I’ll confess right off that I’ve always had a soft spot for romantic fantasy. From my earliest cognizant days I harbored a liking for medieval fairy tales of princes on horses and opulent castles and the whole bit. One of my first real memories was of Diana and Charles’ wedding, and I confess to buying the tape of it and dang near wearing it out (my sister helped). Later, I became similarly infatuated with Victorian/Wilhelmine times. In recent years, my intellect has caught up with my sappy imagination and my recent readings bear this out: Barbara Tuchman’s A Distant Mirror sits on my table next to Manchester’s A World Lit Only By Fire.
But Dungeons and Dragons, the Game is a phenomenon that passed me by. Or vice versa. The people who played it in high school and college ran in a different social circle than I did. I seem to remember they played it in the library a lot. About the same five or six guys every time and their demeanor seemed to match their hygiene and social skills. Now I’m sure that with the tech boom, combined with their outsized cerebellums and work ethic, these guys have gone on to make a zillion dollars and earned the favors of maidens across the land. I’m sure their financial empires make my government salary look paltry. So I’m fairly certain they won’t mind me taking a few ex poste facto swipes at them becauseâ€¦let’s face it, it’s true: they were dorks.
The guys who played this game were unkempt and had bad breath and worse complexions. Their wardrobe consisted of Metallica t-shirts over scarecrow frames or pudgy bellies stuffed into untucked and untailored dress shirts. Many D&Ders in my particular suburban school were ‘gothic’ types: pasty-white faces and black clothes and tongue piercings. (As an aside, I’ve always been secretly envious of “tortured” Goth types of the Trent Reznor variety who can solemnly say things like “I live in darkness” and have it impress people. Half-pint freckle-faces can’t do this—if I said, “I live in darkness,” people would laugh and tell me to pay the electric bill next time. Maybe I need to work on my delivery.)
The pale people will be especially disappointed by the paint-by-numbers saccharine of this stinker. Harry Potter cornered the fantasy kiddie market—why Dungeons and Dragons, the Movie chose to compete for it is baffling. I wouldn’t think a savvy company like Wizards of the Coast would back this trifling flop and alienate the very players of the game they peddle.
Editor Ken: Actually, the fact that the Harry Potter novels, not to mention the then upcoming movie, were generating such interest is probably why Dungeons & Dragons was finally greenlighted (greenlit?). Fantasy projects must have seemed the upcoming trend. And so they were, except I guess they didn’t realize the public would want good fantasy pictures.
The way this movie passed into my hands was anticlimactic. Over Christmas one of my older step-brothers tossed a copy of this to me and said, “Here, review this. It sucks.” Yep, it does. But in a good-natured way, at least. This was a fun movie to review, overall. Just plain cheesy. It’ll provide a break from my usual faire at Jabootu and, as Nun of Jabootu, will knock off the swords-and-Birkenstocks genre from my list. Moreover, I have no funny tales of watching this beast. I just popped it in one dull day and, overall, it left me merely bemused. It stunk about as bad as I expected, given the negative buzz I’ve heard since its release.
In fact, since I’ve taken it upon myself to blast this move, real-life D&D players—angered by the utter incompetence shown by a movie bearing the title of the game they either play now or have played in the past—have come out of the woodwork to help. First off, Patrick Coyle sent me a review he had mostly completed. A far-more scholarly and astute work then I could ever hope to write, I used it extensively to get the facts correct. In many places, his play-by-play is woven in with my prose. In preparation for writing this, I even spent one evening playing Dungeons and Dragons, the Game with a couple of guys from work who heard I had seen the movie and who have written a book related to the game. (See how much time people spend on this? Our own Mr. Ken Begg even started a review of this flick.) [Editor Ken: History will not mourn its abandonment. Besides, I’m sure I’ll cannibalize the good stuff in it at some point.] It didn’t help much for our purposes—the movie and its direction still made no sense—but I understand the game premise now. Finally, my older step-brother Dalton, who claims to have played the game once back in Kuwait, watched the movie with me one of the three times I sat through it and provided moral support and amused himself with plenty of X-rated barbs, most of which concerned the love-interest and the Empress and few of which I dare repeat on a family site. (Still love you, Dalton).
So why does this bilge deserve to be here among the real, apocalyptic badness like Exorcist II and The Lonely Lady—the nodes to Jabootu’s very own audience hall? Two reasons, I think. One is the way Jeremy Irons and Marlon Wayans make complete fools out of themselves in this. You simply won’t believe the depths they plumb here, and I’m afraid we would have to ask Mr. Begg himself to do review justice to their wretchedness—I am but a novice heckler.
Irons especially needs an industrial grade mocking. He can be a wonderful, varied talent, but after excelling at drama in movies like Damage, animated voices like The Lion King, thrillers like Die Hard with a Vengeance and chillers like Dead Ringers, Irons apparently decide to demonstrate that he could really, really suck as well. And in Wayans we have possibly the worst sidekick ever.
Second is that all the gamer types who spent so much time playing Dungeons and Dragons, the Game simply deserved better. Theirs can be a trying road in the glare of normal society, and this did nothing to improve the whole gamer image. As word passed concerning my quest, I got some idea as to the anger and dismay this movie caused as former D&D players emerged to assist me. I am an unlikely messenger butâ€¦as penance for my snooty ways (and a break from gazing in abject horror at things like bloody newborns being slung around by their umbilical cords), I decided to review Dungeons and Dragons, the Movie.
Alrightâ€¦for all you dateless dorm dudes dabbling into the dark arts and rescuing damsels; for all you high school pimple farms whose Conan wannabes swing swords you couldn’t lift in real life; to all you Comic Bookstore Guy Merlins still living with your moms, this wand’s for you.
I’m going to start a feature on my reviews. It’s called “Eva Rates the Previews.” This is to help establish the mood I have going into these things. Soâ€¦what graces the beginning of a movie made for the players of Dungeons and Dragons? No less than a direct-to-video opus entitled Sugar N’ Spice, a movie about a squad of ditzy, giggly cheerleaders (oh, those kind) who decide to rob banks while in full kit. Wow. I’m incensed not moments after pressing “play.” Not bad at all. During the 30 seconds this scalded my retinas, I see that Kurt Loder makes a guest appearance and that the young ladies have the obligatory pillow-fight-in-their-underwear scene. This is a movie I won’t be seeing unless my name is somehow not found in St. Peter’s little black Book-o-Life.
The second—and surprisingly last—preview is for the Adam Sandler movie Little Nicky. You know, I think a real quest for Frodo and Co. would be to find what makes Sandler’s career go. This guy just screams cruel, passive-aggressive jackass in nearly every sordid role he takes. This movie, to remain forever unwatched by yours truly, seems to involve Sandler playing a loser (What!? No way!) suffering the slings and arrows of a cruel world until he’s granted Supernatural Powers. Here’s a shot of a couple of paraplegics slamming into a bus. There’s a shot of some man being hit in the crotch. Rob Schneider and a talking dog also make an appearance. Woof indeed! That looks awful!
Next comes an ad for DVDs. Just DVDs, that fabulous new technology. Do these need to be advertised? Hmm.
There’s a plug for the Dungeons and Dragons sweepstakes, a trip to Prague being the prize. If we add Tim Allen into the cast here we’d probably see Dungeons and Dragons, the Movie during the flight.
Finally comes an ad for a computer game called, I believe, Baldur’s Gate. I hate ads before movies. I hope the game is more exciting than this blurb suggests. Laudatory quotes from whatever august authorities laud games like this play across the action. I can’t help but notice one that exclaims, “It’s more than a gameâ€¦it’s a way of life!” I’ll bet. Don’t encourage them.
“And nowâ€¦our feature presentation!”
The camera pans slowly across a misty lake, the distance shrouded in mysterious fog. Ominous music stirs. Kredits flash by. The director is Courtney Solomon. Executive Producer Joel Silver? Oh yeah! Suddenly, not ten seconds into this epic, we’re assailed by the dreaded, slithering, deadlyâ€¦expository dialogue! OK, if this were unfamiliar ground, such blather might be necessary. But this is a run-of-the mill swords-and-sandals flick. The world we’re being introduced to has neither a rich nor full history. In fact, this world is rather familiar, almost as if we’ve been there before, a long time ago, in a galaxy far, far away…
“The Empire of Ismer has long been a divided land ruled by the mages, a group of magic users. [Oh, that kind of mage. Thanks for clearing that up.] Commoners—those without magic—[thanks again] are little more than slaves. The young Empress Salina wishes equality and prosperity for all, but the evil mage Profion has other intentionsâ€¦”
Well, that about sums it up, I guess. Not much more to see here. Let me know how it comes out and I’ll just be offâ€¦
(Editor Ken: Sit down.)
Hello Plot-O-Maticâ„¢ my old friend. You’ve come to bore me once again. Happily, that’s all the canned narrative. Not too bad. After the breathy bad-actor voice tolling the opening blather dies away an over-the-top, hamfisted classical music score begins and the iron-shod title card “Dungeons and Dragons” appears, looking very similar to the opening title for Lord of the Rings.
Then the camera pans across the broad moat of a painfully obvious CGI castle. Hey wait, this castle looks familiarâ€¦it’s the Excalibur Hotel in Las Vegas! Well, not exactly, but it sure looks like it. I can say all the CGI buildings in this world are simply way too big to exist without modern technology—metal superstructures and such. Yeah, I know: “It’s magic!” But, come on. Everything here is bigger than the Superdome. It’s going to take a lot of magic to merely suspend my disbelief for 90 minutes if they keep this up. Let’s not push it.
The camera zooms in further upon the wide entrance to a catacomb. We sail through an improbably large labyrinth and into a dungeon that initially looks like a cross between a motor pool for the DOT and a torture chamber of the Inquisition. The place is manned by black-robed workers, and festooned with the occasional human skull, arrayed about seemingly at random, lest we mistakenly expect to discover a noble and righteous work is being done here in the sewers.
Pan around the dungeon. Extras in cloaks muddle around. Lots of skulls, per usual. Flames geyser here. Smoke billows there. Chains hang from the ceiling and bellows blow. About what you’d expect—Frankenstein’s lab meets the mill floor at Bethlehem steel. All attention is focused on a magic wand that is currently under construction in what looks to be a Black & Decker Magic Wand Workmate or something. The music swells when we see it. It must be important.
The angle reverses, and we see what can only be Profion. As he descends the stairs, we see Profion is played by Wayne Newtonâ€¦no, wait, I mean it’s Jeremy Irons, who earns his place in the annals of embarrassed actors with one of the most over-the-top performances in recent bad movie memory. Really, this is $9.95-a-plate off-strip Las Vegas dinner theatre Hamlet bad. He howls, cackles, and waves his arms around wildly.
Oh, and there’s also another skull sitting on the steps, which seems needlessly hazardous just for the sake of decor. Always with the skulls. I guess this strangely familiar and modern fantasy world doesn’t have an analog to OSHA, or Profion’s nefarious schemes would get shut down well before they get off the ground.
