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Movie Review

Dungeons and Dragons

MPAA Rating: PG-13 for fantasy action violence

Reviewed by: Matthew Rees
CONTRIBUTOR

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Moviemaking Quality:

Primary Audience:
Teens Adult
Genre:
Action
Length:
1 hr. 47 min.
Year of Release:
2000
USA Release:
December 8, 2000 (wide)
Dragons in “Dungeons and Dragons”
Featuring: Jeremy Irons, Justin Whalin, Lee Arenberg, Marlon Wayans, Thora Birch
Director: Courtney Solomon
Producer: Allan Zeman, Courtney Solomon, John Benitz, Kia Jam, Nelson Leong, Tom Hammel
Distributor: New Line Cinema

I love role-playing games, and my greatest concern about the Dungeons and Dragons movie was that it would rekindle another spate of misguided attacks against its namesake and RPGs in general. I’ve done some research into the crimes and suicides supposedly motivated by D&D, and I can say with all confidence that 99% of any rumors you may have heard are misinformation, exaggeration or outright fiction. The other 1% comes from the fact that any demographic group is bound to include some people that are mentally unbalanced. I could go on at length about this (in fact, I wrote a term paper on it a few years ago), but that really isn’t the point of the review. I bring it up only to make the point that the movie’s connection to the game should not be counted as a strike against it.

A quick synopsis, provided by the producers, states “The Empire of Izmer has long been a divided land. The Mages—an elite group of magic users—rule whilst the lowly commoners are powerless. Izmer’s young Empress, Savina, wants equality and prosperity for all, but the evil Mage Profion is plotting to depose her, and establish his own rule. In order to prevent Profion from taking over her kingdom, the Empress must find the legendary Rod of Savrille that controls the powerful Red Dragons. Enter two thieves, Ridley and Snails, who unwittingly become instrumental in the search for the Rod. They are joined by Mage Apprentice Marina, a feisty Dwarf named Elwood, and helped by the Empress’s expert tracker, the Elf Norda, as they outrace Profion’s chief henchman Damodar to find the magical Rod that will set their Kingdom free.” Fantasy it is.

The biggest concern about the movie from a Christian perspective is the presence of sorcery. Both good and evil characters cast spells. If you can accept the fact that this is purely fantasy, that it’s set in a make-believe world, and is not trying to make a statement about spiritual truths in the real world, then the magical elements shouldn’t be a problem. It has no more connection to real occultism than Homer’s Odyssey, or for that matter, Stephen Lawhead’s novels or many fairy tales. However, if magical elements of any kind make you feel uncomfortable, then you shouldn’t touch this movie with a ten foot pole. In fact, you’re not the sort of person who would enjoy this kind of movie anyway, so you may as well stop reading now. Although you don’t have to be familiar with the D&D game to understand the movie, you’re not likely to get much out of it if you don’t have at least some appreciation for “swords and sorcery” in general.

Given that the overall consensus of both movie critics and the general public is that this movie is pathetic, I almost feel ashamed to admit that I enjoyed it. Many reviewers seemed to think it was unspeakably bad, but I’ve seen some unspeakably bad fantasy movies, and this was not one of them. However, it’s definitely mediocre. There are three major problems with the movie. The first is that the dialogue is often cliched and/or cheesy. The second is the acting ranges from fair to awful. Jeremy Irons and Thora Birch, both of whom should have been able to do better, are horribly over-the-top and horribly wooden respectively. Marlon Wayans is simply annoying in a Jar-Jar Binks kind of way, while Bruce Payne is a poor man’s Darth Maul. I thought Justin Whalin (the hero) and Zoe McLellan (the love interest) were actually pretty good, although others disagreed. I also read a lot of praise for Richard O’Brien and Tom Baker, although the former had few lines and the latter even fewer, and I suspect a large part of the praise was simply inspired by nostalgia for their earlier roles.

The third problem is the one I found easiest to forgive, and that’s the formulaic nature of the plot. It does have an interesting setting and a somewhat original (though not terribly inspired) storyline, but it buries them in a truckload of cliches. The low point for me was the scene in which the bad guy has the hero’s friends at his mercy, and threatens to do them in unless the hero hands over the magic McGuffin. What happens next is so predictable that it made me want to slap the hero for his stupidity. There are also several scenes that were obviously inspired by “Indiana Jones” or “Star Wars” (although the criticism that the young queen was ripped off from “The Phantom Menace” is probably unfair, since from what I understand the script was written well before “TPM” came out).

So what is there to like about the movie? The biggest and most noticeable good point is the special effects, which are gorgeous. The scenery is also fantastic (much of it having been filmed in authentic medieval buildings and castles in the Czech Republic), although some of the props and costumes look silly. It’s well-paced and moderately suspenseful, and the action sequences are well-done. There are a few funny lines, a few memorable scenes, and a few good performances. As I said, the movie isn’t so much abysmal as it is simply half-baked.

There are no outright sexual situations, although a couple of characters make suggestive comments and one female character wears armor that accentuates her chest (which unfortunately is fairly typical of the genre). The violence is plentiful, but for the most part not very graphic. There are only a couple of scenes with any blood in them, and one close-up shot of a sword imbedded in the hero’s shoulder (although the sword obviously isn’t sharp enough to cut butter—an example of the silly-looking props I mentioned above). There are also a number of other scenes which could be frightening to children. Overall, this is a fairly intense movie. Also potentially objectionable is the fact that the hero and his sidekick are unrepentant thieves.

If you go to see this movie with high expectations, you’re almost certain to be disappointed. However, if you’re prepared for a large helping of ham and cheese on slightly stale bread, there’s a chance you might actually find it enjoyable. At the very least, you should see it before forming an opinion of it.


