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New Line Home Cinema presents
Dungeons and Dragons (2000)

"That's just like you thieves. Always taking things that don't belong to you."
- Damodar (Bruce Payne)

Review By: Joel Cunningham   
Published: June 06, 2001

Stars: Justin Whalin, Marlon Wayans, Zoe McLellan
Other Stars: Jeremy Irons, Thora Birch, Tom Baker, Bruce Payne
Director: Courtney Solomon

Manufacturer: WAMO
MPAA Rating: PG-13 for fantasy action violence
Run Time: 01h:47m:37s
Release Date: May 22, 2001
UPC: 794043524523
Genre: fantasy

Image Transfer
Audio Transfer

DVD Review

It took years of effort and struggle for Courtney Solomon, the director of Dungeons and Dragons, to get the film made. He had to get the rights to the property, finance the production, and in the end, direct it himself. It's a bit sad to say, then, that with the final product being what it is, he needn't have bothered.

The film's plot loosely mirrors a game of "real life" Dungeons and Dragons. The setting is Izmer, a fantastic land where the line of power is clearly drawn between the mages and the commoners. It has been this way for centuries, and such. The mages are the only ones wise and responsible enough to wield the power of magic... you wouldn't understand, you're just a commoner. Anyway, the new Empress (Birch) pulls rank and decides to change the old ways. "All people should be free and equal," she whines. Mage Council member Profion (Irons) is none-too-happy about her proposed legislation, so he decides to filibuster. The rest of the film involves him chanting a string of recipes until the session ends. Oh, no wait, that might have been interesting or informative or comprehensible. Really, he decides to stage a coup. All he needs is a big rod, so he can control dragons. His red rod must overpower the golden rod of the Empress.

Into this tale of woe fall two thieves: Ridley (Whalin) and Snails (Wayans). The two hate the mages, because, well, "Damn the man," I guess. When they try to rob the magic school, they run into one of Profion's henchmen, the blue-lipsticked Damodar (Payne), who was in the process of stealing the magic map that would reveal the location of the glorious rod. The thieves grab the map and rescue a mage, Marina (McLellan). Questage ensues, and in the end, they save the day, as the good, proactive CGI triumphs over the evil, Republican CGI.

I'm not inherently opposed to cruddy movies. I'll sit and watch B-grade and below if I can enjoy them for what they are. I'll see the good spots and try to ignore the bad. Of course, sometimes that involves quite a bit more effort than actually just watching a good film, especially if the movie is as inane as this one is. Aside from some dated but nifty special effects at the finale, there is really nothing to like about Dungeons and Dragons.

I'm sure Solomon feels a great love towards D&D. No doubt during high school he spent many countless hours crouched in his basement, leveling up his gnome and peppering his dialogue with buried Hobbit references, but little of his enthusiasm for the game shows up on screen. This film is, from dialogue to pacing, labored and clumsy. There's much less action and CGI than I'd expected, and to hold my interest through the rest, I require characters I can care about, even if they are simply archetypes. Instead, there are semblances of archetypes. An angry dwarf character is a member of the heroes' band, but he is given no backstory, and no reason even to follow along. Come to think of it, he doesn't even have a name. He's simply there because there are dwarves in the game.

Justin Whalin, who played Jimmy Olsen on TV's Lois and Clark, comes off like a low-rent cross between Brenden Fraser and Harrison Ford, with neither the looks nor the charm of either. He does his best with the dialogue, but he doesn't come close to engaging the audience or carrying the film. He does, however, get to shout "NOOOOO!" in slow motion when one of his friends is killed, so mark that one off the list. Marlon Wayans, breathtakingly good in Requiem for a Dream, makes a bid for the Jar-Jar crown of annoyance as Snails. Ignore the fact that his jive-talking character is a total anachronism in a medieval fantasy; he's just not funny. Thora Birch apparently thought this was a far different film, and she strains for heartfelt, earnest care for her people. Remember how bad Natalie Portman was in The Phantom Menace? It seems playing Teen Queens in genre films is the quickest way to embarrass yourself in Hollywood these days.

Bruce Payne, as the effete Damodar, tries for a Darth Vader menace but winds up more Dark Helmet. I'll say one thing; he got more laughs out of me than Wayans, as he delivers every linelike this: "Annndif you fail me, yourrfate will be feworse thannything carriedoutupon my enemaiesa." Wee! Plus, Oscar®-winner Jeremy Irons! I'd die to have been on set the day they filmed his "At LAST! My DESTINY!!!!" scene, if only to see the director fall down praising the guy after the take. Wow, Mr. Irons, I said go over the top, but yelling every line like a baked nut? Genius!

This is Solomon's directorial debut, and his direction is workmanlike. He seems to have no eye for action sequences or coherent editing, but at least his shots are well framed, and cinematographer Doug Milstone does a nice job capturing some of the admittedly attractive production designs. It's unfortunate, really. The property should have been the basis for a great fantasy film. With a different director, an intelligent script, and the proper handling, this could've been great. Instead, it is bland and charmless, not even quirky enough to merit a viewing. Not even with cameos from Dr. Who and Riff-Raff.

