From the Archive – Dungeons and Dragons (2001)

D&D

“This is no game”

Running against standard practice, this film was reviewed twice, first by Simon Drake, then by myself, in a review largely rebutting both the harsher and the more generous points involved.

Directed by Courtney Solomon
Starring Jeremy Irons, Justin Whalin, Zoe McLellan and Bruce Payne

Review by Simon Drake

Evil mage Profion (Irons, notching up an almost unchecked level of ham) plots to overthrow the Empire of Izmar run by Savina (Thora Birch) by stealing a magical sceptre that can control Gold Dragons

Knowing the Profion will bring death and destruction to Izmar, Savina sets out to find the legendary Rod of Savrille – which controls Red Dragons – before Profion.

Enter two thieves, buffed Hero Ridley (Whalin) and wisecracking sidekick Snails (Marlon Wayans) to find the rod, with help from Savina’s expert tracker Elf, Norda (Kristen Wilson) and Ginger Dwarf Elwood (Lee Arenberg). With Profion’s men lead by mincing baddie Damodar (Payne) at every turn, Ridley’s band battle their way through mazes, deserted castles and (yup!) dungeons to get to the rod before Profion.

What’s wrong with it?

Man alive, it is poor. The opening scene involving a Dragon in a dungeon had promise and some decent effects. Then the Dragon budget was obviously used up, as they then don’t appear for over an hour.

The Plot makes no sense, leaping from one subplot to another with reckless abandon. The acting is appalling. The Izmar counsel scenes ripped of Phantom Menace. And an ending that, despite outstaying it’s welcome by about 90 minutes leaves you thinking “huh” and “Is that it?”

Even cameos by stalwart Tom Baker in a pair of Dr Spock ears and Richard O’Brien does little to haul this soggy mess out of the swamp of crapness.

Thora Birch, clearly a wise head on her young shoulders, disappears for half of the movie. Then shows up riding a Dragon for the finale (and wearing what looks like a fire-guard on her head)

What’s right with it?

To be fair the Dragons are pretty cool, when they eventually show up. And the Finale has a sky full kicking crap out of each other. There are some nice cityscapes of Izmar. But that’s about it really.

How bad is it really?

Terrible…It doesn’t even have the clunky endearing quality of say ‘Krull’ or ‘Labyrinth’. It’s just shite.

Best Bit

The fairly surprising death of the quipping black sidekick (normally immortal in Hollywood films) Snails. Although I assume this is because Marlon Wayans wanted to appear in the superb Requiem for a Dream instead.

Or the uber camp henchman Damodar (Pantomimed by a bald Bruce Payne) sashaying around in Black Leather S&M gear. There’s a wonderful scene where he has his brains sucked out (or in, I forget which) by Jeremy Irons for some reason. His grimacing at the camera whilst fighting with an obviously CGI Brain eating snake is hysterical.

Plus when he and equally camp Richard O’Brien have a staredown…I was half expecting handbags and slapping. It was like a Right Said Fred music video…With Monsters.

What’s up with…?

  • Damodar’s Aqua Blue lipstick…No one mentions it. It serves no purpose other than to make him look like some gay icon (He’s no Kylie Minogue…But he gets close)
  • Jeremy Irons. First he starts out with evil looking red leather armour. Then within half an hour, spends the rest of the film wearing a Noel Coward esque smoking jacket and screaming about “My Destiny!” while his head bulges with some alarming looking veins. Causing obvious amusement to Bruce Payne. Couldn’t the Director see he was grinning from ear to ear during Profion’s final shouty speech? Although watching the film, I’d be surprised if the Director could see at all!
  • Richard O’Brien as ‘the Leader of the Thief guild of Antius’ who challenges Ridley to “Finish the maze…Win the prize”. Ridley, who goes against type of every Crystal Maze contestant by not only succeeding, but doing it without standing for a full minute with his mouth open saying “I can’t see the crystal.” Bearing in mind this is a maze that “No one has ever survived” it looked remarkably easy.
  • The Purple three eyed monster who speaks in a cod Cockney accent walking amongst the peasant villagers, trying to blend in – he’s supposed to be a spy!

