30 April 2015

D&D: The Movie(s)

[incidentally, if you want to see D&D: The Book of Vile Darkness for yourself ? It airs on Saturday May 9th on SyFy channel at 0100 hours.]

I posted on G+ last night regarding a big studio effort at bringing D&D to the silver screen. As you likely already know there has already been a film in 2000. The company behind it? New Line Cinema, the folks who brought you Jackson's LotR and Hobbit trilogies.

Dungeons & Dragons: The Movie (D&D:TM) was ... well it's difficult to put into words. On the one hand D&D:TM had a promising cast including Jeremy Irons, Justin Whalin, Tom Baker, and Thora Birch. On the balancing side you had an inexperienced director in Courtney Solomon and a low budget. These 2 factors alone are often the kiss of death for this type of film.

The best way I can think up to describe the film is schizophrenic. It couldn't decide if it was a slapstick comedy with wise-cracking Marlon "Snails" Wayans playing off straight man Justin "Ridley" Whalin. Or was it campy, with Jeremy "Profion" Irons chewing the scenery and milking the giant cow? Or was it menacing, with tough guy Bruce "Damodar" Payne in his black armor and armed with a wicked looking sword? Payne, by the way, was incongruously wearing blue lipstick which was never explained but was distracting and looked rather silly.

Overall, the film was mildly entertaining. I saw it in the theater and I must admit there was a rather awkward silence among the film's patrons, few of them though there were, when the credits rolled.

I didn't care for the excursions into comedy or the hammy portrayal of Profion. Wayan's Snails was almost a caricature comic relief character and not very funny anyway. The single dungeon delve was abbreviated and involved only one character while the rest of the party waited outside. The dragons were just plain awful. I realize both these last issues were related, in part, to the budget and freshman director, but a film must be judged on its presentation.

What did I like? The basic story was a good idea. I liked the main characters of Ridley and Marina. I thought Damodar was scary and liked the relentless way he tracked our heroes throughout the course of the film.

Dungeons & Dragons: Wrath of the Dragon God (D&D II) came out 5 years later, much to my surprise. I say "surprise" because (a) I didn't think it there would be another after the poor performance at the box office of the first one, and (b) it was actually pretty good (at least, when compared with the first). D&D II was a made-for-tv film that was a sort of sequel to the first film, taking place in the same milieu and involving the same antagonist but a new story-line and new cast.

D&D II had a third of the budget of its big-screen brother but was a better all around film. Gone was the half-hearted attempt at comedy while the acting, from the main characters at least, was better with much less ham and cheese evident. Even the dragons looked better, though this can be partially chalked up to improved CGI in the intervening 5 years. Best of all, the film depicted a believable adventuring party with each using their abilities to allow the party to progress. I found Tim Stern's Nim the Thief to be particularly well-played: surly, secretive, borderline uncooperative, but when push came to shove he was acting in the best interests of the party.

This one is my favorite of the 3 and it seems many folks who have seen both feel the same way.

Finally, we come to Dungeons & Dragons: The Book of Vile Darkness (D&D III) in 2012. Another made-for-tv movie but after the relative success of D&D II I was certainly willing to give it a chance. Unfortunately, between the acting and obviously lower budget this film fell short of already lowered expectations.

I really liked the story. I interpreted it as a fallen paladin questing to regain his paladin-hood. He basically had to look into the abyss and, for a brief while, the abyss looked into him (with apologies to Nietzsche).

Unfortunately? Between the pedestrian acting and low budget, this movie just didn't work. It can't even be bought here in the US of A last I checked. I had to log into the German version of Amazon, fortunately I speak and read German, and order it from there.

BOTTOM LINE The second film comes the closest to capturing the "feel" I expect of a film with D&D in the title.

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