Based (possibly) on the notion that there is a deep adolescent market (with some Breakfast Club generation thrown in) yet to be really tapped in the movie industry, New Line Cinema releases Dungeons and Dragons this week. Growing up I was into some of these role playing games and I still know people my age who are veteran players so I thought this might have some potential. Of course, after seeing Jeremy Irons ham up his evilness in the preview, I wasnít thrilled, but going was free and I had a cruddy day at work so, ergo, I was in the mood to be mindlessly entertained. In fact, I went with a fellow D&D nerd who walked out just as disappointed as I was, and neither of us was expecting much to begin with.
Recommend this product?
The singular positive commentary I can provide about the experience is that the production looked good. The costumes are an annoying mix of medieval times and Star Wars (Episode 1) but the environment that the scenes were shot in was lush and well lit to each particular occasion. Of course, they screw this up by having a swerving camera, IMAX style, creating the shift in scenes instead of simply cutting, giving the audience a collective headache, but that is by no means where they stop in ruining everything that could have been of interest about the movie.
Part of why Dungeons and Dragons has been so popular since the 1980ís is because it took intelligence and planning to play and win. You create these three-dimensional characters who have specific attributes and have to figure out who can work with whom and rely on a Dungeon Master (DM) to take you through different mazes. Itís a social game but itís also a thought-provoking game as your characters learn different skills, potions, etc. as they progress up levels. In other words, this game is all about how the tiny details make up the whole experience, and if you donít know something you can easily find books that discuss the heavy mythology behind the creation of races of characters and even cultures. It took imagination to create this game, and it takes a good deal to play it, and that is why it continues to sell.
The movie fails to capture any sort of this engaging quality because it only cares about looking good. It doesnít care about characters at all, which is the foundation of the interest of this genre. Sure, itís fantasy so you have to accept that some ideas simply donít fit into this world while others will. But fantasy stories rely on mythology (no matter how simplistic) and, unlike the game or even the cartoon, it is impossible to tell what that mythology is in the movie. You donít know why Profion (Jeremy Irons) wants the scepter so badly, which takes central focus in the plot. What is he going to do after he takes the kingdom and why does he even want to do so? You donít know why the Empress (Thora Birch) is even in power right now or how their world is set up so that Profion can come out of nowhere and challenge her authority.
It would be understandable if some of these plot points were to be ironed out over the course of the narrative, but that just doesnít happen. Instead, for reasons that remain unclear, Ripley and Marina miraculously end up inside an ancient scroll which leads them to believe (and I didnít understand how) they have to retrieve a dragonís eye to get a scepter that will give its bearer control over dragons. If this seems a questionable or confusing plot line, blame the screenwriters, not me. How does Ripley know the words to enter the scroll since he is a thief and not involved with magic? Who knows, but that is the least of the open wounds this question of common sense leaves on the viewer.
Thatís as much as I can articulate about the incoherent plot. So now onto the people weíre stuck with for an excruciating two hours unless we want to save what little good cheer we have left by walking out of the theater.
There isnít a single likable character in this film, though I know they are supposed to be sympathetic. The magician-in-training, Marina, meets the thieves (Ripley and Snails) when they have broken into the magic house to steal, and practices her magic by having them tied in ropes and dragged around with her when sheís running away from the villains. However, even when in the gravest danger she never attempts to use her magic again but instead stands by wimpering and pouting. Marlon Wayans plays the inconsequential comedy relief as Ripleyís sidekick Snails, but really has nothing to do besides die like a martyr (yes Massa!) for no reason, or I should say that his death was not earned by the film in that I didnít understand why he had to die.
As for American Beautyís Thora Birch attempting to copy Natalie Portman in Star Wars Episode I, sheís all for equality but relinquishes her lines with such childish petulance that you want Profion to win. This is not a good sign for a fantasy movie. We are supposed to look to Ripley as a hero, but I had no admiration for him, even after succeeding at a task with supposed skill. There is a single actor who has two minutes of screen time and manages to save face after the torturous two hours are up and thatís Tom Baker who plays the Elf King.
What happened to the good old days of Jeremy Irons being a real actor. Reversal of Fortune and even the more recent Lolita (which I hated but he was still good in it) seem as if made in an entirely different incarnation of him. Of course Dungeons and Dragons is up on top of my list for worst films released this year, but why did he even bother to sign on? At first it was laughable to watch his face contort but it got old really quick and his performance makes Anthony Hopkinsí turn in Dracula look like Billy Crudup in Waking the Dead.
Though this film is solely based on visuals, I donít think even a younger audience will appreciate it because it moves so slowly. There are too many overly extended scenes with endless, repetitive, predictable dialogue that you forget this is supposed to be an action/adventure movie. As for the romantics at heart, the kiss scene looked extremely uncomfortable for the actors and so it didnít come off nearly as much of a touching moment as it should have. Marina starts to pull away but it looks as if someone was coaching her to keep going, that the camera was still on the, so she hesitates and they kiss again.
I could keep discussing the multiple failures of this movie but why should I waste your time? I just hoped Iíve discouraged people by writing this to not waste their time or money in promoting any kind of real box office for this film. Itís been a bad year for movies so why encourage it?
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