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IN SHORT: Lord of the Rings meets Star Wars with a hunk lifted from Indiana Jones tossed in for good measure. [Rated PG-13 for fantasy action violence. 105 minutes.]
That is not necessarily a good thing...
"Dungeons and Dragons" ranks as the premiere RPG (role playing game) of all time and is source material for some of the greatest urban legends of all time, too . . . they never did find those kidlets down in Texas that vanished in the abandoned factory where they were staging a game, did "they" ??? And while we were dead on in the teen demo when the game first appeared in the mid 1970s, we've never played it. Neither do we think you should have had to play the game to enjoy the movie based on it.
Would that the creators of the movie thought that way, 'cuz this thing is a lavishly produced, almost incomprehensible mess. "Overwrought" is the applicable adverb in this case, from the Snidely Whiplash without the mustache performance of Jeremy Irons as evil ArchMage Profion to the soundtrack score (by Justin Caine Burnett) mixed so damned high it obscures dialog so cheesy it could only be believable to a mid-teen mindset, kidlets just getting into Robert E. Howard and H.P. Lovecraft.
And, oh, we were swimming in that stuff at age 16. Dungeons and Dragons almost reignited that long ago time. It is a story of a world in which magic rules and dwarfs and elves and magic swords and mystic healers are the norm. We'll give a nod to gamer, now director, Courtney Solomon for getting D&D made but his movie is jammed with material that only a player of the game will recognize -- it must be because what any ignorant git like us sees onscreen barely makes sense.
The battle scripters Topper Lilien and Carroll Cartwright didn't win is overcoming the power of the imagination that RPG's require. What your mind can come up with will almost never translate to physical reality. When you base action and special effects on tools found solely in the game, and don't explain any of 'em to us virgins, you might as well be giving us the finger. We will admit that the best part of being sixteen or so is that you don't give a damn that characters disappear and reappear at random or that the ending makes no damned sense except to set up a sequel or two.
But, damn, it sure looks good. Here's the deal:
The Empire of Izmer is a land where magicians hold the upper hand. Its Empress, seventeen year old Savina (Thora Birch), is determined to make all people in her kingdom equal under the law. It isn't that Savina isn't up to the task - she's new in the throne following the unfortunate murder of her father - its that she's being undercut politically by ArchMage Profion (Irons) who wields control over an Advisory Council of Mages. Deep in his dungeons, Profion is working on a way to usurp the power of the Gold Dragons, currently controlled by the Royal Scepter in Savina's possession. Failing that, Profion dispatches Damodar (Bruce Payne), the head of the Crimson Brigade (the Royal Guard) to locate the legendary Rod of Savrille, which can unleash Red Dragons, the nemesis of the Gold. With the power of the Red Dragons on his side, he can overthrow the Empire. Got that?
Damodar is thwarted by a low level magic student, Marina Pretensa (Zoe McLellan) and two human thieves, Ridley Freeborn (Justin Whalin) and "Snails" (Marlon Wayans). While this trio doesn't have the Rod, they discover how to find it --a quest, of course -- and set off, aided by a red-bearded dwarf, desperately in need of a napkin, called Elwood Gutworthy (Lee Arenberg). Hot in pursuit are the evil Damodar, and a mysterious elf named Norda (Kristen Wilson). First stop, the City of Antius, where the Head of the Thieves Guild, Xilus (Richard O'Brien, of Rocky Horror Picture Show), puts Ridley into the Maze of Death. At the center of the Maze is the Eye of the Dragon, possession of which will bring uncountable wealth and immense, corrupting power. But no one has ever gotten that far . . .
Beyond that, it's all eye candy for those of us who have lives, 'cuz the story stops making logical sense soon after. D&D feels as if multiple games have been jammed into the storyline. Enough hints are dropped that we've already figured out two sequels. We've written before, never plan your sequels before you get the first flick right.
We will point out that the CGI and animated effects work is exceptional. Damodar is accompanied, so to speak, by a pair of "friends" whose first appearance is kind of gruesome and whose second showing is the high point of the flick. You'll know it when you see it. We almost felt sixteen again. Too bad the rest of D&D doesn't measure up to that high point.
On average, a first run movie ticket will run you Eight Bucks. Were Cranky able to set his own price to Dungeons & Dragons, he would have paid...
Rent it -- it's a lovely thing to watch. Maybe with repeated playings you'll be able to follow the thing. Watch closely for an appearance by ex-Dr. Who Tom Baker as the King of the Elves.
And you can grab a fistful of DnD wallpapers here
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