Rating for Style: C-
Rating for Substance: D


Image Transfer

Aspect Ratio1.85:1 - Widescreen
Original Aspect Ratioyes

Image Transfer Review: New Line did a great job with the image here‹to ensure the proper look, the director color-corrected the transfer for home video. That look is quite pleasing to the eye, with saturated colors and exaggerated contrasts. Certain scenes are bathed in a single color, be it gold or blue, and this look is faithfully represented on DVD. The image overall is very clean, with excellent fine detail and nary a scratch on the print. The black level is excellent as well, with very good shadow detail and depth. Edge-enhancement is never a problem, nor is artifacting. Just two interior scenes exhibit the tiniest bit of film grain. Really, this is just another beautiful transfer from the folks at New Line.

Image Transfer Grade: A


Audio Transfer

 LanguageRemote Access
DS 2.0Englishyes
Dolby Digital

Audio Transfer Review: This is hands down the best audio mix I have reviewed since Charlie's Angels. Like that disc, the 5.1 track on Dungeons and Dragons features near constant use of the surrounds, with some impressive directional, panning, and split-surround effects. The big battle scenes sound great, with dragons whooshing around the room, traveling from right to left, rear to front. More quiet scenes also use the surrounds to good effect, with atmospheric background effects (footsteps, murmuring) filling out the audio canvas quite well. The LFE channel is also particularly strong, and it serves both to enhance the action scenes and to support the repetitive, derivative fantasy score from Justin Burnett.

Audio Transfer Grade: A


Disc Extras

Full Motion menu with music
Scene Access with 20 cues and remote access
Subtitles/Captions in English with remote access
Cast and Crew Filmographies
1 Original Trailer(s)
10 Deleted Scenes
1 Alternate Endings
1 Documentaries
1 Featurette(s)
2 Feature/Episode commentaries by director Courtney Solomon, actor Justin Whalin, and Dungeons and Dragons co-creator Dave Arneson; Solomon, cinematographer Doug Milstone, and Arneson
Packaging: Snapper
Picture Disc
1 Disc
1-Sided disc(s)
Layers: RSDL

Extra Extras:
  1. Multi-angle special effects deconstruction
  2. Commentary for deleted scenes
  3. 2 DVD-ROM games
Extras Review: The best DVDs seem to belong to the most mediocre of movies, and Dungeons and Dragons has thus received a stellar batch of supplements. Of course, the Platinum Series banner is pretty much a guarantee of said quality. As with other recent New Line offerings, all of the extras are presented in anamorphic widescreen. I must turn off the prasie for a moment to comment on the menus, however. While the main menus are stylish and easy to use, in order to activate the special features, you have to complete a mini-interactive game, and if you make a mistake, you have to start over. The fact that this annoyance is mandatory is reason enough to complain; however, you also have to go through it every time you visit the menu (at least on my player). Others have said it before, but I'll reiterate: DVDs aren't video games, don't make me play one to access special features.

Two feature commentaries meant I had to endure this film three times, but surprisingly, I enjoyed it more with the alternate audio tracks selected. The first features the director, star Justin Whalin, and D&D co-creator Dave Arneson. Arneson was recorded separately, and he pops in at times to explain some of the rules of the game, but most of the time is spent with Solomon and Whalin. The two have a lot of fun watching the film and reminiscing, and they are very talkative. Unfortunately, they seem not to realize how bad the final product is, as they praise this or that incessantly, but it still is a fun 100 minutes. The second track, again with Solomon, plus the cinematographer Doug Milstone, is a bit drier and more technical. The two very seriously discuss the shooting process and shot selection, and again, their earnest attitudes are all the more amusing considering the film is put together as coherently as a mexican stirfry.

The two featurettes on the disc, Let the Games Begin and Making Dungeons and Dragons, run 15 minutes and 20 minutes, respectively. The first was the more interesting of the two; it looks at the history of role-playing games, which were the influence for the movie. There are some unintentionally funny (and perhaps depressing) interviews with various D&D fanatics at New Line, including a talk with one man who made his girlfriend start playing the game so he wouldn't have to choose between his real life and a fantasy world. The second featurette is a more traditional making-of, including interviews with the director and actors and some on-location shots. The best parts look at the special effects work, and I would've appreciated more of a technical discussion. Still, this is better than the usual promotional fare.

Ten deleted scenes are offered, along with an alternate ending, with or without director commentary. Some of the scenes were cut for pacing, others for monetary reasons. One particularly choice scene warrants a viewing, not for the dialogue but for some amusing interaction with a cardboard cutout (no, it's not one of the actors, Mr. Sarcasm, leave the feeble humor to me). Some would have filled in gaps in the plot, yes, but they would've made the film longer as well, and that's a real toss up. Still, they are interesting to see, if only to imagine what kind of film this could have been, with about three more script drafts.

That takes care of the major extras. Also included is a special effects deconstruction with use of the multi-angle option. It is a bit useless, however, since we go from blocky renders to finished film, with no look at texture mapping or atmospheric effects; but still, worth a look. Cast filmographies and a misleadingly compelling trailer close out the disc.

Extras Grade: A-


Final Comments

I realize fans of fantasy cinema are desperate for interesting fare, and it is certainly slim pickins at the box-office these days; please, do yourself a favor and skip Dungeons and Dragons. Mediocre visual effects and a cast of intense over-actors do not a boring script excuse. Despite the laughable dialogue, this one fails even as a guilty pleasure. It's just boring. Nice DVD, though.


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