Profion begins an incantation, and cartoony green lightning bolts from his hands strike the wand suspended in the middle of the gyroscope thing. This rod looks suspiciously like one of those Club things naive cheapskates use to try and keep their Preludes from being stolen. Then the bolts strike the wand and we glimpse… something… happen, with a swirl of colors and shapes and small CGI images as the machine whirls. Finally it comes to rest. Whoa! Three lemons! Holding his arms out in front of him and slinking like a silent film villain, he proceeds to stop the mechanism and take the rod.
Two theories spring to mind while I watch Irons make a histrionic idiot out of himself. Either Solomon asked him to act this way or Irons is doing it on his own accord, possibly over the budding director’s wishes. I lean toward the latter given Irons proclivity for disturbing movies. As an aside, this is going to be somewhat therapeutic watching Irons play a loud, stupid and silly character after seeing him star as twin misogynistic gynecologists in the bloody and gruesome Dead Ringers—a movie that actually gave me a bad dream after watching it and made me (at the time) swear off watching any more movies Irons starred in. (No joke—it was that uncomfortable to watch.)
It’s time to introduce Profion’s sidekick, a big bald guy named Damodar. Damodar is supposed to be some kind of palace guard honcho. He stands there looking tough in what looks like a set of medieval football pads that are supposed to represent stylized armor, an evil gloat on his face, bulging bicepsâ€¦and bright blue lips.
The guy has blue lips! Look at the picture! What were they thinking? I laughed out loud when I saw this. This has the same effect of putting a smiley face sticker on Darth Vader’s helmet or having Hannibal wear a Spice Girls concert t-shirt as he plots murder and mayhem. Throughout the rest of the movie, Blue Lips will engage in all manner of cartoony villainy and all of it is undercut by his hilarious blue lips. (Well, and bad acting).
Through it all, though, Blue Lips will strut around with the bearing of a professional wrestler approaching the ring. Paint the rest of him the same color as his lips and he could be one of the Blue Man team. He’s played by Bruce Payne, who has a lot of cheeseball movies under is belt, generally stuff like Lovecraft adaptations and sequels like Highlander: Endgame and The Howling VI. He looks right at home here.
“At last!!!” Profion howls madly, approaching a portcullis. He orders his cloaked drone to release “him,” which proves to be a fairly well-done CGI dragon. After raising the gate, the robed servants wisely flee in terror, except for one fellow who gets roasted by dragon fire, propelled with enough force to lift him up off his feet so he can more dramatically fall down the stairway.
A little expository dialogue between Profion and Damodar (Blue Lips) reveal that the mage plans to use a dragon army to crush the Empress and seize power. Whatever else, at least this guy isn’t lacking ambition. Restraint is another story, as he snarls and bares his teeth like a guy trying to keep down a double shot of cheap bourbon. The dragon lumbers forth with much snarling and wrath. Profion confronts it with the Club, loudly proclaiming that the dragon must bow to his command. The jewel in the wand glows. The dragon hesitates and falls back, apparently cowed by the wand.
Blue Lips is impressed. He exclaims, “You have the power of the immortals! You control dragons!” Then the jewel on Profion’s wand suddenly stops glowing, apparently signifying the wand has ceased controlling the dragon, who, in turn, charges. Whoops. Looks like the wand crapped out. Quick-thinking Profion brings down the spiked door to the dragon cage on the beast’s neck, killing it and sending a torrent of CGI blood cascading across the flagstones.
Spinning on his heels, Profion yells at Damodar to summon the “High Council.” Meanwhile, the blood from the dead dragon leaks into the water, somehow igniting it. What? How does this work? The fire whooshes back out the catacomb, past a keno table, and into the moat as the gasoline-like blood ignites the water. This wows a group of spectators on the far side. These must be the ‘commoners’ previously mentioned. Now it really looks like one of those cheesy Vegas strip spectacles from the Excalibur or Treasure Island.
In the crowd, watching this on the far shore, are our heroes. Here we first come across Ridley, played by Justin Whalin. Nice do. I think they were going for Brandon from The Mummy. But to me he just looks like a pretty boy from some boy band like N’Stync or the Backstreet Boys. He’s not too happy about the devilry going on in the dungeon beneath the Magic Kingdom: “This must be some twisted magic experiment gone seriously wrong. Oh, I’d like to give those mages some payback!”
(*Eva eye roll*)
Ahâ€¦payback. From the Ye Olde Middle Germanic Slav root “pabacke.” This must be in reference to Act IV of Shakespeare’s The Merchant of Venice wherein Gratiano rails at Shylock:
O, be thou damn’d inexorable dog!
And for thy like justice be accused.
Thou makest me desireth payback heaped mightily!
And thou forked tongued shall get no play in my ride!
Or something like that. Anyhow, enter stage right one of the most noxious sidekicks I’ve wanted to kick in the side for a long time. His name is “Snails,” and he’s played by Marlon Wayans of WB (“We Bad”) infamy. Throughout this movie he speaks in a sort of squeaky homeboy-meets-Jerry Lewis screech. Picture a Jar Jar Binks who never went through puberty playing Gary Coleman’s “Whachoo talkin’ ’bout, Willis?” schtick for 90 minutes. It’s gruesome; overall, the worst parts of this movie are the scenes with him. Which, then, is most of the movie, come to think of it.
“Man, why you always blamin’ everything on the Mages?” Snails squeals at Ridley. (This is going to be a loooooong movie.) Just seeing this guy “act” and hearing him say these lines in my apartment all alone made me embarrassed. He’s decked in a stupid frock with a hat that makes him look like the Flying Nun. Further dialogue establishes Wayans character as a cynic who would rather manipulate the system than change it, and that both of them are thieves.
Well, Ridley the New Kid on the Block has an idea. He wants to rob the School of Magic. The “School of Magic”?!? That’s what it’s called? It must have been named by the same people who named the Grand Canyon. My guess is that’s what it was called when director Solomon was breathlessly selling this pabulum to whatever dingbat at the studio greenlighted this celluloid paean to idiocy—”â€¦and then they break into the school of magic, see, andâ€¦”—and the name was never changed on the storyboard. Anyway, Ridley insists that with the fire in the river, the school won’t be as well guarded.
OK, next we cut to something called the “Mages’ Council”—a gathering of the ruling class whichâ€¦does something related to running this big ole Texas-sized Empire. Here we find the wily Profion convincing the other Mages to demand the Empress hand over the source of her power, another magic rod apparently similar to the one he was messing around with earlier. He sells them on the idea by claiming they must take the wand before she uses it to eliminate them. Between the way Irons gestures, closes his eyes while orating, and shakes his head as he speaks, he winds up looking like a faith healer on one of the Protestant channels in deep cable. What I’d like to know is what these mages actually do if the Empress has absolute power. If I ever become Empress, it’s right to the dungeon with any legislative body, let me tell you.
Now we cut to the Imperial palace throne hall, empty but for two individuals. The Empress is surprised that the Council could turn against her and is consulting with a sagely fellow named Vildan, a kindly-looking elderly fellow who may as well have “Dead Man” tattooed on his forehead. Savina seems utterly staggered that the mages would use their magic powers to put themselves above other people. The good thing is she manages to deliver a blue streak of naÃ¯ve foolishness that warrants my very first use of Immortal Dialogue.
When she asks what can be done to prevent the Council from taking total control, the sage replies that he’s learned the whereabouts of the Rod of Savrille, which controls red dragons. The rod Savina carries is apparently the source of her power because it controls Gold Dragons, as we will learn later. With the Gold Dragon Rod, she can relinquish the Scepter as the Council demands, while still holding an equal measure of power.
Dalton Chortle Alert: This bit touched off a movie-long torrent of puerile “Rod” jokes such as: “She wants the rod!” and “I’ll give her the rod!” and “I got your rod right here, baby!” and even “I bet Blue Lips likes rod too!” *sigh*
As Patrick noted to me, Vildan’s proposal would establish a policy of mutually-assured destruction. If the Empress and the Council each have the power to destroy the other, then both sides are forced to remain civil, at least out of fear of retaliation if nothing else. Of course, this only works if both parties are stable, sane individuals. Profion certainly is neither, the Empress looks to be a gullible dweebette, and God only knows who might get power in the future. Yup, sounds like stable government to me!
As Vildan finishes explaining, a devilish little imp eavesdropping on them cackles and vanishes. Instantly, we cut back to old Profion, contorting his face in sick rage as he demands to have this Red Dragon Rod for himself so he can take power from the Empress, and, in a ripe twist, the Council. He commands henchman Blue Lips to go to the Magic School and get the scroll with the whereabouts of the Rod from the sagely Vildan. Blue Lips is instructed to make sure Vilden kicks the oxygen habit in the process, of course.
Cut back to Ridley and Snails scaling the side of the School O’ Magic. Apparently the School, a laughably colossal CGI edifice, doesn’t have very tight security. Come to think of it, since these two morons with ropes can loudly climb the highest tower unseen while hollering at one another, the School of Magic must have no security at all. They come in through a high window of the storeroom and Ridley jumps down first. Snails is hanging from the rope and afraid to jump. (After you just climbed up what looked like 100 stories?) He makes Ridley promise to catch him. He promises. Then, just as Snails lets go of the rope, Ridley hears a noise and is distracted, letting Snails hit the stone. Yukity yuk yuk.
OK, Vildan again. He’s badgering another young woman, apparently a librarian, who’s up on a ladder getting a book for him. She is Marina Pretensa, and she’s likely to be a major character because:
1. Vildan uses her name twice in less than thirty seconds;
2. She’s bookishly cute suggesting a PG-version of “Sexually Repressed Librarian;” and
3. She looks to be about the same age as our other heroes—namely Ridley, so she’s fit to swoon over him and go from feisty asserter to helpless damsel. Whoopsâ€¦I hope I’m not giving anything away here.
Finding what they need, the duo retires to some kind of workshop. They proceed to work on the scroll of the Rod of Savrille. Vildan does a little chant and sprinkles some glowing powder on the scroll, which then has cartoon greenish electricity dance across it (?), followed by a low flash and puff of green smoke (?!). Vildan declares “I never saw a scroll so hard to decode!” Is that what you were trying to do? Well, I wish I’d seen this movie back in high school. I would have done a lot better in French class if I knew I could learn the language by throwing burning embers and nitric acid on my textbooks.
Back to Ridley and Snails. Apparently they’ve entered into some kind of cluttered lab. Here they poke around and the pilfering proceeds. Snails picks up what looks like a jack-in-the box. Instead of a clown on a spring, which would be appropriate somehow, a small dragon torso pops out, roaring loudly.
Back in the other room, Marina and Vildan hear the racket and Marina is sent to find out what it is, Vildan saying “One of the lab creatures must have gotten loose again!” Then he goes back to work on the scroll. I don’t know. I think I would send more than just an apprentice if one of the “lab creatures” got loose in my School of Magic.
