Review: “Dungeons and Dragons”

Long ago in a land of magic, some very beautiful CG vistas and a rocket paced action finale couldn’t help save the soul of a film featuring some of the most atrocious overacting in years. Dark futuristic sci-fi has always been my favourite genre which is probably why medieval fantasy like “Lord of the Rings” and the D&D games never ‘floated my boat’ whilst fantasy-toned sci-fi (“Star Wars”) I never fully got into as much as the “Alien” or “Star Trek” franchises. Consequently my expectations for this weren’t high, especially considering the atrocious reviews US critics had been giving it (fanboys had been kinder).

Thus going in and later coming out of the film I had pretty much the same reaction I had to “Speed 2” – I could sit and watch it but I’d probably not pay for it and certainly would look for something more interesting first. Sci-fi & fantasy films both tend to suffer from the same problem – the filmmakers establish a rich looking world but to do that there’s a whole LOT of exposition and back story to get through. George Lucas over came it in the first “Star Wars” with a rolling text, now that trick is old and so no-one will use it anymore and there’s no replacement trick that comes across as clever that’s yet been thought up.

D&D The Movie is able to be understood by those who’ve never played the game before and there is a lot going on, but there’s a lot of exposition to get through and while some elements are never really explained like how the Princess rose to power, others like her dream for equality are mentioned repeteadly and far less eloquently. The script could’ve used a few re-writes, especially because of some major plot holes that can be found within.

The acting though is what’s shocking. Whalin and Wayans do OK, and Zoe McCallern as their posh mage sidekick is actually quite good. The same can’t be said for the rest – Thora Birch is stuck with some atrocious dialogue throughout the entire length of the movie while Jeremy Irons overacts in some scenes WAY too much. There’s a small handful of bits with the two trying to out do the other in the Council chambers in the middle of the film, and funnily this is where the best speeches in the film are – the only time some of the dialogue actually seems to have any weight.

Nevertheless their scenes at the start and end are, well skin-crawl inducing. Bruce Payne does his stock baddy – nothing particularly interesting or distinctive (the blue lipstick is an original touch). Finally there’s that Elf woman – a beautifl lady no doubt with a great metal breast plate but I’m sorry she delivers all her lines in only one way – as if everything she says has grave importance. Its a performance more wooden than the Amazon. Cameos by Tom Baker and Richard O’Brien are wasted.

On the upside a kudos to the FX department. Whilst the dragons of the title are quite hokey, the beautiful scenery and buidlings are spectacular, there’s some neat creatures, and my personal fave – a sort of wormhole/portal effect that looks really cool. Their expertise shines in the final action sequence of the film with the battle over the skies of Izmer which is actually quite spectacular.

Some of the production design, costumes and art direction is also well done. In the end this is for kids or devout fans only. As a film it doesn’t stand up, its flashy visuals don’t hide a lower than ‘direct-to-video’ quality to it. The kids will love the flashy adventure and action to it all, but there’s no substance or style to it to bring in the 10+ year olds. Here’s hoping “Lord of the Rings” isn’t like this.