young and idealistic Empress Savina (Thora Birch) wishes to level the playing field by giving the common man a voice in political affairs.
However, her efforts are thwarted by the powerful Profion (Jeremy Irons), who not only wields considerable influence amongst the ruling council, but also wishes to seize the throne for himself. The key to his victory is possession of a magical scepter that will give him the power to control the ultra-powerful red dragons, which can help him overthrow the Empress.
However, Profion's dastardly scheme runs into some difficulty when it is stumbled upon by two lowly thieves, Ridley (Justin Whalin) and Snails (Marlon Wayans), and a junior mage named Marina (Zoe McLellan). Pretty soon, they're in a race against Profion's chief henchman, Damodar (Bruce Payne), to retrieve the scepter.
The party of adventurers is bolstered by the presence of tough-as-nails dwarf fighter Elwood (Lee Arenberg) and silent-but-deadly elven ranger Norda (Kristen Wilson). Unfortunately, as they inch closer and closer to completing their quest, the Kingdom of Izmer moves closer and closer to civil war.

As in the RPG computer games, the main flaw in the DnD movie is the characterization. The characters are given no real identity other than their racial description in the DnD board game allows - the Dwarf Elwood is of course an ale swilling uncouth barbarian with a gruff voice. The Elf Ranger Norda is a male-hating, silent-but-cool ass kicker. Snails the sidekick is a streetwise hip hop ghetto boy who occasionally squeals and complains that he is getting "dissed."

I could go on. You can predict the characters of each of the parts pretty much before you see them. Had these characters had some kind of personality beyond the DnD rulebook, the movie would have got off on a better foot.

Still, you think as you get past the 20 minute mark, the plot's got to be something right? Wrong. Its the generic old "Search for the lost something of someone else" tripe that became old in the 1960's. Rather than an epic journey through lost lands where the characters discover something about themselves and face many dangers along the way, what we are left with is an Indiana Jones-esque goose chase where our heroes capture their prize pretty much instantaneously and are then left avoiding muscle-bound henchman Damodar for the rest of the movie. As it turns out however, there is a small romance interest along the way but this is pretty much and overnight development, and Ridley's revenge for Snails who is killed partway through the movie (which was a shame because Marlon Wayans was managing at this point to break from his "Hip Sidekick" stereotype and deliver some genuinely funny moments), but these sub-plots are just as bad as the main thing.

Acting wise, the veterans come off better than the newbies. Justin Whalin (you remember him from The New Adventures of Superman - he played Jimmy Olsen, the really annoying one) is little more than a cocky superhero, Thora Birch is very shaky and thankfully not given a lot to do. Marlon Wayans has his moments but is basically re-hashing his Scary Movie role, and Zoe McLellan's lines are very method and forced. Jeremy Irons is very good as chief bad guy role and often carries entire scenes on his own back. His second in command Bruce Payne is also very convincing, and instead of playing the part of a bumbling henchmen, he more assumes the role of totally cold blooded killer, and is given plenty of lines. It is Bruce Payne who really carries Whalin and McLellan's performance on their many scenes together and his presence would be missed otherwise.

It is a sad state of affairs when the cameos of the movie exceed the main cast. Tom Baker as Halvarth the Elven Mage and Richard O'Brien (UK readers will remember him from the Crystal Maze) as Xilus both excel at their roles despite the fact they appear in very few scenes together.

Action-wise, DnD does deliver - the special effects truly are magnificent, particularly in the larger scale battles and familiar beasts such as Dragons and Beholders are well animated. The fight scenes are well done and the spell effects have an undeniable cool about them. Other scenes, such as the maze scene where Ridley recovers the Eye, contains lots of great Booby-trap effects and is one of the better moments in the film.

All in all, my advice is this; don't ever suggest to your friends you rent Dungeons and Dragons one night - you will of course, be ridiculed. However, if you have a few hours you need to fill one afternoon, DnD is by no means an awful movie - just not the great one everyone hoped it would be.

Sorcerer's Place rating: 2/5

 

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