Viewer Comments
Extremely bad acting especially by Marlon Wayans. Usually I find the Wayans family to be hilarious although frequently vulgar. One thing I didn’t understand was why the hero always walked slouched over when action was about to begin. It was like he was trying to hide as he walked. My 13 year old son liked the movie. So did his 15 year old friend (male) who went with us. The most interesting things I found at the movie was the trailers for upcoming movies which were apparently targeted to adolescent boys and girls which featured a strip club in one and scantily clad teenage girls in another. One villain in D&D seemed to be a very poor man’s Darth Vader. He had one line which was delivered so badly, I think it was “You can’t be serious” as to be laughable. What was up with his wierd, and girly man looking blue lips? Jeremy Irons was pathetic as the chief villain. If his wimpy self walked onto one of my construction sites, he would be beaten up immediately. That said I thought the movie was fairly harmless for my son and his friend. There is a lot worse out there. The emperoress was a good role model in a way because she was working for equality for all people. Consider waiting for it to hit a budget theater and don’t bring the wife. She will hate it. My Ratings: [Better than Average / 2]
—Mark L. Gilliam, age 39
This movie was not a movie for christians to go see at all. Not only was it bad filmmaking, but it also had very strong cultic tendencies. It dealt with magic all throughout the movie. From a worldly perspective (except for the horrible quality of the film) there would have been nothing wrong with this movie. But from a christian view, this movie sent out a horrible message. My rating is as follows: DO NOT SEE!!!… My Ratings: [Extremely Offensive / 1]
—Robbie, age 15
Okay, I admit I play Dungeons and Dragons and have since college, the idea of role-playing inspired me to question a lot of my upbringing by allowing me to act out… and I’m going to become a minister because of it. I was thus looking forward to the Dungeons and Dragons movie and I must say that it severely disappointed me. The acting is poor, the dialogue is equally so, and there is a graphic death scene amazingly out of place in this light hearted adventure. While some (Thadia Newton as the Emperor and Jeremy Irons as Profion) were good in their roles they needed more build up. I actually recommend the novelization far above the movie for much better dialogue, storyline, and several crucial scenes missing from the movie including the fact that most wizards (like those in D&D) are actually a type of scientist, but the villians of the story actually gain power from demons… yet ultimately the heroes (including the Queen) reject such power and a statement is made so subtly about the magic that we must live in harmony with it takes a moment to realize he’s talking about God. You won’t find such a moral lesson in the movie, but it’s not offensive really. My Ratings: [Better than Average / 1½]
—Charles Phipps, age 19
At first I was skeptical, because the game is very risque and leans towards occult. The movie, however, has nothing to do with the game except for races, the fact that magic is used, and the title. There is no mention of other gods, demons, etc. The special effects were absolutely astounding, and the dragons looked amazing. However, where this movie falters is the storyline. It ripped off more movies than you can count on your fingers. I still liked it though. If you are skeptical about this movie for moral and religious issues, there is no need to be. Most Christians bash it and automatically assume it’s evil because it’s D and D. Don’t do that, its not. My Ratings: [Better than Average / 3½]
—Savino, age 14
There was an overall theme of using magic in D&D, so that might bother some people. There wasn’t a ton of blood (except when one dragon was killed at the beginning by having a spiked door fall on him, but even then it wasn’t a gory blood bath), so violence wasn’t too much of an issue. There was a lot of cool swordfighting, though! As for swearing, they said the “D” word once, and the “H” word three times. That was about the extent of the language. As for sex/nudity/innuendo, there was one passionate kiss between a mage and a thief. That was all. There was more sexual references and innuendo in the new live action version of The Grinch. Overall, the movie was excellent. I’ve never played the game, and it didn’t really peak my interest. So if a little violence, minimal swearing, and use of magic don’t bother you, go see Dungeons and Dragons! I was very pleased with it, and I think it’d be a good solid action flick for the family, 13 and up of course. My Ratings: [Average / 5]
—Josh Simons, age 18
A new rating needs to be invented for this movie. It is by far the worst movie I have ever seen. Not only are there giant size holes in the plot, but the acting… oh the horrible acting. If I had driven myself I would have left after the first 10 minuts. screaming! The blue lipped bad guy is the worst—he has a large part in the movie and is the WORST actor. It was as if he was in the movie as a joke or favor to someone. This was not a movie—it was a joke. Do not see it. My Ratings: [Average / 1]
—Eric Schuster, age 24
I’m a Christian and I started playing D&D and AD&D many years ago, before it was largely shunned by Christians. I was excited to see a movie based on the game as I’m a big fan of the fantasy genre i.e. “The Hobbit”, “Dragonlance”, “Lion the Witch and Wardrove”, “Wizard of Earthsea”, etc. I’m a devoted Christian and an avid fantasy fan. I didn’t go to this movie with high expectations however and I don’t recommend that you do either or you’ll probably be disappointed. The film holds some nastalgic points-of-interest for a D&D gamer, but I think the non-gamer will find many elements to be confusing or just plain stupid. The story was choppy, vague, stereotypical, and the characters just weren’t very interesting. It was childish (most of the time) yet uncomfortably dark too (some of the time). If you go, go with very low expectations. It’s not a “horrible” movie, but I wouldn’t recommend it to anyone except not-too-serious fans of the game. My Ratings: [Better than Average / 2]
—Stephen, age 31
Movie Critics
…dwells too close to the occultic side. The biggest concern is the film will renew interest in the role-playing game, which could lead to dabbling in other occultic exercises…
—Preview Family Movie and TV Review
…the worldview is a pagan one that fosters moral and cultural relativism …
—Dr. Ted Baehr, Movieguide
…Gamer geeks, I speak your language! And I warn you: Flee! Or, at the very least, crank down any expectations you harbor—a few notches below “zero”…
—Cody Clark, Mr. Showbiz