Tag Archives: Unnecessary pathos and/or angst

Batman vs. Superman: Dawn of Justice (2016)

Our two heroes fight, and it is in no way an overblown prelude to the actual plot of the movie.
Our two heroes fight, and it is in no way an overblown prelude to the actual plot of the movie.

“Who Will Win?”

Directed by Zach Snyder
Starring Henry Cavill, Ben Affleck, Amy Adams, Jesse Eisenberg and Gal Gadot

Bruce Wayne (Affleck) loses his family, then years later loses an office block and some bloke named Jack in the battle between Superman (Cavill) and Zod. 18 months later, Superman is framed for killing a bunch of terrorists to rescue Lois Lane (Adams), and both Wayne – alias the Gotham Bat – and rival industrialist Lex Luthor (Eisenberg) begin gunning for the Man of Steel and fighting for control of a rare material with the ability to harm Kryptonians.

Continue reading Batman vs. Superman: Dawn of Justice (2016)

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Crimson Throne (2013) aka Crimson Winter

Okay; so this cover is somewhat misleading.
Okay; so this cover is somewhat misleading.

“Princes and Vampires Rise Together… Now it’s Time for Blood.”

Directed by Brian Ferriter
Starring Brian Ferriter, Nick Milodragovic and Kailey Michael Portsmouth

Elric (Ferriter), a prince among vampires, chooses to fight alongside his fellow Frenchmen in the Crusades, and later in the Hundred Years War, seeking to fulfill an animal-based prophecy about a lion, a wolf and a falcon that will bring peace between vampires and humans… And then some students (primarily Milodragovic and Portsmouth as engaged couple Dylan and Roxanne) head into rural Montana to do some research into elk mortality.

Continue reading Crimson Throne (2013) aka Crimson Winter

Ultraviolet (2006)

Ultraviolet

“The Blood War is On”

Directed by Kurt Wimmer
Starring Milla Jovovich, Cameron Bright, Nick Chinlud and Michael Fichtner

In the wake of a plague which turns humans into superhuman ‘haemophages’, a Blood War rages between the vampires and the military medico-religious establishment known as the Arch-Ministry. When the Arch-ministry develops a new weapon to wipe out the remaining haemophages, they send their greatest fighter, Violet (Jovovich) to intercept it.

Continue reading Ultraviolet (2006)

Nazi Zombie Death Tales (2012)

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“Sex! Zombies! War!”

(aka Battlefield Death Tales, aka Angry Nazi Zombies)

Directed by James Eaves, pat Higgins and Alan Ronald

This film is actually an anthology of three short films. As a result, I’m going to deviate from our usual system in order to take on each film separately. This is especially important because the films are highly variable in terms of their quality.

Continue reading Nazi Zombie Death Tales (2012)

The Black Ninja (2003)

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“Justice by Day. Payback by Night.”

Directed by Clayton Pierce
Starring Clayton Pierce, Carla Brothers, Nicky DeMatteo, Yuki Matsuzaki, Heather Hunter

High-powered lawyer Matt Murdock Malik Ali (Pierce) defends the worst scum in the city of Philadelphia by day — but by night, as the mysterious Black Ninja, he hunts them down and delivers the punishment the courts won’t provide. Undertaking the task of protecting a witness in a mob trial (Brothers), Ali finds himself falling for her — and when the mob boss (DeMatteo) hires the assassin who killed Ali’s family (Matsuzaki) to abduct her, he must confront blah blah blah blah.

What’s wrong with it?

The Black Ninja was paid for mainly out of writer/director/star Pierce’s own pocket and filmed in two weeks — and it looks like it. The cinematography and lighting are either bland or incompetent, the plot is derivative, the sound is awful (it’s frequently hard to hear what people are saying), the dialogue is trite, the political theme is sophomoric and there are some directorial choices … well, we’ll come to those in a minute.

What’s right with it?

Pierce and Brothers aren’t bad actors. Everyone else, with one notable exception, isn’t great, but only a few of them are terrible. Many are obviously not really actors. And Matsuzaki as the rival Red Ninja is hilarious. Possibly even intentionally.