But anywayâ€¦investigating what can only be a veritable cacophony of loud noises coming from the lab, Marina surprises our zeroes. They first try to lie their way out of it with some unhumorous banter. After this falls flat, they attempt to skedaddle, but Marina casts some spell that ties a rope around the two of them. This leads to another round of Immortal Dialogue as Marina and Ridley exchange witless barbs. Hey, you know, I bet that beneath this bluster there lies the possibility that in the future they may start to like each other. Nawâ€¦that’ll never happen.
Mercifully cutting this short, a crash is heard back where Vildan was working. Marina runs to him. Apparently there is some kind of tractor beam between the mage and those caught in the spell because, in a particularly stupid bit, the rope “drags” Ridley and Snails along behind Marina (i.e. they run after her while yelling and pretending to be pulled along in her wake. Oh, this is so dumb.)
Cutting back to Vildan, we find him in the clutches of Blue Lips. Blue Lips, channeling Sting the Wrestler, snarls “Tell me where the scroll is or I’m going to have to kill you slowly!” Marina pops in and Vildan sees her. He flicks his hand and the hitherto unfound scroll flies across the room into Marina’s hand, whom Vildan tells to run for it before Blue Lips breaks his neck. (It’s less gruesome and more dopey then it sounds, believe me.)
Blue Lips and his band of ridiculously decked-out goons turn to face Marina and the other two lassoed stooges. She, in turn, throws some magic dust which opens some kind of magic gate through which she runs. Meanwhile, Snails and Ridley inform us that Damodar is the head of the “Crimson Brigade.” Okay, so I guess he has some official status after all.
Ridley and Snails stumble through after her, followed by Blue Lips and the goons.
(That’s right! They leave the portal open so the baddies can follow.) Everyone appears in a dead end alley near a rubbish pile. Blue Lips has them cornered! (You know, if I ever open a magic gate, it won’t be into a dead end alley.) Someone steps on the garbage heaps, waking up what I guess is supposed to be a dwarf. He’s really just a rather short guy with a cartoony orange beard.
He roars his disapproval and stands up. One of the goons fires a crossbow bolt that knocks the dwarf’s helmet off. He’s roars angrily again, bugs his eyes out, and charges Blue Lips, who, in a pitifully choreographed exchange, fends off the dwarf’s axe attack and knocks him over. Meanwhile, more stupid banter between Ridley and Marina convinces her to release the clods from the foolish-looking rope spell thing.
The dwarf, on the ground, kicks out and knocks down Blue Lips before scurrying off and diving into the obligatory storm sewage entrance, (something all medieval towns had, ya know). Snails leaps after the dwarf and then Ridley shoves a protesting Marina (“It’s smelly! Ewww!”) through before making his own escape as Blue Lips closes in.
They all scream as the water whooshes them away. Watching this, any number of movies pop into one’s head. (Mine was the prison escape in Runaway Train). Foiled, Blue Lips orders guards posted at every gate. “I want them found now!” he roars. Well, if that’s what he wants, shouldn’t somebody jump in after them?
Next day. Our merry band of stereotypes are on the run, overlooking a town crier announce a bounty on (at least) Marina’s empty head for murdering Vildan. As an aside, we learn her name is “Marina of Pretensa.” Pretensa? Pretentious? Get it? All of them are hiding behind a fruit cart—while everybody else within sight acts normally—and they are whispering frantically back and forth. There’s some more awful chitchat and then they decide to sneak away, concealed in long black cloaks—that no one else has on. Not only is that rather conspicuous, like hanging around outside a bank with a ski mask on in August, it does nothing to hide the dwarf’s distinctive flaming red beard.
Cut to Profion, who has Blue Lips on the carpet for losing Ridley and friends. Profion’s study sort of reminds me of a combination of an ossuary and Graceland’s Jungle Room. Blue Lips bleats some excuses before Profion waves his hands and cartoony bolts of Magic! shoot from his fingertips, causing Blue Lips to convulse and lose his footing. Profion magically implants some sort of parasite into Damodar’s head that will hurt or kill him at Profion’s bidding—Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan anyone?—then sends him to follow the tracker.
At this point, I began to wonder, much as I do during James Bond movies, why on earth anybody would want to work for an evil villain. The risks certainly outweigh any rewards I can imagine. The best you can hope for is that your boss gets everything he wants, then doesn’t shove you into a grave to keep from having to share power or wealth once your usefulness comes to an end. Heck, he just might do it for fun—he is evil, after all.
And what about Profion? Do this needlessly-punish-the-minion thing too much and no one will follow you. Blunders like this—and many more—are legion throughout the movie. And every one of them is maddeningly stupid because you’ve seen each dozens of times before. The Plot-O-Matic 3000â„¢ spawns more stupid villains than the Middle East. By the way, for much of the movie’s remainder, Damodar’s entire scalp will be bloodshot, and his ears will practically glow beet red. Add his ever-blue lips and bald head, and he starts looking more and more like someone you’d see down at the Rotary Club’s annual Haunted Hayride as the movie goes on, somewhat compromising his aura of menace.
Offhandedly, Profion mentions that the Empress has employed her best tracker, someone called Norda, to follow our band of dorks. Blue Lips is instructed to gather up his “Crimson Brigade” and follow this Norda so he can be led to the scroll. Catch that? Because if you don’t, you won’t know who this Norda is when we finally meet her. I sure didn’t. Why didn’t they include a scene with the Empress (who we see little of) and this Norda? In addition, if Norda is a super-sneaky type, sending Blue Lips and his Crimson Brigade to tail her to our heroes would be like sending Mr. T and the University of Maryland marching band to find Rambo. He’s going to be more conspicuous than an accordion player at an Eminem concert.
Ah, the obligatory tavern scene is next. Herein we see humans mingling with monsters (they would be ‘aliens’ but this is a fantasy flick so I’ll go with ‘monsters’). All the monsters look like humans with monster masks on. It’s funny how evolution works. (As an aside, given humankind’s historic inability to live in peace when confronted by mere varieties of skin hue and religion, I’ve always had my doubts as to the harmony these multi-genus scenes portray. But anywayâ€¦)
George Lucas pretty much did this scene in with Star Wars. All subsequent attempts—fantasy or sci-fi—to have a bawdy saloon setting will forevermore be compared to that den of Greedo and Han Solo. These tavern scenes provide 1) a good place to meet salty characters; 2) a better place to indulge in some move-the-plot-along dialogue; and 3) the best place for donnybrooks and great escapes. It’s like, oh, say a food fight scene in an expensive restaurant or a casino high-roller scene.
These are the movie equivalents of a Creed song. Just plain faceless. It’s been done so many times that it’s hard to make these scenes feel original—even with a lot of work. But these are the scenes the Plot-O-Matic churns out best. This one here is such a blatant, pathetic rip-off of not only Star Wars but any number of other space operas and swords-and-sandal flicks that I feel like I could have written this portion of the review without actually having seen the movie.
First of all, music plays in the background that sounds just like the band in the Star Wars saloon. Well, not exactly—it’s worse. Then there are the aforementioned aliens—bipeds all—who appear here and nowhere else in society, whether in the councils of power or the ranks of the guard.
But anyway, back to our heroes, who we find exchanging bad barbs related to class, with Marina the Mage on one side and the thieves on the other. Marina and Ridley fight a little too much, more or less sealing the love-interest thing for later. When Marina gets back to working on the scroll, Ridley—completely unbelievably—turns out to have some magical ability, as he looks over the marks of the ancient scroll. See, apparently Ridley’s father frequently used a magic spell that just also happened to work on another ancient scroll. Do you suppose it’ll turn out that Ridley comes from a long line of great wizards, thus affording him new powers when the script calls for it and also allowing him to justify his anger toward the Mages who use their power to oppress the common man?
Patrick DVD Alert: We learn more about Ridley’s father, but only in deleted scenes. And even then, they still don’t explain much other than to justify his anger. He does indeed reveal some “hidden powers” later in the film, but there’s absolutely no reasoning or past behind them.
I’d wonder if perhaps Profion or Damodar will turn out to be his father, except that Ridley knew him already. And, oh I don’t know, maybe you were wondering if Marina would turn out to be Ridley’s sister. Well, she’s slated for love interest status, so that can’t be true either.
Anyway, Ridley uses some words he remembered from his father to activate the scroll. Triggered, the scroll then somehow pulls Ridley into it with a splash of magic sparkly stuff. Marina, not wanting to be upstaged, proceeds to also activate the scroll and get pulled into it likewise.
Back to Damodar in the street where he is handing some money to a beggar for, presumably, information on where the heroes are located. Then he threatens his men again: “Do not let them get away or you will suffer a fate far worse than that which hath been inflicted upon me!” Wow!
Snails and the as-yet-nameless dwarf are killing some time (and me) with some idiotic stories, until Snails spots a dark-skinned elven (or so I’m told) woman entering the bar (who will no doubt prove to be the briefly-mentioned tracker Norda), and thus dooms her to be his love interest. We know this because, despite the rainbow colors of this place’s clientele, Snails and Norda appear to be the only two blacks present.
The dwarf disparages the elf, insisting that dwarven women are so much hotter, being 250 pounds and having chin hair you can really hang on to. (Must be a Florida State alum, this dwarf.) But Snails goes to introduce himself, slithering up to Norda like a seventh-rate lecher. “Are you looking for somebody in particular, or are you just looking for some body?” he says with a twinkle in his eye. “Actually, I’m looking for someone just like you,” comes the wooden reply. Snails, the dolt, believes this to mean that his pick-up line, old as it was even back in the real middle ages, worked. Of course, we all know lines like this don’t work in real life, don’t we guys?
I said, “Don’t we, guys?”
After a few more words, he proceeds to loudly order a bottle of the house’s best wine, then before the bartender leaves, quietly adds under his breath “make that the cheapest.” Wow, humor really is the coin of this realm, let me tell you.
Here comes Blue Lips through the door, strutting in ramrod straight and surveying the tavern like he’s taken a laxative and can’t find the men’s room. Behind him is his goofily-dressed “Crimson Brigade” of out-of-shape extras in ridiculous red get-ups. He spots Snails and Norda and stops for a moment. Damodar and his men, in turn, are spotted by the dwarf, who takes up the scroll (if you care, he thinks finding the Rod will earn big cash reward from the Empress) and proceeds to head for the back door. In a clichÃ©d attempt to cover his tracks, he bumps into a couple of patrons, who don’t seem to mind all that much until he yells out “bar fight!” This is apparently everybody’s cue to start a donnybrook. Of course, the actual guys he bumps don’t come right after him but instead start swinging at other people at random. You know, I’ve been in enough bars to know that an entire room of barflies just don’t start wildly swinging at strangers when one guy bumps another—especially when the cops are standing in the door. The dwarf manages to grab Snails and they slink out the back because Blue Lips and the Keystone Brigade get caught in the scrum.
