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DUNGEONS & DRAGONS

by: Michael Dequina

Director Courtney Solomon spent the better part of ten years trying to make his boyhood obsession, the perennially popular role playing game Dungeons & Dragons, into a feature film, but none of the passion that fact would entail ends up on screen. What does show up all too clearly in Dungeons & Dragons is rookie helmer Solomon's lack of experience in film, let alone with a project of such large, effects-laden scale. D&D enthusiasts have been clamoring for a film adaptation since the game came on the scene 26 years ago, and while I am not a player myself, I am certain that this sloppy slice of schlock is hardly what the fandom had in mind.

The setting is a mythical medieval empire, and the 17-year-old Empress Savina's (Thora Birch) goal of removing the class division between the magic-practicing Mages and everyone else runs into a snag when the evil wizard Profion (Jeremy Irons) turns her government advisors against her. Exactly how, I don't know. But it's not so much control over the kingdom that Profion wants than a magical rod--one that will bring red dragons under his command. The Empress possesses a rod that gives her power over green dragons. If this makes any sense to you, let me know, because it's all an incoherent jumble to me.

In any event, a trio of plucky young people proves to be Profion and henchman Damodar's (Bruce Payne) biggest obstacle in locating the coveted rod. They are fledgling young Mage Marina (Zoe McLellan) and the thievery team of Ridley (Justin Whalin) and Snails (Marlon Wayans). True to their larcenous roots, Ridley and Snails jump into the do-good biz in hopes of pocketing a large reward, but, of course, the heroic instincts within ultimately purify their intentions.

Given that the source material is a game, a weak plot is just about expected (what isn't is just how inscrutable it also is, but that's another issue entirely), for the emphasis should be on action set pieces. As I mentioned, I was never a D&D player, but I do know that navigation through booby-trapped mazes and dungeons is a big part of the game (one of the more exciting elements, from what I remember from friends who played back in junior high). So it would only follow that D&D the movie would be packed with such set pieces. Alas, there's only one, and a mighty underwhelming one at that, featuring unimaginative traps and zero tension. Filling in the rest of the requisite action beats in the script credited to Topper Lilien and Carroll Cartwright are half-hearted swordfights often punctuated with some very chintzy magic effects.

Which leads me to the other half of the title, the dragons. The final act certainly has their fair share of them, green and red, all flying around and battling dragon and human alike. Never mind that their sudden arrival in the story is barely (if even that) explained; these creatures are CGI creations that look every bit like digital FX work. To top it off, all the CG work, from the dragons to various animated backdrops to simple magic dust, is not-so-seamlessly integrated into the live action. The only flourish that slightly convinces is a fairly simple ripple effect used to depict teleportation holes.

Not only is Solomon obviously not able to pull off the technical aspects of this project, he's also clueless with his cast. Whalin and McLellan are embarrassingly amateurish, the latter especially so, with her invariably stilted line readings. The insulting role of the buffoonish, wisecracking African-American sidekick (we all know what ultimately becomes of this type of character) brings out the worst broad instincts in Wayans. Birch seems embalmed, her Amidala-lite costumes apparently constricting her throat so that she speaks in a constant monotone. Worst of all, however, is the Oscar winner of the lot, Irons; Solomon apparently thought that since he's such a reputable thespian, Irons should not simply be given free rein, but no reins at all. What a hor

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