How bad is it really?

It’s atrocious. If it were capably made, it would be a tiresome, clumsy, derivative blaxploitation martial arts movie with some deeply weird and offensive choices. As it is, it’s all that, plus so crappy in its execution that it’s hard to watch.

Also, the fights are almost uniformly terrible — and when they do get in someone who knows some martial arts, the only real effect is to highlight Pierce’s lack of fight choreography.

And the soundtrack is diabolical. There are a lot of songs — including a theme song where Pierce raps — and they’re often introduced at completely inappropriate moments, including smoove R&B during the hero’s big slo-mo-NOOOOO moment.

Anyway, see for yourself:

Best bit (if such there is)?

OK, this isn’t good but it’s a sufficiently bold choice that it has to be in here. The Black Ninja corners the mob boss in his home while he’s taking a dump and paralyses him with acupuncture needles so that he’ll never move again. But he’s in the middle of taking a crap, so while Pierce delivers this hard-ass monologue about how now he’s in prison in his own body, the SFX play a series of farting, squelching, splashing poop-sounds. It sounds ridiculous, and it completely undercuts the scene, but at least it’s a decision.

Oh, also, when Black Ninja is talking to a guy in Tagalog, his Tagalog is really halting and awkward, which makes sense — but sounds ridiculous.

What’s up with…?

  • The series of mid-film fights where Ali fights a bunch of random hoodlums? They do absolutely nothing to add to the story, and the characters are never seen again.
  • Ali’s outfits? It’s 2003, but he looks like he was just in a Boyz II Men video. I guess he is from Philadelphia.
  • The slow-motion three-peat of about half the punches and kicks in the movie? I don’t mean especially exciting ones. There aren’t really any of those.
  • 90s porn star Heather Hunter’s cameo as Ali’s dead wife? I mean, nothing wrong with moving into the legitimate thyutuh, but she has like two lines.
  • The Red Ninja (Matsuzaki)? He’s so charmingly over the top, but it’s really weird in a movie that is 90% pretty restrained in its performances. At one point he just gives someone the maniac stare-grin and holds it for about 30 seconds.
  • Black Ninja’s investigative technique? At one point, he says he’s going to “check out the Johnson Street area.” Apparently, this is the Stickup District, because we cut to him beating up like four gangs of crooks in awkwardly staged fights.
  • The Black Ninja training montage, in which he does some situps, pedals furiously on an exercise bicycle, and does some curls with the kind of weights I have in my cupboard? I mean, Pierce looks like he’s in good shape, but it’s hardly Rambo stuff.

Ratings

Production values: this looks like the movies my brother and I used to make with our mum’s video camera – 18
Dialogue and performances: acting students and people they just met – 12
Plot and execution: a million Punisher comics and an entire bottle of NyQuil – 16
Randomness: doing OK until the poop scene – 16
Waste of potential: the blaxploitation vigilante flick is a proud tradition – 14

Overall 78%

Maleficent (2014)

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“Discover the story you never knew”

Directed by Robert Stromberg
Starring Angelina Jolie, Elle Fanning, Sharlto Copley

The basic conceit of this film is that this is the true story of Maleficent, the notorious villainess of the Disney classic, Sleeping Beauty. Rather than just a wicked fairy, in this version Maleficent is the noble protector of a land of fairies who was betrayed and her wings ripped from her by her childhood sweetheart and ambitious young man on the rise, the future King Stefan, and so she turns to revenge, cursing his daughter Aurora in the well known way. Unsurprisingly, she then becomes fond of the girl as she watches over her from afar throughout her life and it all turns into a journey of redemption for Maleficent as she tries to save Aurora whilst also dealing with a vengeful King Stefan.

What’s wrong with it?