OK, now it’s going to get even more stupid. No, really. Later that night, on a set I’m going to call Stage Light Forest because of the plethora of stage lights and fake-looking trees, the dwarf lays out the scroll and after Snails says some sort on incantation (?!) Ridley and Marina reappear, arguing again. Basically, a spirit inside the scroll gave them a map to the Rod’s location, and outlined the rest of the plot for them, letting them know they have to get a magic jewel from a guy named Xilus, the master of the thieves’ group in a place called Antius, before they can get the Rod. That’s a pretty informative spirit!
After Ridley and Snails go on for a bit about what a mess they’re into, Snails wisely decides to just walk away from it all now, but Ridley says “I kind of committed us to find it.” Snails flips out and demands to know how Ridley could have done that. Ridley’s glances wordlessly infer that something happened between him and Marina in the scroll. This is highly suggestive that some kind of sexual exchange took place. I’m sure. As if!
Patrick DVD Alert: Once again, a deleted scene on the DVD explains it all. Once he entered the scroll, Ridley would be cursed if he didn’t seek the Rod. Why he doesn’t just explain this to Snails is anybody’s guess. (Of course, Marina can’t be the chosen one—she’s a woman.)
The scene ends with Snails ramping up the Wayans-class histrionics as he repeatedly claims he will never go on such a dangerous mission, and then a lame bit of reverse psychology with Ridley pulling a Tom Sawyer-like “Oh, Snails, it’s OK if you don’t want to goâ€¦” which quickly has Snails begging to whitewash the fenceâ€¦er…go on the mission. Judging from Ridley’s look of insufferable, please-can-I-smack-him? smugness, this is supposed to be quite “clever.”
So it’s off to Antius. There’s no real journey there or anything. It’s like the group is off to the local Pizza Hut. We get a matte painting of a mystical realm that looks like a series of gigantic pillars with cities on top, like giant Towers of Babel or something. (This looks, incidentally, like a bad idea. How would you get water up to these things?) Had this been Lord of the Rings, this matte painting would have been explored a bit. The following close-up sets would flesh out this fantastic vistaâ€¦like in Lorien. But no. Here, the next scene is merely the stereotypical crowded town square marketplace, looking like the Medieval Faire in Skokie, Illinois or something. This could be anywhere. Why bother with the matte painting at all? Snails’ “thieving” consists of looking guiltily around before helping himself in the most painfully obvious way to the merchants’ wares. Then, looking over his shoulder, he dashes off. These guys are the worst, most poorly-acted thieves ever.
They follow a blue-skinned, three-eyed thief to what’s supposed to be a “thieves’ guild,” which happens to looks exactly like the tavern from before, only now being cluttered so full of crap that it looks like the inside of a T.G.I.Fridays. It’s packed with extras. How could the police not know about this? If all these people were real thieves, there wouldn’t be any merchants. Anyhow, our yokels gawk around for a bit, and recognize some buzzcutted thug named Tollum (who’s name is spoken so fast I gleaned this from the credits), potentially setting up a lesser antagonist, before being caught off guard by the blue-skinned thief and a few lackeys. For whatever reason, Snails and Elwood the Dwarf are dragged off elsewhere, while Ridley and Marina are taken to see Xilus, the master thief. We never see Tollum again. Just bad writing, I tells ya.
Xilus is played by Richard O’Brien of Rocky Horror Picture Show fame. This character is a piece of work. In fact, Xilus may well have just stepped off the set of Rocky Horror. Let’s just say he looks a little light in the shoes as he sashays over to our party of imbeciles. He paws Marina Pretensa’s hair, pats her on the butt, and refers to her as “precious morsel.” Better watch out there, girl, or this guy might actually do that hair. Her cartoony buttons pushed, she gets “huffy” and asserts herself in a pouty fit of bad acting.
Time for another matte painting, this time it’s a wide view of a vast and spooky looking labyrinth consisting of what looks like dozens of chambers and catacombs. Thenâ€¦cut to Ridley entering the first shadowy room and the door slamming behind him. A mob hoots from the gallery above. This corridor has stone walls, chiseled alcoves in the side, light shining through narrow, slit-like window. This light falls in beams across the floor of the hallway. Catch that? Gee, Docta Jones, I wonder what could possibly be the trigger for whatever trap is here? Sure enough, Ridley cautiously sticks his toe into the beam of light and a huge axe-like thing swings through the corridor, narrowly missing him. Ridley must have seen the movie too. He disrupts all the beams. A bunch of blades begin to swing. He manages to climb on one and leap from blade to blade across the room.
Next room. Here, a bunch of different colored tiles cover the floor. On the wall are carved faces. Oh Indy, what’re we going to do?! Ridley tests one tile. A gout of flame shoots from the wall. Another color of tile, red I believe, proves to be the “safe” one. Then, right on cue, the wall behind him begins to move in. He darts across the room, wobbling from one safe tile to another. At one point he loses his footing. This is suppose to keep us on the edge of our seat but instead just makes him look like a klutz—I could cartwheel across this room on the safe red tiles. Nevertheless, when he slips, flame gouts from the wall out of hidden nozzles but, of course, misses him. Just how deadly is this maze if you can screw up like that and live? One neat thing happens when the tiles begin to flip over as he attempts to tip-toe across the room, changing from “safe” to “not so safe.” Marina sulks above as the howling mob watches from another gallery. Hey, if this maze is so deadly, why not just follow the peanut gallery above to the room closest to the prize and climb down? Needless to say, he gets through.
Third room. Same roaring bunch of doofi gazing down from above. Here, the walls have spikes and the ceiling is a spiked iron thing which begins to descend down on him. A hatch opens in the wall and a mechanical hand appears holding an hourglass, the sand running. Ridley smashes it. The trap stops. Hooray. He’s safe. Another “trap” I could solve in a flash! This, by the way, turns out to be the last room in the maze. Yes, that’s right, despite the fact that the matte picture made it look immense. I realize that the movie has to go on (believe me, no one wants it to end more than thouâ€¦), but why show the picture at all?
Treasure room. Ah, gleaming before our hero we find the prize, a jewel the size of a baseball sitting in a beam of light atop a dais. My lord. This has gone from merely being a cheap imitation Indiana Jones rip-off to a near exact copy. Is this even legal? Could Spielberg sue for this? Meanwhile, Justin Timberl—I mean Ridley smiles, creeps up on the jewel and grabs it. Nothing happens. I’m genuinely surprised. I mean, everything else in this maze was a shameful copy of Indiana Jones, why not this? Shouldn’t the place begin to shake to pieces or something?
That’s it! My disbelief just crashed to the floor. Let me ask you this. Who maintains these trap mazes? Is it like a pool cleaning service? Does a bunch of teenage boys and illegal immigrants come in a pick-up truck with a trailer, like a lawn mowing crew? No, I really wonder how this works. I’ve seen it in a number of movies but this is the first one to do it so badly and unoriginally that I wondered about it the whole time while I watched, bored silly. Elton John the guildmaster said that no one had completed the maze in decades or something to that effect. Presumably somebody had to come in and oil the gears and sharpen the blades in the cusinart room there at the end of that oh-so-extensive three-room labyrinth. They probably advertise in the back of Good Trapkeeping or Drawn & Quarterly or something. I mean, without a team of skilled engineers, these things would simply fall into disrepair if they could be built at all in the first place. Think about the (far, far better done) trapped-filled dungeon in the beginning of Raiders of the Lost Ark. That big ball of rock just sat up there, precariously balanced, for hundreds of years? Who resets the traps after they’re sprung? I should just stop complaining because it must beâ€¦Magic!
Well, Ridley is next seen being back-patted by the crowd. Xilus steps in front, congratulates him, and then treacherously demands the jewel for himself. Ridley refuses. Xilus calls him a pretty boy, which I think is funny. This threat is conveniently disposed of when a couple of Xilus’ thugs are taken down with crossbows from Damodar and the Crimson Brigade. Xilus, looking surprised at Blue Lips and friends, yells, “Who the hell is he?” When nobody answers, he tries “Who the hell are you?”
The two bald guys have a macho showdown of sorts, wherein Xilus has his own chance to bug his eyes and grossly overact. Soon, a general melee breaks out. Ridley grabs a board and uses some lumber-fu to ward off attackers. Damodar grabs the map and Marina, who instead of using any of her magic to help herself, decides instead to scream like a little girl for Ridley to save her. Damodar carts her off. When Ridley insists on going after her, Snails rather considerately reminds him that Elwood [the Dwarf] is missing as well. Ridley then suggests the sort of split up that had us all knowingly giggling whenever Fred did it on Scooby-Doo; he’ll get the girl, while Snails can find Elwood.
Well, it looks like our group of dingbats makes a clean getaway since we next spot them in Stage Light Forest. Ridley’s lost the trail, while Elwood has somehow rejoined the thieves, and all have escaped harm. Ridley insists on rescuing Marina before anything else. Snails argues that they have the jewel, and should just proceed. After all, who cares about a Mage, right?
Ridley spins around and is about to have one of those “Now listen here…” moments when the proceedings get interrupted by cloaked figures holding crossbows leveled at the three of them. The crossbowmen’s leader throws back her hood to revealâ€¦Norda the elven tracker. Snails asks Elwood if he thinks the elven woman, played by the African-American actress Kristen Wilson, is pretty and the dwarf replies “They all look alike to me.” Oof. Norda’s attire is interesting. She’s wearing a single figure-hugging (apparently metal) breastplate from the armpits to the hips. Nary is seen a seam on it. How could anybody move around or even breathe in such a thing?
Well, Norda demands Marina and the scroll, and discovers that both are gone with Damodar. Upon hearing this, she uses some magic gadget to contact the Empress in a mirror and report. The Empress, in a costume that makes me think she just came from People magazine’s “worst dressed” photo shoot, naively wonders how Profion could have learned about the scroll. I don’t know, maybe with him being a high-ranking wizard and all, he has unconventional sources of info. Oh, and we finally get official confirmation that the elf is indeed the tracker Norda. She gets new orders from the Empress and decides to take the dwarf and thieves with her as she tracks Damodar.
Speaking of whom, we now cut to Damodar’s hideout, a castle I’ll just call “Chateau de CGI.”
Patrick DVD Alert: After hearing the DVD commentary and learning that all the shooting â€“ or almost all â€“ was done in Prague, part of this could be a real-life castle or at least based on one. Still looks wacky though
We’re in some sort of prison cell with Marina, and Blue Lips comes in and begins menacingly asking questions. Surprisingly, his slow, whispering manner actually suits the scene rather well. The scene, incidentally, is shot quite effectively, with Damodar towering over Marina, him profiled in candlelight dim enough that you can’t see his bright blue lips and her worried white face floating in the gloom. At first, he chastises her for disgracing her class and family by consorting with thieves. This is well acted—replace Damodar’s use of the word “thieves” with the word “idiots” and I might actually have bought it myself. He then tries to gain Marina’s sympathy by suggesting he’s under Profion’s power and can’t resist the wizard’s control. When Marina insists she can’t help him, he goes back to his old self and uses the eel-thing in him to take the information straight from her mind. You’d think he’d want to do this anyway, in case Marina tried lying to him about the Rod’s location.
