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Dungeons & Dragons (2000)

The name alone demands, or at least suggests a tour-de-force performance on every level. This name encapsulates a hobby spanning three decades with millions of followers, a property that has almost single-handedly supported an industry begun by such respected names as Tolkien, and a subculture that has been so powerful in peoples’ minds as to draw some of the most infamous press and misconceptions of all time. Surely bringing such a powerful and feared and desired name to the church of the modern age—the theater—would be a powerful, riveting, cinematic event! Um, yeah, right.

The writer/director acquired the rights to "Dungeons & Dragons" from its owners at the time, "TSR" (Tactical Studies Rules) after years of trying and then spent nearly a decade revising the script while he sought funding. He’s a gamer and wanted to see this movie made! Good for him! But it’s all downhill from there. For anyone who is a gamer should instantly recognize that the D&D multiverse has dozens of worlds and literally hundreds of fully developed scenarios (in the form of adventure modules) that enrich the cultures and characters of these mythical lands. In other words, there was an unprecedented amount of time-tested and proven popular story material to draw on for a plot, and instead we got, um, I’m not really sure to make of what we got. Instead of a movie based on Dragonlance, or Castle Amber, or Ravenloft, or the Slave Lords or, shit, the Temple of Elemental Evil, we got a video game.

But it gets worse! With 10 years to revise a script, you’d think that the writer/director would notice huge, gaping plot holes or lack of character development. The heroes are sent to fetch a red magic wand that will control red dragons so the empress can save her throne from the evil "mages". Well, the heroes have to fetch it because only they can. So, the villain couldn’t, right? So, why not leave the damn thing hidden? But, yawn, predictably, the heroes recover it. Well, one does, because only the "chosen one" can enter the vault, leaving the rest of the party outside. Now, at the heart of D&D is the group concept. Leaving everyone outside like red shirts that actually live goes against the grain of everything that made D&D unique. Anyway, our atypical hero gets the magic wand, and immediately gets ambushed outside, so the villain claims it all to his overacting self. So, all the heroes really accomplished was make the villain harder to defeat, because now he can control red dragons! But then, the empress shows up, able to control gold (and far tougher) dragons, and wastes him. So, what did the heroes really accomplish but to give the empress more experience points?

Perhaps the script was subtly trying to really mimic how a D&D game plays out, because in the end the heroes fucked things up pretty good!

But nothing is as fucked up as Jar-Jar Wayans. Marlin Wayans (I don’t care to spell his name right) is the singlemost annoying sidekick ever, on par with the infamous Jar-Jar Binks from "The Phantom Menace". And no, that’s no exageration. And we’re supposed to like this guy? We’re supposed to cry when he dies? Little lesson to Hollywood moviemakers who are paid much more money than I: The central character is the lightning rod for the audience, the one whom we’re supposed to relate to, our conduit to the emotional wavelengths of the movie. If he acts in ways we don’t feel, we resent him. When he cries that Jar-Jar Wayans dies, we not only wonder why, but we wonder why he’s not the next to go down! Moviemaking is an organic process. Scripts are not canon. Depending on the performances (or lack thereof), if it feels good when a hero dies, it’s never too late to revise the story so we hate the dead guy, and have the hero, instead of crying, kick some dirt on the guy and pick his pockets (they’re thieves, after all), then we’d actually like the hero, because he’s doing what we’d do, and we might actually cheer for him in the big battle to come!

As for the rest of the party, they include a dwarf who is as tall as everyone else, and a black (as in Africian) "elf". I’m no racist, but shouldn’t dwarves be short, and since elves are based on Western European myths, shouldn’t they be Caucasian? Would it kill the casting agent to actually test more than the first three or four fools who wander in from out of the LA heat to mooch off the air conditioning? Or, perhaps, just perhaps, did they actively seek out such ridiculous choices? Oh, and I almost forgot the hero himself! Cookie-cutter heroboy all the way. With no acting ability what-so-ever. Perhaps he didn’t take acting as a skill. Or maybe the director was like your classic wizard trying to play a fighter—he put his lowest score on ‘Intelligence’. All in all, at the heart of the D&D game, and perhaps the broadest aspect of its extensive mythos, are the incredibly detailed and interesting characters. In a movie based on role-playing, we got nobody playing a role in any way, shape or form. Shit, the game is acting. Couldn’t these professional "actors", ya know, act a little, develop some character, and make things entertaining?

Like 2nd Edition equipment charts that supply a hero with all the essentials for adventure like fish-hooks and sales of 100 eggs, there is no end to the random crap in this movie to kill your woody any time you’re starting to get remotely excited. Let’s take stock of the miscellaneous shit, shall we?

Didn’t ya know that all oddly-colored people are thieves? And if you want to find the local thieves guild you just have to follow them? Not that the local magistrate would ever think of doing that. Nope. Nor would a master thief ever think to watch and see if he was being followed. Never.

Speaking of the thieves guild, the bossman has himself quite a fancy little maze, which, again, only heroboy can enter, leaving the party with nothing to do. But the bossman has a plan! He wants the gem in the midst of the maze, so he wants heroboy to retrieve it, while he watches. Watches, as in, from ten feet above, from where he could easily break through the bars and retrieve it without having to go through the massive vault door in the first place.

Since we’re on the architecture of this world, the political counsel, a converted theater in Prague with its floor a platform raised above the floor seats made the "great wise mages" look like the Muppet Show. Perhaps this comedy—like the bad casting—was intentional, so it could distract us from the massive platform shoes the princess was wearing, or Jeremy Irons’ so-bad-it’s-still-not-good overacting. Shame on him for even being in this movie. It’s on par with Sean Connery in Highlander II.

The bad guys have a ruined castle, and wandering around it for no apparent reason is a frickin’ beholder! For those who do not play the game, a "beholder" is one of the most deadly creatures, and always operate alone, devouring humanoids. Why one would be touring around a castle of low-level henchmen is like saying tigers are part of a petting zoo. And, in a movie sense, they never do anything with the beastie! You’d think the heroes would run into it sneaking around, or flee from it, or something. Nope. Now you see it, now you don’t. Not explained. Just be confused so you don’t notice all the other holes in the plot. Veg!

The second-in-command bad guy, ‘Damodar’, acts like he’s auditioning for Destro in the never-made "G.I. Joe" movie, wears huge plastic shoulder pads he stole from Sho-Nuff’s dojo, and wears blue lipstick like he’s mad he got turned down for a role in "Priscilla: Queen of the Desert Part II: Thanks For Nothing D&D Movie". In other words, never was there a more laughable villain in a movie. But get ready, because he’s got the most diabolical plan ever! That's right, he's gonna give us a sequel . . .


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