|Star:||Jeremy Irons, Justin Whalin, Marlon Wayans, Zoe McLellan|
|Cert / Year:||12 - PG13 / 2000|
This is a fantasy film that delivers exactly what is says on the tin, Dungeons and Dragons.
The people of the kingdom of Izmer are divided into the mages (the haves), and the populus (the have nots). The new Empress Savina (Thora Birch) feels that this is unfair and plans to take some of the wealth and power away from the mages and give it to the people. This is understandably unpopular with the mages, and this fact has been seized upon by the evil Archmage Profion (Jeremy Irons) who plans to incite an uprising so that he declare himself ruler. The one thing that stops him is the Empress's staff which controls the golden dragons. There is however another staff that controls red dragons, and Profion details his minion Damodar (Bruce Payne) to retrieve it. All that stands in Profion and Damodar's way is a rag tag bunch, which consists of two thieves Ridley Freeborn (Justin Whalin) and Snails (Marlon Wayans), an amateur mage Marina Pretensa (Zoe McLellan), a tracker elf Norda (Kristen Wilson) and a dwarf Elwood Gutworthy (Lee Arenberg). This mismatched bunch are forced to join together to get to the red staff first and stop a war that could possibly destroy the whole world.
Dungeons and Dragons is a popular (amongst anoraks everywhere) and long lived role playing game. What is more it has become the basis for a large number of other games which share the same rule set (the best PC game Balders Gate for example). It is pretty safe to say that films based on games have for the most part been awful (Streetfighter, Mario Brothers, etc.), with only the odd exception i.e. Mortal Kombat. Dungeon and Dragons heralds the next wave of game film conversations (soon to be followed by Tomb Raider, and possibly Doom). So with history stacked against it, is it pants? No, its rather good.
The reasons behind this lies in the well rounded universe that has been created by the game. Some of the creatures that belong to the game have become fantasy standards. The story has wisely used this pre built universe and has stuck to the rules. This doesn't mean that if you don't know the game you will not understand the film.
The film falls nicely into two halves the first half is great, lots of action smattered with some good comedy, and a exciting chase to find the red staff. The best moment of all, is when Ridley has to complete the initiation test to join the Thieves guild. The second half of the film is another matter. One of the main characters disappears and this removes the comedy. The introduction of the love story then cripples the pace. It is a relief when the final battle begins, at this point things do pick up. Beware though the ending is a major disappointment. This is a shame, as if the film had continued like the first half it would have been a classic.
The direction is by newcomer Courtney Solomon and it borrows from a number of major films. For example the council scenes are very similar to the senate scenes in The Phantom Menace, and some of the final battle scenes are reminiscent of the Hawk men attack in Flash Gordon. This does not always work well. Some scenes are overlong. Others like the council scenes just slow the pace too much. It feels that another director may have made a better job of this.
The main performances are very good with Justin Whalin (probably most remembered for playing Jimmy Oslen in the new adventures of Superman) providing a likeable rogue. The Comedy comes from Marlon Wayans (Scary Movie) and as double act with Ridley his character Snails is great. It is a shame that he is not used more. As junior mage Marina Pretensa Zoe McLellan provides the love interest. She initialy play this role very well giving the mage a level of naivety, determination and incompetence. Again this falls to pieces when the love story kicks in. Apart from this brilliant cameos from both Tom Baker and especially Richard O'Brien really help the film. On the down side Thora Birch has little to do as the Empress, and even then she seems to have forgotten how to act (a classic Natalie Portman Queen Amidala performance). Jeremy Irons is deliciously evil, however by the end of the movie he results to ridiculous overacting. Lastly we have the terrible Bruce Payne (Highlander Endgame) again resulting to whispering slowly in a poor attempt to appear menacing (please Bruce do give up the day job).
So this is a flawed movie. There is no doubt it had potential, the special effects are outstanding. The dragons are magnificent and the end battle is quite a sight, added to the fact that some of the performances where spot on. What spoils it is the bad editing and direction and the remaining cast. The film suffers from character overload, leaving some characters with little to do, for example the dwarf is excellent, but wasted as his best scene was edited out. This is not the only unnecessary edit an alternative ending (also on the disc) is way better, a victim of a Hollywood cop out. It may appear that I have been over critical , the film is enjoyable and the first half is excellent. So give it a go its worth it for the dragon battle, and who knows maybe one day the film makers should consider a reedited special edition.
|1.85:1 Anamorphic||Really good picture|
|Dolby Digital 5.1||Impressive soundtrack|
|A mixed bag of deleted scenes, some great, some awful|
|A selection of short featurettes|
|Cast \ Crew biographies|
|DVD ROM features|
|A pretty good platinum series release, with great transfer and a good mix of extras. The disc is better than the film!|