Reviewed by: Matthew Rees
|Featuring||Jeremy Irons, Justin Whalin, Lee Arenberg, Marlon Wayans, Thora Birch|
|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.