How this is done is considerably less than humorous and, in my opinion, perhaps more than PG-13. Damodar grabs her head with both hands. The eel things come out of Damodar’s ears and jam themselves into Marina’s ear canals. She spasms uncontrollably and the soundtrack is kind enough to add bone-breaking sounds like her neck is being snapped. “I can suck the information I want right out of you!” Damodar rasps. Looks like he can control the monster in his head all of a sudden. Marina does a pretty good job of portraying agony. The shot of the two of them, facing each other with writhing serpents between their ears, her screaming and him making those groaning noises—it’s all downright unpleasant, and not in the way I think the filmmakers might have intended. It reminds me of something from From Beyond or Hellraiser II: Hellbound. When finished, he stalks off, leaving her twitching.
Back to Stage Light Forest. While riding down the path, Elwood begs to be let down off of his horse, being terrified of them. Ridley suggests he just deal. Elwood replies “A lot of dwarves are afraid to show their true feelings. I’m not, okay?” At what point he begins this awful fake sobbing. As Norda dismounts and looks for tracks, Snails flirts with her some more, with no success. I mean, he’s the sidekick, what’s he thinking?
OK then. It’s time to rescue the damsel. And a clichÃ©d idea is about to meet a clichÃ©d execution. Ridley and Snails creep up upon Chateau de CGI and peer over the ruined wall. A bunch of Blue Lip’s guards are strutting about. One pair flanks a CGI monster that looks like a giant floating eye with a toothy maw below. One of my D&D-playing friends explained to me that this is apparently a “Beholder.” They are apparently particularly scary, capable of casting magic spells from their eyes. (I know. Work with me here.) At last an action scene involving monsters! That is, after all, what Dungeons and Dragons is all about, right? Fighting monsters? We’ve seen precious little of it so far in this stinker. And with the spell angle, the director won’t have to worry so much about having the live-actors interact with the CGI effects because we can snap back and forth as the thing casts spells and they dodge and fight from a distance.
Think again, Eva.
As I watch stunned the unimaginative imbecility flickering before me, I discover that Beholders are also particularly stupid. This one, along with the two guards, falls for the prehistoric throw-a-rock-to-create-a-distracting-noise-ploy. Good lord. Snails and Ridley bolt past and into the castle tunnels. Nobody sees or hears them, of course.
Once inside, the thieves split up. OK, take the Cosmo quiz:
Who do you think is going to go after the (suddenly non-proficient in her chosen craft of magic) damsel?
A: Handsome, square-jawed hero
B: Stupid, annoying sidekick
C: Ugly “dwarf”
D: The other woman in the group
E: The nameless elven extras
Ridley pauses to somberly remind Snails to be careful. We might as well have seen Snails in a slow-motion shot with a loving wife and children, and have him tell us all about how he’s going to retire after this one last job. Let’s just bid him our farewells now, shall we? And just to make the future pathos of his heroic sacrifice all the more poignant (hope I’m not blowing any surprises, by the way), he gives a merry thumbs up before being brutally murâ€¦um, parting ways.
Outside, Elwood rather graciously wants to go in and help out the thieves, but Norda holds him back. With the serenity of a Vulcan, and because IITS, she intones with Yoda-like vernacular “This task they must complete alone.” What the heck for? Their spiritual growth? Their inner child? Unbelievably, Elwood acquiesces to this tripe. Yup, that’s right, he listens to the elf (despite the racial animosity) and instead of charging into battle, he cowers in the weeds (despite being a proud armored warrior). Right. This is like Buckaroo Bush listening to the craven UN. They don’t even create a distraction. This is just sloppy writing. I mean, they couldn’t even cook up some explanation for this “can’t go in and help” nonsense at all? And behind them are the other elves. They do nothing as well. Wow, with friends like these, who needs France?
We cut to Snails, who has made his way into Blue Lips’ bedchamber without incident. He procures a bag of magic sparkly powder that’s sure to come in handy later, then spots the map in plain sight. Prancing over to it, he falls into what actually looks like a pretty cool idea for a trap—a quicksand pit lovingly colored to look like a simple throw rug. A bit inconvenient for guests, perhaps, but I bet that’s not a problem with Damodar, who shows up to lift Snails from the pit of cake-frosting, giving him another excuse to unleash the patented Wayans Wail.
On Ridley’s end, he’s had little trouble making it to the prison cells. In fact, he just sort of appears there. Wow, these guys are pretty good thievesâ€¦when they’re not on camera. He finds a key he got sometime off camera and opens the door to Marina’s cell. She’s whipping up some fearsome Magic! payback and she tells Ridley that’s it’s about time for her to open a big can of whoop-ass on Damodar.
Ha. Just kidding. Marina is cowering under a blanket she’s wrapped around herself, which just brings back that really unpleasant rape imagery again. Ridley’s appearance snaps her out of her stupor. They have the warm huggy moment that lets us know who the big strong man is and who the helpless, pathetic sniveling girl is.
Back to Snails being smacked around by Blue Lips, who lets loose with an absolutely classic line that I just can’t bury down in Immortal Dialogue: “Just like you thievesâ€¦always taking things that don’t belong to you,” before slamming Snails again. Well, that’s enough for Snails. Delving deep into his medieval lingua franca, he sputters, “OK! You win! Game over!” before attempting to run.
This doesn’t work and in another exchange we see Blue Lips catching Snails’ sword in the crook of his elbow and wrenching it from his grasp in an actual display of real fighting prowess. Snails, who was just pulled out of the pit of cake-frosting and looks like he lost a food fight in a Viennese bakery, pulls a boot knife and slashes at Blue Lip’s throat before making a getaway. Of course, since we don’t stick around to watch Damodar die, you know he’ll be coming back somehow.
One thing this scene really highlights is how unmaneuverable Blue Lips is. He has all the agility of Lurch from the Addams Family in a blind-folded sack race. He’s slow. He’s awkward. If he had tried that nasty mind-probe thing on *me* I would have smashed him right in the nose, climbed over him like a set of monkey bars and been out the door and off the set before Courtney Solomon could yell, “Cut!”
Ridley and Marina finally run afoul of some of the hitherto absent “Crimson Brigade.” Ridley is able to dispatch them rather handily, despite the fact the guards probably have some training in, like, you know, actual fighting. Well, I guess that does explain the name “Crimson Brigade”—”Red Shirts” must have been already copyrighted by the Star Trek people.
We have no reason to believe Ridley the (completely untalented) thief could do the vaguely Bruce Lee moves he does here*. I guess this is one of the perks of being the scripted hero. The guards are so lame that even Marina manages to bash one with a torch. He comes right down. Nice armor. Then they run for it, Ridley pulling Marina along in the patented Ebert “You-push-pull-me” routine where the woman gets jerked along behind the man. Hey, Ridley, I think she knows how to, like, run.
Editor Ken: Just a quick note of concurrence here. While not a particular fan of D&D–I played a few games back in high school before losing interest–I wondered why director Solomon, purportedly a huge fan of the game, had made such a non-D&D-esque movie. I’m not talking about the small details, like the rules under two magic items can be used in concert, but in general terms. We’ve seen a School of Magic largely unprotected by spells. Eva mentioned the lack of monster-fighting, which is right on the nose. However, when I saw the film I was most annoyed at how Ridley violated one of the game’s central tenets, which is that different sorts of characters have rigorously defined skills. Although a thief, Ridley at times uses magic, and is moreover seen defeating numerous fighters. He doesn’t do so with sneak attacks, which would give a thief an edge, but in open battle. Frankly, the whole idea of a ‘chosen one’–and after the Matrix movies, could we retire that idea for a while?–vitiates the entire ‘team’ idea upon which a D&D movie should be logically constructed. For what its worth, the idea much more obviously lends itself to a TV series format rather than a film.
Snails makes it outside, still pursued by the ponderous Damodar, who’s rubbing his neck like those people in cough drop commercials. We soon see that he hasn’t a mark on him, so I have no idea what happened with the apparent throat-slashing. Maybe those spring-loaded claws in his bracer aren’t the only gimmick he’s swiped from Wolverine. Maybe he’s got on an invisible gorget. Maybe Solomon and his editing staff are just really untalented. Who knows?
Anyhow, the chase, if you can call it that, goes on a little while longer until Snails finds himself in an empty courtyard with no other exit. Well, except for a huge opening in the loose flagstone wall he should be able to climb down. As Damodar enters, Snails turns to make his last stand here, though from what we’ve seen so far he could easily just run past Damodar and leave the way they came in. However, if he did that, Snails couldn’t be the Can-O-Spinach-Character the Plot-O-Matic-3000â„¢ needs for Ridley to start kicking serious butt. (Whoops! Sorry to spoil it for you.)
Blue Lips gives Snails a pretty serious thumping over the next minute or two, until Ridley, with disheveled Marina to tow, arrives on the scene. In fact, Snails gets one of those improbable Roadhouse beatings that no one could take and live through, much less function after. Once again, the soundtrack is kind enough to throw in really loud and gruesome bone-breaking sounds, so when Snails’ arm is apparently broken, you can enjoy the sound of dry tinder being slowly snapped. Now, that’s entertainment!
When confronted by Ridley and Marina, a standoff occurs. Blue Lips demands the jewel. Ridley tries to stall. Snails, in the clutches of Blue Lips, quickly pulls the rolled-up map out of his belt and tosses the map to them. Hey, I’m sort of wondering where are the rest of Damodar’s men? Where are the Beholders? With all this hooting and hollering going on up here on the ramparts, they should be swarming all over the place. This really is a fantasy movie.
But then Marina heroically zaps Damodar with that rope spell we saw her so easily use earlier in the movie*. Damodar, pinned for just a moment, watches helplessly as Snails runs around him and the three skedaddle from the castle with the map and the Eye of the Dragon andâ€¦
Editor Ken: Not to make excuses for the film, but there is a game-based explanation for this. Magic users, especially low-grade ones, have to set spells in advance, like loading a one-shot pistol. Having used the spell earlier, it’s quite possible Marina didn’t have time or the proper magic components at hand to refresh it. I might be giving the film too much credit, but I’ll afford it a pass on this one. Of course, they could have cleared up the situation with a short dialog exchange.
OK, that’s what should have happened, but didn’t. What really happens is that while Marina stands by doing zip, we see that Snails last map-saving gesture has enraged Wolverine, who claws Snails down the back with his hand-razors before tossing him over the wall and into the wild blue yonder—which we now see is pretty high up, actually. Although, now that I have a better look at the wall—loose field stone set like bricks with gravelly mortar in between—it appears a lot easier to climb down than the smooth wall of the Magic School he and Ridley ascended earlier in the movie. Why didn’t Snails scurry over the side instead of turning to face Damodar?[Eva aside: That’s it for Snails. He’s deader than dead. I’m almost never happy to see a hero die in a movie; it’s just not in my nature. But I imagine a lot of D&Ders stood up and cheered at Snails’ passing—and I don’t mean to cast the gamers in a nasty light. This guy was one of the most odious sidekicks I’ve ever been forced to watch. Even better, Snails doesn’t come back. There’s no spring-loaded grave-in-the-box to toss him back into the realm of the quick. That—given Joel Silver’s involvement in this pic—is doubly surprising. Joel Silver’s heroes are known to pass back and forth through the Pearly Gates so often that God snaps at them about heating up the whole divine neighborhood.]