Maleficent is Disney’s attempt to remake ‘Wicked’, which retold the story of Oz from the perspective of the Wicked Witch of the West and did it with a great deal of success. It tries to do this by recasting Angelina Jolie as an Elphaba alike, adding in a lot of pretty scenery and CGI, making King Stefan a villain we can actually despise (he has fewer redeeming features than Maleficent had in the original) and giving Maleficent a tragic backstory, a fantastic wardrobe, a raven shapeshifter sidekick (the highlight of the film) some snarky dialogue and throwing in a ‘twist’ at the end whereby (SPOILER ALERT) it is Maleficent’s maternal true love’s kiss that saves Aurora and not Prince Philip.

The trouble with it is that it does absolutely nothing which hasn’t already been done before. It’s like the script writers sat down and said “what do we really like? Well, Wicked was awesome. And Frozen has made more money than god, so we really should work that into the mix. Oh, and what’s that Disney show that has a fan base more rabid that an extra from the Plague Dogs? ‘Once Upon A Time’? On it!

It takes all these elements, mixes them together, and then, painfully, fails to do anything new or original, or even that interesting with any of them. Furthermore, it’s so in love with its eponymous heroine that it absolutely and painfully fails to give any dignity, motivation or redeeming features to almost anyone who isn’t her. King Stefan is mindlessly evil and probably kicks kittens when he gets up in the morning. The three ‘good fairies’ who are trying to protect Aurora are petty squabbling imbeciles who would have let the baby die through sheer incompetence if Maleficent wasn’t around to save her. Aurora is a perky little dimwit with very wide eyes, who I personally had a soft spot for, but I think that was sheer perversity on my part. The dialogue is hackneyed, the plot predictable and Disney’s determination to make this a safe PG rating removes any kind of risk from the proceedings which makes the whole thing even less of a rollercoaster ride.

It’s like sitting on the teacup ride at Alton Towers. It’s OK, but it’s kind of dumb and it’s frustrating looking around you and knowing that two blocks over there is something that is just so much more.

What’s right with it?

Honestly, it’s a very very pretty film. The director, Robert Stromberg, was the art director on Avatar and Oz the Great and Powerful although this is his directorial debut and it really shows. He does beautiful things with the lighting and scenery and the fairy world is a delight to observe.

I also had a soft spot for the perky Princess Aurora, with Elle Fanning absolutely playing it straight as a classic wide eyed Disney Princess. However, my personal high point of the film and its major redeeming feature was definitely Sam Riley as Diaval – a raven shapeshifter and Maleficent’s confidant. Their snarky banter brightens up the film whenever they come in together, and their relationship feels like by far the most genuine, warm, complex and nuanced thing in the film.

How bad is it really?

It isn’t really bad, per se. It’s just an incredible waste of potential and it suffers hugely from having come out in the aftermath of a number of vastly better re-imaginings of fairytale villainesses. Angelina Jolie is alright, but she’s not Regina of Once Upon A Time, no Elphaba of Wicked, and definitely no Elsa of Frozen, who’s redemption through familial true love is a comparison which lies heavy on this movie.

Best bit (if such there is)?

Almost every single scene featuring Maleficent and Diaval, particularly the many scenes where she transforms him into something else, mostly because of the subtle visual touches that Robert Stromberg leaves to show his raven heritage – a wolf with a ruff with a feathery touch, for example. The combat at the end with Maleficent in full Angelina Jolie ass kicking form, and Diaval as a dragon is also pretty awesome, and I rather liked the early scenes with a young Maleficent and a young Stefan exploring the land of the fairies

What’s up with…?

  • Why does Angelina Jolie change costume halfway through the final scene? She walks in in long black robes (a la the traditional Maleficent look), gets cornered, and suddenly she’s in a leather catsuit.
  • Why does it take King Stefan so long to bring the cold iron out? He finds out as a small boy that cold iron is anathema to the fae, and then despite waging war against them for decades afterwards he doesn’t drag out the cold iron until the final scene where he’s going one on one with Maleficent.
  • How do Maleficent’s wings stay alive, flapping, and ready to reattach to her for sixteen years? Are her wings some kind of weird symbiot being? And if they are so self willed, how did King Stefan get them back to the castle and the old king to claim his throne (the old king promised his throne to whoever could defeat the winged fairy) in the first place? Why didn’t they fly back to her then?

