Dungeons & Dragons Reviews
Tom Baker is the one highlight in the movie.
And honestly, I liked Dungeons and Dragons more than the average critic or viewer. I still thought it was a bad film, but I had an appreciation for certain aspects of it.
Courtney Solomon's own inexperience as a film director can explore a lot of the shortcomings in Dungeons and Dragons, yet considering the complex development and awkward place he was put in by the producers he can't be blamed too much. At least he has the courage to take credit for what's wrong with Dungeons and Dragons. One of the issues is the way that he follows a clearly Star Wars based visual style in executing the story of Dungeons and Dragons. By that I mean that certain scenes such as when Ridley Freeborn mourns with Marina Pretensa, when Empress Savina approaches the council as Mage Profion publicly criticises her and when the dragon approaches Mage Profion at the beginning only to be crushed by a spiked door are all visually identical to the style of several Star Wars films, namely episodes VI, I and again VI respectively, as well as more. The issue is that the style is unoriginal and makes it seem like Dungeons and Dragons is attempting to capitalise on the Star Wars universe, yet coming up short. Many of its story elements follow the same pattern while others merely don't make sense, such as why an underage and peaceful Empress like Savina would send an army of dragons in to fight Mage Profion. So we've established that the plot doesn't make sense in certain areas and that the visual style is copied straight from Star Wars, and of course it's worth mentioning that the script is generic and dull without creativity which, as director Courtney Solomon himself said was an older draft of it instead of the finished script for some reason, and it doesn't do anything for the paper thin characters or the actors they work with.
Now, onto the acting. Strangely, every actor in the film except Marlon Wayans and Bruce Payne make the same fatal flaw: their acting is not in tune with their physicality. When I say that, I mean that Justin Whalin and Jeremy Irons make the mistake of overacting excessively in their physicality when they project dialogue, with Justin Whalin walking in a clumsy way and Jeremy Irons shouting with the face of an angrily constipated Hyena. Both overact physically, while Justin Whalin is better at conveying his emotions and Jeremy Irons is better when his character remains monotonous. But there is more.
The problem with Thora Birch's performance isn't her acting skill because she's still a talented actress, but her character isn't convincing. Since she is still an underage girl, it isn't believable that she has the same kind of determination or understanding of what she is saying that an aged woman would have. See, you can compare her performance to the performances of Keira Knightly and Natalie Portman as Queen Amidala in Star Wars Episode I: The Phantom Menace. Both actresses nailed the role because there is a real passion felt for them as the Queen of Naboo, while nothing is felt for Thora Birch. She acts like she's much older than she actually is, and if her character was a Queen in her mid-20's and looked older I would believe it. But based on Thora Birch's age, I do not genuinely believe that she is a convincing Empress Savina.
And Zoe McLellan brings nothing new to the table with her performance.
The only two actors that were really any good were Marlon Wayans and Bruce Payne.
Although many people consider the character Snails to be a racial stereotype, I personally enjoyed Marlon Wayans' presence because it really seemed like he had fun in the role. He constantly has a sense of energy in him, and even working with a paper thin character it's easy to appreciate him for his genial presence. Although he isn't that funny, viewers may find themselves connecting to and sympathising with him as a character by the end of the film, and it's a nice surprise. I liked having him around.
And as far as the performance of a bald man with blue lipstick and two dragons in his head can go, Bruce Payne gives the best performance of the film. He aspires with a certain sense of confidence, and his villainous persona emits a real sense of evil which matches his dominant stature. Bruce Payne manages to work through the poor script and bring on the pain, and he's clearly the highlight of the cast of Dungeons and Dragons.
Lastly, the main issue that viewers will find with the film is that Dungeons and Dragons has lacklustre visual effects. Despite a budget of $45 million, it looks hollow and cheap. This prevents the atmosphere of the story from being convincing in certain scenes, most notably the film's climax. But the other thing the visual effects mess up is the look of the dragons. The dragons all look like they're from an animated movie, and their blood looks ridiculously fake. Considering the visual effects failed to pick up on an appropriate look for the dragons which are half the title of the movie, that's one of the key reasons that Dungeons and Dragons is not a success. The visual effects are openly unimpressive, and although at times they just pass, any scenes with dragons will reveal the problem with them in Dungeons and Dragons. They have the quality of a made-for-TV movie, and you'd hope for better considering the budget is so large.
So Dungeons and Dragons is set up with a lot of issues, and so the only likely way that it can succeed for viewers is if it works as an experience of cheap fun. In my case, it was to a certain extent.
The thing I liked about Dungeons and Dragons was that it had a decent story to it, and it had a mostly convincing production design and a cheap sense of fun on its journey. It's adventure theme was decent, and there is a certain childish sense of fun that comes from all the magic and colour of the film. I know that as a kid I would have enjoyed Dungeons and Dragons more than I do now.
And some of the action is good. Although at certain times some of it is a bit quick and choppy, most of the time it's satisfying with all the sword fights and spells being thrown around. Even the dragon battle at the end had some kind of entertainment value to it, even if it wasn't all that great.