Ridley, reaching deep into his bag of thespian anguish, throws his head back and treats us to a hoary “Nooooooo!” shouted at the sky before charging Damodar. He, in turn, sneeringly deflects all of Ridley’s swings before taking Ridley’s sword and giving Ridley a Hero Wound in that patented Hero Wound sweet spot, the shoulder. Norda’s non-intervention policy is really looking pretty timorous right about now, eh?
As Damodar pulls the blade out to more cleanly finish Ridley, Marina (remember her?) is apparently finally activated by the Scriptmaster. She spots the magic powder Snails had somehow dropped when we weren’t looking and zaps Blue Lips with another lightning spell. Then she opens another wormhole with the same stuff instead of just zapping him some more*. She closes the wormhole behind her, as she drags the stunned Ridley through, so nobody can follow this time. (Sister, if you had done that earlier, you might have saved one life and one injury.)
Editor Ken: Not to be too intrusive, but unless a more knowledgeable person corrects me, this is another game no-no. Magic potions, powders, times, etc., generally have one purpose only. Marina’s powder should not be adaptable to whatever the hell the script wants. For the hard-core gamer, this kind of stuff had to add salt to the wounds caused by the film’s general poorness. And again, director/writer Solomon continuously describes himself as a hardcore game buff on the DVD’s aptly boring director’s commentary.
I will give a pass to Marina now closing the magic portal, however. Part of the game-play involves characters learning from their mistakes, so as to jump up another ‘level,’ as its called.
We now go briefly to the High Mage Imperial Superdy-Duperdy whatever-it-is Council. Remember them? Well, apparently they’ve voted against the Empress. She now has to hand over her Rod. She refuses, striking back with a hideous-looking costume that makes her look like a combination of Count Chocula and some kind of pastel Venus fly-trap. It’s so stupid looking they all die laughing. Well no, actually, she winds up verbally sparring with Profion on the Council floor.
Once again, we’re treated to a veritable deadfall of wooden dialogue, though the Empress is responsible for the bulk of the pulp. The Empress has all the inflection of a feminine Ben Stein and the presence of a cigar store Indian. We get stuff like “War benefits no one, and I oppose it” and “If it is war for the sake of freedom then no cost could be too great to achieve that goal.”* After she manages to totter off the set in her kooky costume without falling, Profion scornfully comments on her “wonderful performance,” something you won’t hear in connection with this movie too often.
Editor Ken: Err…
Cut back to our heroes, who have emerged from Stage Light Forest to the Land of the Elves. Apparently Norda brought them here. What a lame set this is! Whereas Lorien (the land of the elves) in Lord of the Rings really looked fascinating and wondrous, this setting manages to sort of look like the atrium of the Downtown Ramada in Tulsa with the overhead fluorescents turned down a bit and a couple of strings of Christmas lights sprung in the plastic trees. We find Ridley on a cot with all his knuckleheaded friends (sans Snails, happily) looking on concerned. An older, and rather grungy-looking elf lays his Healing Hands upon Ridley’s wound. His hand glows and Lo! Ridley is healed*.
Editor Ken: Apologizes to Eva, and I’ll lay off the interruptions after this. However, it should be noted that the Elf Elder is played, sadly, by former Dr. Who portrayer Tom Baker.
As Ridley groggily swims back to wakefulness, he and the elven elder exchange a whole lotta mumbo jumbo about how Ridley is really the Chosen One who must destroy the Rod. (Gee! He’s the Chosen One. Whoda thunk it? This movie embodies every conceivable swords-n-sandals clichÃ© under God’s heaven. And all in one easy-to-not-watch package!) Ridley says he had a dream, apparently one of a dragon being born.
Wise Old Elf explains that when dragons are born, they bring new magic with them, and that magic is the life force of the world and that magic sustains nature and balance and is just pretty gosh darn nifty stuff. Also included is some tripe about how, while humans use magic, the elves live Magic!â€¦or something. Real profound stuff. And it goes on and on. I’ll spare you the detailsâ€¦this time. There may not be any wise old American Indians or wizened gypsies or perceptive Asian kung-fu masters around to belt out the weighty proverbs and mystical fortune-telling, but elves are just about as good.
But if you thought that was lame dialogue, next comes a real teeth-grater of an over-the-top high school drama scene. Later that night, Marina comes out onto another lame sound staâ€¦erâ€¦twilit balcony anchored to the obligatory matte redwoods that support the elven dwellings. There she finds an anguished Ridley, gripping the rail, looking off with misty eyes, obviously mourning Snails.
This kicks off some classic Immortal Dialogue that is just too painful to listen to without a stiff drink. Marina apologizes about Snails demise. He snaps at her that she’s a mage and can’t possibly understand and that all mages are evil and that he’s done with “politics” and so forth. She protests that not all mages are evil and the Empress really cares and so on. Over all this, like a yucky BÃ©arnaise sauce over an old piece of meat, the mystery strings woefully wail Sad & Stirring Music. It’s all supposed to be really movingâ€¦but, as usual in these movies, my tears remained firmly in their ducts, refusing to be jerked. They reconcile and kiss.
Next morning, the party of four are seen mounting up and preparing to leave. Two goofy lookingâ€¦I guess they’re supposed to be sprites of some sortâ€¦give Ridley a magic sword to protect him on his big quest. (Whew! One clichÃ© almost got away from us there!) These (I’m just guessing here) ‘sprites’ then look at one another as the party rides off and one wonders aloud if Ridley “knows his true potential.” I’m catching a whiff of that “Chosen One” thing again. Actually, watching this, I feel like a Chosen One myself, not a hero but in more of a Job kinda way.
OK, the party is suddenly at the dungeon entrance that is supposed to lead them to the Rod of Savrille. No travel at all—they just arrive, like they went fifty yards or something. Wow, that was some quest!
They dismount and approach the entrance. Ridley walks through with no problem, but the rest are blocked by a scriptmonsterâ€¦uh, noâ€¦I mean an invisible “wall of force” that, according to Norda, apparently only allows the Chosen One through, (i.e. the human male. You didn’t think it was going to be the dwarf, did you? And it certainly ain’t gonna be a woman like Norda or Marina!) So, Ridley continues on in alone after Marina tells him to be careful. (Oh yeahâ€¦be carefulâ€¦I almost forgot. Thanks, love interest!) Aw, she really cares! We’ve come such a long way.
Inside, the cobwebs are thick and creepy and the place just generally looks like something out of Better Caves & Dungeons. Ridley reaches the (apparent) end of the cave without incident, but is puzzled that it doesn’t continue. Stumbling back, he manages to channel the great Scooby Doo by finding the hidden passage via stumbling against the wall. It’s a chute that slides him down to a lower level.
Getting to his feet, he sees a bas relief of a red dragon on the wall. So Conan then pulls out the Eye of the Dragon and places it in the eye socket of the dragon. The stone glows and the way opens for Ridley to enter into a large treasure room filled with more gold than Pizarro stole. Indy instinctively lunges down and begins to pocket some gold coins but then realizes that he’s here for a Higher Purpose and contains his greed, standing proud once again.
Ridley finds the Rod, still in the clutches of a skeleton suspended on some sort of rack. In a “scare” moment that scares no one, the skeleton becomes animate—or about as animate as you might see among Santa’s mechanical elves in a Christmas display at a second rate mall—and identifies itself as Savrille, the Rod’s creator. Crypty delivers a lot of mumbo-jumbo about curses, terrible powers, and so on.
Ridley takes the Rod anyway, then… well, I’m not sure what happens here. The weird look he gets on his face suggests that he’s being entranced by the Rod’s power. That, or the Philly Steak-n-Cheese with extra jalapenos he wolfed down for lunch is wrecking gastrointestinal vengeance. This look gives way to something that’s supposed to resemble horror, when he sees a mural of a bunch of red dragons torching a city. Now, what’s so horrifying about this? What do you think dragons do besides kill people and break things? The Loco-motion?
Alright! Now we get a whopper nonsequitor scene. We’re back to the capital city. A swarm of gold dragons summoned by the Empress assaults the Mages’ tower complex—a simply huge CGI ziggurat. For some inexplicable reason, Profion is in charge of their defenses. His first order: “Destroy them before they reach us.” I’m for that! What a leader!
The mages, about 15 in number (despite the Mage tower complex’s seemingly immense dimensions and the related expectation that thousands of mages should be on hand—word to Courtney Solomon: don’t let your CGI eyes get bigger than your budget-for-extras stomach next time!) all line up with Profion and cast spells at the incoming gold dragons. The dragons easily move out of the way. Whiff.
What kind of pathetic mages are these? Mickey Mouse and his bucket-carrying brooms could pound these guys! The dragons counter, not quite with flaming breath, but rather with some burning matter like Greek fire that aerodynamically flies straight ahead, and has impressive range, to boot. More like missiles than flamethrowers. It becomes quickly apparent why Profion is in charge—nobody else appears capable of taking action without his input. The wizards don’t fight back, the soldiers don’t fight back. Everybody just stands around and waits for him to come along and chew them out. At one point, he orders the guards at the “crossbows” (actually ballistas, which are VW bug-sized crossbows on turret mounts) to aim for the dragons’ wings.
What impressed me most was the idea that these weapons could be effectively aimed at all, what with the dragons flying so fast and erratically. When one dragon is speared, then falls onto one of the city’s many decorative spires, the skies turn red and lightning starts up. Generally, through, the dragons seem impervious to Profion’s side. Profion’s tower should be smashed straight away, but the dragons—for reasons never explained—seem to be just flying around instead of pressing the attack to its logical conclusion—a quick demise of Profion.
Briefly, we cut to Empress Savina for a short bit, apparently regretting her actions. She calls back the gold dragons briefly. She laughably now sports a gold mesh coif and armor that looks like gold coins sewn together.
OK, back to the others. Ridley returns from the cave to see that Damodar and a squad of soldiers have the rest of the group in their clutches. Naturally, Damodar himself is holding Marina—who once again fails to use any of that old black Magic! He demands the Rod or he will see that Ridley’s friends die painfully. Ridley steels his nerve (an emotion he gets across by looking like he’s sucking on a lemon) and offers a counter-proposal, telling Blue Lips to let his friends goâ€¦
Patrick DVD Alert: â€¦or he’ll bring a flight of dragons down to roast them all, knowing that his friends are likely to die anyway if they remain in the clutches of obviously untrustworthy villains. Well no, he doesn’t actually say that, but I do look forward to the day a hero has the balls to do it. Geez! Just once!