Ratings

Production values – I can’t fault it here. Maleficent is beautifully made and lights up the screen from start to finish. 2.
Dialogue and performances –  Hrm. Massively variable. Sharlto Copley and Elle Fanning give one tone performances, but I think they were asked to. Sam Riley and Angelina Jolie do a bit better, but they can’t quite carry the film and the dialogue they all have to work with never rises above ‘hackneyed’. 12.
Plot and execution – It’s a reasonable plot, because they nicked it from a number of far better films. The execution, however, is disappointing. 11
Randomness – It isn’t entirely nonsensical but some decent character motivation would have been nice. 8
Waste of potential – Now, this is where Maleficent makes all its points back. The original Disney film is a classic. The original Disney villainess was superb. The world is ready for fairy tale re-imaginings right now, and it had a fan base waiting to love it, and sadly, it threw it all away. 15.

Overall 48%

 

The Mortal Instruments: City of Bones (2013)

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“Two Worlds Will Collide”

Directed by Harald Zwart
Starring Lily Collins and Jamie Campbell Bower

On her birthday, Clary Fray (Collins) sneaks out to a nightclub, where she is seemingly the only one able to witness a murder committed by three teenagers in mad goth threads. The next day her mother vanishes, a monster tries to eat her and she is drawn into the world of the three killers; the world of British People… I mean, Shadow Hunters, and the demons they police. Learning that her mother was English… I mean, a Shadowhunter, Clary is roped into a quest to find the Mortal Cup, an artefact of angelic power and the key to the ruthless Valentine’s dreams of a revitalised Shadowhunter line.

What’s wrong with it?

Made on the back of the success of Twilight – which I probably ought to review if ever I get around to seeing it – City of Bones is a tale of moody goth teenagers saving the world because no-one else can or will or, indeed, is there to do so. The vast and palatial Institute, a repository of power and major centre of organisation and mystical transportation for the Shadowhunters, is home to three teenagers and one adult, and no indication is ever given that they have any immediate back-up to call on. Given that Valentine’s forces number three highly experienced Shadowhunters, it’s a little unclear why he never just kicked in the doors.

The outfits are… well, I think they’re a little silly. I guess they might be cool these days; I wouldn’t know. If I were cool, I wouldn’t be writing internet movie reviews.

Very few of the characters are very sympathetic, or even truly memorable. Jace (Campbell Bower) is snarky and mean, but not detached or fragile enough to carry the supposed emotional vulnerability which offsets it, and Collins doesn’t convey the confusion which would be needed to truly hold the audience through the discovery of her superspecialsnowflakeness.

What’s right with it?

Although doubtless owing much to Twilight in terms of market creation, City of Bones – based on the first in a five-going-on-six volume series by Cassandra Clare – has a much meatier story, with stakes and consequences and everything.

Lena Headey (briefly) as Clary’s mother, Aidan Turner as her ‘special friend’ (adding werewolf to his resume alongside vampire and dwarf) and Jared Harris channeling his dad to play the dubious Dumbledore Hodge add a little class to the proceedings. Moreover, the fact that of the many, many European actors in the piece, only Lily Collins (who isAnglo-American anyway) uses an American accent prevents this film picking up a howdy-doody accent tag and an extra helping of scorn.

In terms of production values, the film is pretty slick.

How bad is it really?

I describe this section as defining the badness of the film on a visceral level, and the sin of City of Bones is actually that it lacks any kind of viscerality. It’s not terrible, but it lacks any real heart, which makes it hard to feel bad when bad things happen to people.

Best bit (if such there is)?

If I live to be a hundred, I will never tire of watching CCH Pounder kick the shit out of a group of kung-fu goth kids.

What’s up with…?

  • The total emptiness of the Institute? I know the Shadowhunters are supposed to be dying out, but with fully half of the Shadowhunters in the film on his side, why is Valentine still sneaking around and making pacts with demons?
  • The sexy goth combat look?
  • Clary swiping Isabelle’s glowy-writy thing (IIRC the book names it as a stylus) and apparently never giving it back?