And last of all, the cinematography was good at times, even though it could have been better at others.
Utterly, Dungeons and Dragons fails due to bad scripting, cheap acting and amateur direction as well as bad visual effects, but it does have a lot of colour and may appeal to audiences through cheap fun.
"Dungeons & Dragons" is a perfect example of a film that's so catastrophically awful it becomes hilarious. There isn't a single element present that is good. In the fantastical empire of Izmir, ruled by a knock-off of the child-like Empress from the "NeverEnding Story" (Thora Birch as Empress Savina), there is trouble brewing. The evil mage Profion (Jeremy Irons, acting so insanely he gives Nicholas Cage in "Wicker Man" a run for his money) and his blue-lipstick-wearing crony, Damodar (Bruce Payne) decide to steal the mystical red rod of power, which will allow them to summon the red dragons and take power by force. The protagonists of the film are Ridley (justin Whalin) and Snail (Marlon Wayans, who is so embarrassing as a sidekick he falls just short of wearing Jordans and rapping) who break into the Magic School (that's what it's really called) and get roped up with a young mage/love interest named Marina (Zoe McLellan). They meet up with a dwarf and an elf, included in the film only to make it more fantasy-like, and go on a quest to defeat the bad guys do. Expect Ridley to explore what passes as dungeons and for our heroes to battle some deadly, badly animated dragons.
It's laugh-out-loud hilarious and never gets old because the picture keeps throwing new stuff at you. The acting is terrible, but in a nice variety of ways for instance. Profion is way over-the-top, waving his arms around like a madman, chanting incomprehensible spells that sound like they're being made up on the spot and twisting his face in sneers and grins. The Empress on the other hand, is so wooden you get better performances out of the animated skeleton encountered towards the last third of the film, and that guy has no face! As for the main players, several of them are incredibly bland and feel totally irrelevant to the plot. You could have easily thrown out the elf and the dwarf character because they contribute nothing at all.
The story is terrible and feels like a generic fantasy film with a couple of Dungeons and Dragons elements thrown in. We've got a random monster who shows up for a single scene and then disappears, just so we can have D&D players go "I get that reference!" but otherwise the film is filled with weird-looking humanoids that would be more at home in an episode of Star Trek than in an epic fantasy film. The sets here are so incredibly cheap it is astounding. Some scenes are clearly shot against a bad green screen and you can almost see an aura surrounding characters as they talk in front of these big, elaborate castles. Other shots are clearly inside a large library or inside a cathedral that was not built for the film. It's pretty hilarious to see the camera pan around, showing elaborate paintings that in no way fit, as if the editor mistook them for some of the special effect guys' best work and said "The rest of this movie looks awful, but people have got to see this!" Mostly, "Dungeons and Dragons" is set in unconvincing dungeons, markets or forests that were probably borrowed from a TV show that had just finished wrapping up, with a bunch of random bones or skulls thrown in to look more menacing.
The most memorable and laughable elements of the film have to be the special effects. I understand that this film had a somewhat limited budget, about $40 million dollars. That's not a ton of money so I don't expect the creatures here to look as good as the dinosaurs in "Jurassic Park", but this is a whole new level of bad. Someone working on this film was incredibly proud of the CG castle they built and they show it off constantly, but no matter how much you pan up and down, it still looks terrible. Even worse are the dragons. I realize that the film is called DungeonS and DragonS, but if you can barely create one CG dragon, don't include a battle where hundreds of them are flying unconvincingly, spitting fireballs at each other. One of the first scenes features a dragon being killed and the movie tells you right away it is going to be cheap, unconvincing and laughable because the dragon bleeds CG blood. Do you know how easy it is to shoot blood pooling and dripping over stone steps? You just need some corn syrup and food colouring, or at the very least some red paint! They couldn't even get that right, what hope do any of the other creatures here have?
The worst offender in terms of bad costumes (most of the armour looks like spray-painted plastic) them all is the elf Norda (Kristen Wilson, looking like a Vulcan from "Star Trek"). Ever see one of those paintings, perhaps on the side of a van where a tough-looking barbarian chick has her arms in the air, swinging twin swords? Half the time she's wearing a breast plate that looks like it was painted onto her skin? This elf has exactly that. Literally, she's wearing a breast plate; complete with individual cups and a belly button for extra sexiness. It's impossible to miss because the camera constantly shows her from the neck down. Had we not received many shots of Damodar's epic codpiece, I'd call her boob-plate the most awesome piece of armour in the whole picture.
Once in a while, you see a movie that's so bad it earns itself a place in the hall of fame. This is easily the worst fantasy film I've seen. It's a series of colossal mistakes immortalized on Dvd and it's glorious. Forget your standard comedies with your Eddie Murphys, your Jim Carreys and your Adam Sandlers. You want to laugh long and hard? Check out "Dungeons & Dragons". I love it! (On Dvd, January 24, 2014)