Hey, that wasn’t a DVD alert!
Sorry. I just couldn’t hold back anymore.
Instead, Ridley does what all stupid heroes before him have done—he gives up the Rod, trusting the bad guy who’s murdered his best friend, chased him all over creation, and is in the thrall of the chief villain, to keep his word. And really, how much can you trust a bad guy who, after doing all of the above, sneeringly says “I give you my word.” When called to keep his end of the bargain, Damodar, channeling the great Jabootu himself, scoffs and snarls menacinglyâ€¦wait for itâ€¦”I lied.”
Damodar takes the Rod and walks stiffly away, trusting to his soldiers to kill the captives. Really, when has that ever worked? Somebody show this boy Peter’s Evil Overlord List. And it sure doesn’t help that we’re talking about soldiers that have shown themselves to be as competent as Chief Wiggum from The Simpsons. Anyway, taking this as a cue, Norda and Elwood immediately—and yes, I do mean immediately—overpower their captors, and also bail out Marina before she gets diced up. (You know, that magic lightning of hers would be pretty handy right now.)
In fact, they escape with such ease it just makes you wonder how Blue Lips and the Crimson-faced Brigade captured them in the first place. Strangely, Ridley doesn’t go to her, but tries to get to Damodar, chopping up soldiers along the way with his new blue-sparking sword. Damodar opens a portal (how he does so remains a mystery), doesn’t close it behind him, and is thus followed by Ridley.
Damodar appears in the Mages’ tower and hands the Rod over to Profion, demanding to have the eels removed from his head as per their agreement. Surprisingly, Profion actually does so, and doesn’t kill Damodar. Meanwhile, nobody around them is doing anything, as usual. They head to the roof. Ridley appears in the scene moments after and sets off in pursuit.
We get a couple more quick shots of the Empress, this time actually riding one of the gold dragons into battle in a massive, ornate saddle! What makes her think this would ever be a good idea?! The way the dragons are whizzing around and changing direction, she’d get thrown pronto—particularly being unbalanced with the armor and the Gold Dragon Rod and all.
Ridley catches up to Damodar and Profion as the wizard uses the Rod to summon the red dragons to fight the Empress’ gold dragons. Ridley challenges Damodar, who immediately wields a suitably wicked-looking blade big enough to slice the ham we’ve been fed throughout the whole movie. They face off, with Damodar’s sword flashing red when they connect. Hmm, a hero with a blue sword, a black-armored villain with a red sword and who serves an evil overlord… Where do they get these ideas?
Actually, I had to watch this last 10 minutes a couple of times. It’s a confused jumble. Really, what is going on here!? Does anyone have any idea? I can’t tell the dragons apart. I don’t know why they’re fighting. I can’t even explain what or why the characters are ignoring the dragons and trying to skewer each other. So many things are wrong with this. The background CGI—so obvious in its cartoony glory—simply overwhelms the motion of the live-action characters.
Well, the fight goes on, giving Ridley a turn to deliver some overwrought, snarling taunts of his own, comically thrusting his lower jaw out as he does so in an attempt to look suitably angry—but mostly looking like a petulant teenager being refused a new SUV for his 16th birthday. Meanwhile we get some rather interesting looks at the dragon battle going on overhead, looking like some sort of… I don’t knowâ€¦dogfight… while the hero and a villainous warrior battle with glowing swords…
Thankfully, we don’t have far to go. The two keep clashing swords until Ridley is disarmed. (No, he doesn’t get his hand cut off… whatever would make you think that?) Instead, he does some more Jackie Chan acrobatics and gets behind Darth Damodar, putting a knife in his back*. Remember, this is the same guy who wears armor that has stopped a full sword stroke earlier, and who has neck muscles tough enough to deflect a knife. But since this is the hero’s victory, who cares, right?
Editor Ken: Sorry, one last note. Thieves gets bonus points for back attacks. This is Solomon’s lame and almost sole attempt to give a nod to the character’s ‘class,’ or occupation. It’s too late for that, of course, while to ‘norm’ audience members it probably just made Ridley look cowardly. Of course, the Empress mounting a preemptive strike on the Mages is utterly out of character as well. On the other hand, she is in sum a pacifist Empress fighting for the equality of all men, a veritable Gordian knot of contradicting character traits.
Ridley then heaves Damodar over the rail and off the tower, which sort of reminds me of the ending from, oh, I don’t know… Although, I suppose it could be a mirror of Snails’ death as well, but I have a hard time crediting this movie with even that much artistic sophistication. More likely somebody figured that since they’re on a tower, it was mandatory that Damodar be thrown off it. And yes, Damodar screams the whole way down, thanks for asking.
Now it’s Profion’s turn. He whips up some kind of magic staff to easily deflect Ridley’s attacks and deliver a beating in return. Profion pulls out all the pathetic stops for this scene as he taunts some more, with a whole new accent, this one very hissing and sibilant. Once Ridley gets disarmed yet again, (this guy loses his sword more than I lose my car keys), Profion gets jumped by Marina, Elwood, and Norda in turn. I guess we’re not supposed to think how they got here since only Ridley followed Blue Lips through the wormhole before it closed and Marina couldn’t summon up a drunk at a frat party.
Anyhow, borrowing a tactic from the Crimson Brigade, they all come one at a time, for no better reason than for Profion to smack them aside in various amusing fashions. Although, Marina does knock the Rod out of Profion’s hand with her staff (remember magic!, Marina, the zappy stuff you’ve been studying?).
This mild distraction aside, Profion turns to see that Ridley now has the Rod. Ridley threatens to use it, which Profion doubts, and so do I—it would be like a chimpanzee trying to fix a transmission—but Ridley gets that weird rapturous look on his face, and as his hair blows in just the right direction, the red dragons begin slacking off on their attack. Then, in a repeat of the scene with the skeleton puppet, he resists the lure of the Dark Side of the Force (why pretend otherwise anymore?) and tells Profion “I won’t become you.” Profion laughs, and wouldn’t you, at this dialogue?
Ridley throws down the Rod and destroys it with his sword, (pretty wimpy wand, eh?) This sends Profion into an apoplectic fit. You know, his usual routine. Empress Savina magically appears behind him (movie magic I mean, not the fantasy stuff), and after some more yammering, Profion throws some weird specter at her. Strangely, Ridley doesn’t take this opportunity to run Profion through while his back is turned. The reason being so that Savina can call in a gold dragon to eat Profion, rendering a more fitting end. I guess. If this sounds dull and anticlimactic, well… it was. We get one last shot of the city, which isn’t sporting much damage.
Well, now we come to a graveyard. A fitting place for this movie to end I think. Our heroes are assembled at a crude cairn with “Courtney Solomon’s Career” etched onto the top stone. Actually, the grave says “Snails.” (Was that the name his parents baptized him with? Somehow I doubt it. I’d like something more than “Pip” carved on my headstone, thank you.) Anyway, in the background, we overhear the Empress’ proclamation of (**yawn**) equality and freedom. Talking to his dead friend allows Ridley to deliver a woeful epilogue, and then leave the Eye of the Dragon—that fist-sized red jewel undoubtedly worth a bundle—on the cairn! Anybody just strolling along could pluck it up for themselves, but I guess with Profion gone, the world will a perfectly wonderful place and bad things will never happen again.
OK, this last bit will sound like I’m just making it up but this is how it really goes downâ€¦just as Ridley makes to leave, the skies darken and the wind picks up. Snails’ name erases itself off the stone with a cheap-looking sparkle effect and the jewel begins glowing. When Ridley picks it up again, Norda steps in and delivers another one of her patented solemnly-spoken yet idiotic platitudes: “Do not question your gift. Your friend awaits you.” What, in the grave? He can wait a little longer, if you ask me! But then they all put their hands on the jewel, get enveloped in some sparkly swirly stuff, and then fly away in little streaks of glittering light.
Lights! Camera!! Zzzzzzzzz!!!
This movie is both pitiful and puzzling. What’s amazing is that this world has absolutely no depth. The different cities and lands have no past or present. They have no flavor at all. The characters are so flat they’d disappear if they turned sideways. The magic thingies are sparkly wands with no other purpose. And still they managed to hack the plot up enough to make it both boring and indecipherable.
This is no mean feat. How hard would it have been to make the two types of dragons look a little more different from one another? So that like, you know, people could tell them apart? How about giving the dragons some depth? What are their motivations? Why do they want to destroy everything? How about those magic rods? Outside of looking ridiculous, they look almost alike. Who made them? Why?
At the beginning of the movie we’re told the “commoners” are little more than slaves. Was this tension ever explored? And providing a matte painting of a mystical realmâ€¦and then cutting to a cheesy soundstage or a chintzy-looking outdoor set piece simply doesn’t cut it. It’s the worst of both worlds: a paint-by-numbers plot that isn’t explained well and boring to boot.
What make this movie even more atrocious are the inevitable comparisons to Lord of the Rings. Contrast the elves here with the elves in Lord of the Rings. The elves in Jackson’s movie are actual characters with a cultural past (or at least as much as Jackson could slip into the dialogue and/or visuals and keep it under three hours). The elf here has pointy ears and that’s about it. I thought the dwarf Gimli in Lord of the Rings was played and scripted badly, but the “dwarf” here is far, far worse—simply being a stupid-looking guy with a shaved head and an obviously fake red beard who roars and bellows at irregular intervals. It’s just terrible writing.
Heightening my puzzlement is the obvious efforts that went into putting this together. Elaborate CGI effects, one established actor, lots of extras, fancy sets, a game with lots of fans as the audienceâ€¦and a lousy story. How does this happen? I know there are reams of fan literature out there concerning fantasy and sci-fi. Does it all suck like this? I’m sure it doesn’t. What gives?
Most puzzling of all? I’ll leave you with this. Courtney Solomon has expressed a strong desire to do a sequel. Indeed, many of the plot holes left in the script appear to have been left deliberately so that they might be fleshed out in the future. Do Silver, Solomon, and Co. really think they could leave gaping flaws in the story and that the audience would be willing to wait for a sequel?
He probably can learn something from John Travolta and Battlefield Earth.
A wide-eyed Empress Savina, consulting with Vildan, about her dreams for the future of humanity (for best effect, while reading this, imagine weepy strings swelling in the background):
The Empress: “The changes I propose are for the good of the people. All people deserve to be free and equal, whether commoner or mage. I know this within the depths of my very soul. And if necessary, I would die to make that the way Ismer was run.”
Marina finds Ridley and Snails rooting through the old magic lab. She lassos them with some kind ofâ€¦well, lasso spell, I guess. They sound mad at one anotherâ€¦
Ridley: “I bet this is the only way to get guys to go home with her!”
Marina: “I would have to cast a feeblemind spell on myself to want to take you (cue eye-bulge) home!”
