Directed by: Courtney Solomon
Distributed by: New Line Cinema
Written by Nick McCann
“Dungeons and Dragons” is the original nerd lightning rod. The tabletop game brand has endured a lot over the several decades it’s been around, be it religious scrutiny or the ever-evolving game medium. You’d be hard-pressed to meet so-called geeks who haven’t heard of it or been a part of a campaign circle. Hollywood decided to work its own magic by making a movie of it. Unfortunately, we had to settle for something primitive and lackluster.
“Dungeons and Dragons” is centered on a horribly cliche plot. You can recognize the trademarks of the genre coming a mile away with hardly any surprises. The movie does a bad job of keeping track of its various wrinkles. A project like this needs to have focus and organization, it never quite captures the feel of the game. Negating the broad source material, there isn’t anything even a non-player like me can point out as being akin to a typical play session. What you’re left with is a sub-standard narrative no different from “Dragonslayer,” “Excalibur” or any number of vintage fantasy films.
The acting is dreadful. Picture the cast of “The Mummy” on the most annoying hit of speed ever. It’s high energy paired with stale dialog and no enticing character development. Marlon Wayans is particularly terrible. His acting style is seemingly to scream… at EVERYthing. It’s your typical idiotic sidekick of the era who tries to get by with strange noises rather than clever jokes. Some of the cast however have a more interesting presence. Jeremy Irons is strangely enjoyable here. He overdoes it too but manages to carry himself with some professionalism. Bruce Payne, as his lackey, also hams up his bad-guy voice. Even Thora Birch’s sleep-inducing quietness is unintentionally funny. If anything, it isn’t boring watching these people act.
Production-wise, it looks okay. Everything generally looks as competent as one might expect with a mid-size budget at this point in time. There are plenty of detailed sets, big locations, and lots of extras hanging around. But the art direction doesn’t leave an impression. I suppose that’s modern fantasy cinema spoilage talking but things are a bit too clean here. Key props look cheap as if they came out of a cereal box. Some of the production design at a couple of points directly rips off better movies. It’s supposed to be a fun homage but draws more attention to the lack of ideas.
It’s the same with the action and the special effects. Many of the fights lack a great deal of impact, mostly down to a wrong choice of camera angles and dated choreography. The editing doesn’t help either, it comes off as choppy. As for the special effects, they are no better than a PlayStation 2 video game. What makes it funny is the movie is trying really hard to realize this massive fantasy world with the same computing power as Jak and Daxter. At the very least, there is the occasional decently constructed practical effect.
This is a cheesy fantasy movie that was destined for immediate obscurity. Slapping a hodgepodge of tropes together under the banner of a then niche property doesn’t make for long-lasting staying power. But boy is it an experience! This makes for a fine guilty pleasure watch with plenty of amusing aspects happening frequently (Irons’ performance, the CGI, etc).
“Dungeons & Dragons” Trailer