Ratings

Production values: Vary dramatically. Some great looking cityscapes, decent dragons, and magic spell ‘zappy’ effects. But mostly lame “Filmed in Romania” castles and muddy peasant villages (full of tanned surfer looking dudes and rubbery looking Orks). 10

Dialogue and performances: Weak at best. I don’t think a single person acquits themselves well (apart from Bruce Payne, but that’s for all the wrong reasons) and that includes the script writers (Topper Lilian and Carroll Cartwright…Who apparently have moved to Mexico) 17

Plot and Execution: God-awful. Limp direction. Lumpy script (presumably written in Crayon). Incomprehensible. 19

Randomness: All over the show. Characters show up and disappear without explanation (Tom Baker, Purple Cockney Monster, and Thora Birch). The film doesn’t even show the heroes – or villains for the matter – travelling anywhere, defeating the point of a so-called epic quest. Suddenly someone is doing something for some reason. Then it cuts to somewhere else and the same person is doing something completely different. Plot exposition is usually mumbled by some old mystic…Or shouted by Jeremy Irons. 15

Waste of Potential: Huge. This could have been great fun, and had a spattering of moments of promise. But sadly the fish were biting, but no one could be bothered to reel them in. 15

Overall – 76%

Review by The Prophet

Evil and overacting mage Profion (Jeremy ‘Jezzer’ Irons, hamming for the home team) plans nefariously to seize control of the Empire of Izmer when the young, idealistic Empress Sahrmmrfuhrmm (Thora Birch, apparently attempting to balance things out by not acting at all) decides to enfranchise the commoners and abandon the ages-old magical autocracy.

Dashing, mage-hating thief Ridley (Whalin), and his sidekick Snails (Marlon Wayans, as the worst thief in history) tumble on the plot when an attempt to rob the magic school lands them in cahoots with apprentice mage Marina (McLellan), and it’s off into the wilds to rescue the Rod of Savrille.

Add in a dwarf, for no good reason (then edit out the scene where he tells us his name), and an elven tracker sent first to capture, then to aid our heroes. Spice with some rescues, and Dr Who turning up as the elven clergy, then serve with a dollop of climactic dragon battle and a big side order of ham.

What’s wrong with it?

Well, it’s a Dungeons & Dragons movie made by a director who a) loves the game, and b) doesn’t quite realise what changes need to be made to make a good game into a good film. It also bears several hallmarks of first-time directing (and, frankly, first time GMing) including low levels of coherence padded with moments of blink-and-you’ll-miss-it exposition. It doesn’t help that – as the DVD version shows – two key scenes were cut or never completed, and the bollocks final scene was apparently thrown in because the original was too downbeat. As a result, many parts of the film make no sense.

We also run the gamut of bad acting in this film: There’s ham (Jez), there’s camp (Richard O’Brien) and there’s wood (Thora ‘So Aptly-named’ Birch).

And Marlon Wayans’s whining quickly gets tedious.

What’s right with it?

If you don’t set out to hate it, and watch it with a song in your heart, D&D is an hour and a quarter of solid, cheesy entertainment; like a big piece of mild cheddar. Much of the ham and camp is pretty amusing, some of the acting is even fairly serviceable, a lot of the effects are fairly sweet, and the characters – if not exactly well-rounded and profound – are at least fairly likeable (well, the ones who have a character).

How bad is it really?

Not that bad. It’s never going to be a classic, and for my money is a better bet than Krull (although note that I give Krull a better rating). I used to say I prefered it to Labyrinth, but I think I may be mellowing on Labyrinth, but never on D&D.

Best Bit

Profion: I must have that Rod of Savrille. With its power, I shall be invincible.
Damodar (standing a foot behind him the whole time): What is your will?

What’s up with…?

  • Ah yes; the lipstick. Shehaaaah!
  • The Jez and Thora show? Come on guys; we know you can act. We’ve seen it!
  • Tom Baker showing up as the elven clergy to basically give Obi-Wan’s force speech? Weird.
  • The editing? The final version omits not only Ridley’s dream about the dragon hatching, but also the scene in the scroll, aka “the scene that explains everything”. It turns out Ridley hates mages as much as he does because they wiped his father’s mind when he designed a flying carriage without being of proper mage blood, and that he gets to pass through the force field because he was the first to decipher the scroll. It might have helped to know this. We also get the original ending as a deleted scene on the DVD, where Ridley just puts the ruby on Snails’s cairn and walks away. Makes much more sense.

Ratings

Production Values – Fairly swish, especially from a first time director. Some very nice dragons. Less sure about some of the costumes though, in particular all of the costumes the elves wear. 6

Dialogue and Performances – All over the shop. The script runs from the perfectly decent to the utterly ludicrous, while the acting plumbs the depths of planksville and hamborough alike, and spends a fair amount of time camping. Thora! We’ve seen you act! Jeremy! We’ve seen you not overact! Bruce…Oh, well, we don’t expect anything from you. 12

Plot and Execution – Amateurish, but less dynamically bollocks than the likes of Sanctuary and Highlander…well, any of them really. 15

Randomness – Due to crazed editing, there is rather a lot of this. For starters, the Empress (and as one 11th Hour reviewer pointed out, not calling her The Childlike Empress is purely a formality) is an essentially passive character, who should have the decency to wait around and get rescued. Having her do a bunch of stuff at the end just makes things complicated. And the end is weird as all get out. 12

Waste of Potential – One can not help but wonder what might have been with a better director to handle the ideas, budget and rampant actors. 15

Overall – 60%

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