â€¦but eventually, of course, she comes around. Marina comes out onto the Elven patio to try and console a grieving Ridley:
Marina: “I’m sorry about Snails.”
Ridley (smarmily): “I’m sure you are.”
Marina: “Ridley, he died for a good cause.”
Ridley (angrily): “A good cause. And what’s that? The Empress against Profion? Politics. I’m through with all that. I’m not going to die over a power struggle between a couple of greedy mages.”
Marina (hurt): “No, you’re wrong.”
Ridley (raging): “No! You’re wrong, mage! You never had to live on the other side. Snails was right, there’s nothing we can do to change it and if I had listened to him, he’d still be alive.”
Eva (bored): “Hey, when’s this movie going to end already?”
Marina: “Just because some mages are evil doesn’t mean they all are. I’m not. I’m not! Let me let you in on a little secret. The Empress that Snails died for stands to lose everything because she wants to change things.”
Ridley: “As if she has anything to worry about.”
Marina (cue the histrionics): “You are so naÃ¯ve. She risks everything because she does not think the system is fair. Profion seeks to dethrone her because she believes mages and commoners should be treated as equals! She’s fighting to change what you hate so much! (**sob**) And that, Ridley, is what Snails died for.”
Then they end up in each other’s arms. I guess that solves that! Time for kisses!
The Critics Rave!
“This tacky-looking, incoherent, badly acted and hopelessly directed disaster is easily the dullest adventure film of 2000” â€“Lou Lumenick, New York Post
“The Wayans role is a total cringe—a cowardly and stupid nonstop talker who is easily manipulated by and wholly devoted to his mentally superior white buddy. This is a black character straight out of Hollywood’s 1938 playbook.” â€“Mick LaSalle, San Francisco Chronicle
“All the dungeon masters, warriors and illusionists out there who have devoted countless late-night hours to D&D have a right to feel disrespected, if not insulted.” â€“Andrew O’Hehir, Salon.com
“Easily one of the year’s worst films, and there’s a very good chance it could run away with multiple Razzie Award nominations for its excessive crapulence.” â€“Jon Popick, Planet Sick-Boy
Dungeons and Dragons, a Brief Introduction by Patrick Coyle
Dungeons & Dragons. Just say those words aloud in any conversation, and you’re likely to get some very interesting reactions, few of which will have anything to do with this movie. For anybody who isn’t already familiar, D&D is what’s known as a role-playing game; it’s almost single-handedly responsible for launching the genre and has remained prominent ever since. Role-playing, in the context of such games, is essentially interactive improvised storytelling. The players each take control of a single protagonist of their making, and the referee decides how their imaginary world, including all its other characters, will react to the player’s actions. Dice rolls are used to represent the success or failure of complex or challenging actions, where the character’s ability to perform them may be called into question, and what constitutes victory is decided by the motivations of the characters, rather than by some set goal.
The imaginary worlds in which the characters adventure are usually Tolkienesque, with elves and dwarves and wizards and warriors, and a good deal of classical European mythology and folklore thrown into the mix. Alternate settings exist, including Asian, Arabian, and South American lands, and more fantastic stuff like cities full of inter-dimensional portals or desert worlds ruled by psychics. Not to mention all the things the players and referee are free to invent for themselves. In short, D&D is really just a grown-up version of make-believe, with limits and some random chance imposed in order to provide challenge and surprise for the players.
The Readers Respond!
Concerning Wizards of the Coast’sÃ¤ (WotC) involvement in Dungeons & Dragons, the Movie:
“I just wanted to note that WotC would have stopped it if they could. Or so I have been told by people who worked for WotC at the time. The movie rights were sold long before WotC bought TSR (the outfit which owned D&D before WotC). They offered to buy the rights back for a fair price, but Solomon refused. Whether they’d say this in public forums, for various legal reasons, is another matter. I think the near-total lack of support, other than a couple of pages in Dragon (the official D&D magazine), is pretty good evidence of how little they cared for it.
The movie is a good example of “Be careful what you wish for.” Many gamers and sci-fi fans, waiting years for the D&D movie, wanted it to be made by a ‘real fan’ and not by ‘the suits’. Well, they got what they wanted. Courtney Solomon made the film as a labor of love, driven by nothing but his desire to make a D&D movie. As with Ed Wood, he did not let a total lack of talent stand in the way of his dreams.”
Concerning Sugar N’ Spice preview mentioned in the “Eva Rates the Previews” section:
“Terrifying and incomprehensible as it may seem, Sugar N’ Spice actually had a theatrical run.”
-Gavin R.R. Smith
“[Yes] this is true. At the time I was working at a local movie theater and they had a poster for the movie on the walls, plus when I saw Miss Congeniality they had a preview for the movie as well.
Concerning the advertisement for Baldur’s Gate mentioned in the “Eva Rates the Previews” section:
“I was quite amused to hear that there was an ad for Baldur’s Gate on the DVD. By the time the D&D movie was released, Baldur’s Gate was three years old and had spawned a sequel that abandoned the online-play component of the original that probably gave rise to the “it’s a way of life” tagline. Ironically, all three Baldur’s Gate games have better plots then the D&D movie…
What’s curious, though, is the distinct lack of standard previews on the tape… Is it possible for a movie to be so bad, the studio removed their ads from it?”
Concerning the faithlessness of the movie to the game:
“The movies’ lack of magic, or other impressive fantasy elements, is also highly amusing. I especially like when Ridley confronts Profion armed with a magic sword, having just defeated a (presumably) extremely powerful warriorâ€¦and is immediately incapacitated by a couple of whacks from Profion’s staff. No magic involved—Profion is just really, really good at Staff Whacking (I guess he has a +5 bonus in it, or something.)”
“A few things, solely from the view of a role-player/fan;
Marina really couldn’t use magic to heal. In the same direction of each “class,” such as mage or thief, each role has certain skills. Fighters, well, they fight. Mages cast magical spells, but it’s the Clerics who heal. Even new/young Clerics can heal, Mages (Magic-Users) can do other things, like cast fireballs and lightning bolts — more, too, but healing isn’t one of their abilities.
The dragons. This threw me solely from a D&D viewpoint. Gold dragons are good guys, and phenomenally powerful as well, among the mightiest of dragonkind. Why the Empress would give up her artifact (I will NOT make rod jokes, too early in the day yet) for one that controls Red Dragons, the paragons of EVIL dragonkind, is beyond me. Although both DO breathe fire, so the movie got that right.
Ridley. I don’t know WHY the movie insisted on making him a Thief, except for the (very) tenuous link to Conan, who was a thief, but not in the D&D sense (that’s my take, anyway, the only one I could come up with to justify making Ridley a Thief). It would have made far more sense to make him a Fighter, so he could wield the sword effectively — the magic still wouldn’t have made any sense, though.
Man, the wasted potential with the Beholders was missed. Given that they are also very powerful monsters (and would have mopped the floor with Ridley and the others), I can’t understand why they even put them in the movie — maybe so D&D geeks like me would go “oooh! Look, Beholders!” Meh. Maybe they were Gas Spores, creatures that look like Beholders, but are really just giant balloons filled with deadly spores that kill whomever bursts the creature. All talk, no show.”
“Oh man, I gotta comment on the backstab thing. Ken was absolutely right in his editorial note: D&D thieves are capable of devastating attacks called “backstabs”, and this indeed must be what the idiot, er, director was doing in having Justin jump over Damodar and stab him from behind, although it was done so badly that even I had no idea that this was the intension of the stab… But, man, it is just SO wrong…
Backstabs are so devastating because the thief class is linked logically with assassins, and the thief (usually invisible or “hiding in the shadows”) uses extra care, knowledge of anatomy, AND THE FACT THAT THE OPPONENT IS NOT DEFENDING to launch a hideously damaging blow. This last bit is particularly important, as any halfway decent fighter can dodge, block with a shield, etc… Here, however, Damodar just watched Justin jump over his head. Do ya’ think he MIGHT just be paying attention and trying to block? ((sigh))”
(Eva aside) There was much much more on this front in my mailbox after I stirred the soup a little on Usenet. This is but a representative sample from the regulars here. For a review detailing all the game-to-movie problems, I was recommended:
On gamers in general:
“The people who go into hysterics about how this movie varied from the game, when in fact the movie sucked in every possible way from beginning to end, game or no, should go hereâ€¦
â€¦and then get a grip!”
Concerning the Appearance of Richard O’Brien as Xilus:
“I’m British. About fifteen years ago there was a very good and very popular British game show called The Crystal Maze. Every week six participants would work together through a series of challenges and puzzles to get a prize at the end. It was very enjoyable to watch. Well, when Ridley’s going through the maze I was reminded of it, not least because the presenter of The Crystal Maze…
… was Richard O’Brien.
This means that almost anyone in Britain who watched D&D: the Movie would be reminded of a game show and think how much better the game show is. Ken Begg has often told us that bad films should not remind us of good films; I think we in Britain have just hit a first. Your film is in trouble if it compares unfavourably (sic :-) to a game show.”
Concerning the Acting of Thora Birch as Empress Savina:
“I wanted to mention something you didn’t go too terribly in-depth on—and that is Empress Savina. She’s played by Thora Birch of American Beauty and Ghost World fame. What’s astounding about this is Ms. Birch was a child actor who grew into much more serious, adult roles and did it quite well. She’s a very talented actress, very capable of becoming a character, as she did in Ghost World. So when I heard about her performance in this movie I couldn’t believe it—and then I saw it. It was like she was replaced by pod person that hadn’t yet been taught to mimic human emotions. It was
I think this can relate back to your wondering over whether Jeremy Irons’ performance had to do with his choices or the director’s. It can’t exactly answer your query, but it does demonstrate that Courtney Solomon is a simply awful director. If you can’t coax even a DECENT performance out of Thora Birch, you should probably stick with music videos.”
-Gavin R.R. Smith
Concerning the Acting of Marlon Waylans as Snails:
“I’d say Snails is the most annoying sidekick I have ever seen in a movie.”
“I thought he was going to call Marina a “homewrecker” after Ridley agreed to go on the quest.”
On our Most Gracious Host’s claim he only played a “few games of D&D back in high school”:
“Sure, Kenny, sure. I bet you know exactly where your d20s are kept, you have a “lucky” one, and every six months you pull out your copy of the Monster Manual and abuse yourself while looking at the picture of the succubus. Don’t pull this “lost interest” bullcrap. I’m a general in this here nerd army and you’re just a buck private. I can smell the lies from a mile away. This guy can quote rules about magic item interaction and I’m supposed to believe he only played twice when he was fifteen? Please.”
Editor Ken: Actually, I got the magic stuff wrong (confusing clerical spells with those of magic users). Besides, I think my credentials here are pretty much beyond reproach. Look at this site! At this point, the idea that I’m attempting to sweep embarrassing nerd stuff under the carpet is, frankly, risible.
On Profion’s hangout in the movie:
“I heard parts of Profion’s lair were supposed to have been filmed in the wonderful Sedlec Ossuary.”