Retro Review: Dungeons & Dragons

The text below the break is part of a theatrical review originally published on December 8th, 2000.

Here are some updated thoughts:  The look on their faces above is exactly how I felt while watching Dungeons & Dragons back in 2000.  Part of me was smirking in disgust, another part of me was screaming in frustration.  I grew up on Dungeons & Dragons (the game).  Granted, it’s been 30 years since I played it, but all the fond memories and nostalgia are still there.  And it’s such a rich world that it’s maddening that no one has been able to leverage it effectively to the screen.  All screen versions (live or animated) are cheesy, poorly written, poorly acted, and to be honest, far too juvenile to be appealing to anyone . . . even less discerning kids!

Fantasy has had a resurgence since The Lord of the Rings and Game of Thrones have made it to live production.  I’m still waiting for a good version of Dungeons & Dragons, but I don’t think it will ever happen.[divider style=”dashed” top=”20″ bottom=”20″]

Some films just weren’t meant to be.  Dungeons & Dragons is the type of film that should have been lost during that harried process that is pre-production.  Had the film been lost, then it would have saved some good people a lot of boredom and a lot of hard-earned cash.  Unfortunately somehow, somewhere, someone thought that making a low-budget film called Dungeons & Dragons was a good idea.  And because of this, we get to sit through a painful, pointless, and meaningless film that runs for nearly two hours.

The film opens with a great sequence that consists of a camera traveling over a city and entering a castle only to stop in the castle’s dungeons.  The sequence is greatly executed and quite fantastic to watch.  But the fun stops there.  This little intro is as good as the film ever gets.

The story in itself is quite simple.  Empress Savina (Thora Birch) is the leader of this far away land where dragons, elves and all kinds of strange creatures coexist together.  In this world, magic is a part of life and everyone seems to be practicing it.  But Profion (Jeremy Irons) wants to be the ruler of the city in order to execute his evil plans of destroying everyone (what good would that do?).  So he tells the members of the council that Savina is too young to govern the city and that she should surrender her scepter, an object which can control dragons.  Of course, Profion would love to get his hands on her scepter as well as on the world’s most powerful scepter that would control red dragons, the most fearsome creatures of the world.

Meanwhile, Ridley and Snails (Justin Whalin and Marlon Wayans), two young thieves, are planning to break into the city’s magic school to steal some things they could resell on the black market.  But during their little escapade, they witness the death of one of the eldest member of the council, who also happens to be Savina’s personal adviser.  They run away with the advisor’s young protégé, Marina (Zoe McLellan) and a map that will lead them to the red specter.  Marina tells our duo that they need to find the red specter before Profion.  If Profion gets his hands on the rod, it will be the end of the world as they know it.

Profion sends his best warrior in order to stop the trio from taking hold of the magical rod.  And so they all leave on an adventure that lacks . . . adventure.  The film is just simply bland.  The script is full of ideas, but the screenwriters didn’t know how to execute these ideas.  For example, there is a sequence where Ridley needs to get his hand on a red dragon’s eye ruby, the very ruby that will open the cave hiding the red specter.  But the ruby is owned by a powerful thief and the only way to get it is to go through the thief’s maze.  The thief tells Ridley that no one has ever survived his maze.  At this point, I was telling myself, finally, maybe something good will happen.  This is supposed to be an adventure flick.  Maybe I’ll finally get to see a little adventure.  But Ridley enters the maze and in a couple of minutes, he’s out, unharmed.  You’d think that a maze of torture that was the cause of countless murders would be harder to get through.  Nope.

[box type=”error” align=”” class=”” width=””]Dungeons & Dragons PosterEmperess Savina rules over the magical empire Izmer.  The young thieves Ridley and Snails get involved with her quest to find the legendary Scepter of Savrille.  With this most desirable magical wand she could have the power to rule over the Red Dragons and she would then be able to provide freedom and equality amongst all people.  The future  of Izmer depends on the braveness of Ridley and Snails . . .

Dungeons & Dragons

Director:  Courtney Solomon
Starring:  Jeremy Irons, Thora Birch, Marlon Wayans
Genre:  Fantasy
Media:  Film, 107 minutes
Rating:  PG-13
Budget: $45 million
Box Office: $34 million
Year: 2000
1 out of 5 stars[/box]

The script offers nothing that we can possibly care for.  Every character is cardboard-like.  Take, for example, Snails.  Snails seems to have been put in the script in order to give a little comic relief from time to time.  And that, in itself isn’t too bad of an idea, but Wayans looks bored in this role because his character never does anything important.  His character is meaningless.  The film is full of unimportant characters that were placed there to advance the plot or to save our main hero when his life is in danger.  By the end of the film you just expect someone to show up to save Ridley from danger every time his life is threatened.  If Ridley is supposed to be a hero, then why not turn him into a real hero?  It looks as if the screenwriters were too afraid to transform the film into a real adventure flick.  Maybe they were afraid that they would scatter too far away from the fantasy elements this series is known for.

Finally, just when you think the film couldn’t get any worse, you get to the climax.  The climax is supposed to be full of great special effects as Ridley and Savina come face to face with Profion.  But the climax is quite simply boring and stupid.  You know exactly how everything is going to end and who will survive.  By the end of the film, I was wondering how such a bad flick could attract Jeremy Irons.  Irons, a Hollywood vet, looks lifeless in this film.  He delivers the worst performance of his career, and it’s almost painful to watch him try and act ferocious and evil.  You almost feel sorry for him.  Almost.

All in all, I can barely find anything good to say about this film.  Dungeons & Dragons is quite simply a bore.  This film should never have been made. But someone, somewhere, thought that making this film was a good idea.  I wasn’t expecting much from this one before seeing it, but lowing my expectations still didn’t protect me from such a huge let down.  While watching the film, many thoughts went through my mind.  The first was, “Why is Thora Birch talking like a robot?”  The second was, “Will this film ever end?” And the last one was, “Finally! The best part of the film. The credits!”  Skip this one. Don’t shell out your hard-earned cash to see one of the worst films of the year.

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Note:   I’m revisiting and re-posting many older articles (almost 200) I’ve written (or contributed to) over the years, either for my own purposes or as contributions to other sites now long digitally decayed and dormant.  These reviews/articles will appear in their nearly raw, unaltered form, with a few updated thoughts at the beginning of each.

Words © 2015-2020, Neal Ulen. All rights reserved.
Images/videos cited © to their respective owner(s).

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