Ratings

Production values – The fight scenes are slick, the effects well done. The demons are pretty icky, and in particular the burning-inside crow demons are really rather snazzy. 4
Dialogue and performances – The dialogue is as ridiculous as any urban fantasy exposition, but delivered with a straight face. The main problem with the performances is that they are understated where they need to be fiery. At one point, Jace explains that Bach played precisely and without interpretation is a demon-hunting weapon, while Clary argues that music should have passion. By that standard, much of the acting in this film must be painful to demons. 9
Plot and execution – The plot rattles along at a frightening pace, burning through several hundred pages of dense story and backstory at the expense of adequately establishing context and subtext. The combat choreography is slick and precise; the organisation of the expository plot is not. 12
Randomness – For the most part, the film keeps a lid on this and is internally consistent. In places you might get a little lost, but that’s the speed, not the cornering. 6
Waste of potential – The film captures approximately half of the essential good points of the book, missing out on the heartwrenching angst through the excessive control of the leads. I might surmise that they were trying to avoid going too far, but the result is that they rein in too much. 10

Overall 41%

From the Archive – Velocity Trap (1997)

Velocity Trap (1997)

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“Crime at the speed of light”

Inflicted by Phillip J. Roth
Starring Olivier Gruner, Alicia Coppola and Jorja Fox

In a weird future setting where electronic commerce has been destroyed by crime, a cargo ship has to carry a load of cash money between planets. Disgraced cop Olivier Gruner is given the crummy assignment of guarding the cash after being framed by a superior who is also a romantic rival. While the ship passes through an asteroid field, space-hijacker types board the ship and Gruner must fight them off more-or-less alone. Predictable plot “twists” are provided by the space pirates and ship’s crew continually trying to double-cross one another and get their hands on the loot.

What’s wrong with it?

In two words: Olivier Gruner. In a few more words: Olivier Gruner, the king hell pig run of all implausible settings, and cheap-jack production values. Jorja Fox and some guy as the space pirate leaders ham the hell out of their roles, which only serves to throw Gruner’s almost schizophrenic lack of affect into sharp relief.

What’s right with it?

Hmmm. Uh, OK! Here’s a thing. Gruner’s character and his shipmate are nicely ambiguous. As a cop who’s been kicked around by the forces of law and order, it would be traditional for him to be really upright and noble all the time. But in fact he’s really tempted by the idea of making off with the loot and writing off his beautiful but useless girlfriend. It’s left unclear at the ending, which is kind of nice.

How bad is it really?

Really? It’s bad. If you’re making a science fiction movie and you don’t have any money, you need to have good ideas or good performances. This has neither.

Best bit (if such there is)?

Easy. Left alone on the spaceship for months while the crew hibernate, Stokes (I just looked it up, and Olivier’s called Stokes in this movie) goes a little peculiar. This leads to the greatest scene in Olivier’s career, as he ballet dances around the empty ship in his long johns. It is absolutely amazing, and it’s twice as alarming coming in the middle of such a bland movie.

What’s up with…?

  • space pirate Fallout and his bazooka? Big guy has to have a big gun, I guess, but I’m not sure it’s a terribly practical weapon indoors.
  • Jorja “her from CSI” Fox and the armour with boobs on it? I guess in the future breasts will be much larger and need greater protection.
  • electronic funds transfers are no longer possible, so money is transferred between banks on different planets in shipments that take years? Rather than, say, each planet just having a totally separate economy.
  • Olivier’s girl being some other guy’s “contract wife?” It’s not important, she’s barely in the movie; it’s just five minutes of needless exposition.

Ratings

Production values: Poor. CGI effects courtesy of Babylon 5. 15

Dialogue and performances: Oh hell no. 18

Plot and execution: Standard. Romantic failure, space pirates! Bang bang aaah. 12

Randomness: A certain amount. Shifty economy, uncalled for space battle scene. Also space ballet — good but random.13

Waste of potential: It’s got Olivier Gruner in it. On the other hand, replace him with, I dunno, Bruce Campbell and it could have been very good. 11

(like a lot of Gruner works, it dodges the bullet on Waste of Potential)

Overall 69%

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%