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WARNER

MOVIE INFO

Director:
Courtney Solomon
Cast:
Jeremy Irons, Thora Birch, Marlon Wayans, Justin Whalin, Zoe McLellan, Kristen Wilson, Lee Arenberg, Bruce Payne, Tom Baker
Writing Credits:
Topper Lilien, Carroll Cartwright, E. Gary Gygax (game)

Tagline:
The Ultimate Battle Between Good and Evil.

Synopsis:
In a world where the forces of evil have magical powers and peasants are powerless, only a rag-tag group of young adventurers can save the day. Profion (Academy Awardģ-winner Jeremy Irons) is the diabolical mage who plots to take over the kingdom of Izmer. The Empress Savina (Thora Birch) fights to return peaceful times to her subjects. Now, the hopes of Izmer rest with Snails (Marlon Wayans), Ridley (Justin Whalin) and the fighters brave enough to help them battle the dark forces of Profion. Dazzling special effects and spellbinding performances conjure up a supernatural film that brings the adventure home to you.

Box Office:
Budget
$35 million.
Opening Weekend
$7.237 million on 2078 screens.
Domestic Gross
$15.185 million.

MPAA:
Rated PG-13

DVD DETAILS
Presentation:
Aspect Ratio: 1.85:1
Audio:
English DTS-HD MA 5.1
French Dolby Digital 5.1
Subtitles:
English
Spanish
French
Closed-captioned
Supplements Subtitles:
English

Runtime: 107 min.
Price: $19.98
Release Date: 2/15/2011

Available Only as Part of a Two-Pack with Dungeons & Dragons: Wrath of the Dragon God

Bonus:
• Audio Commentary with Director Courtney Solomon, Dungeons & Dragons Co-Creator Dave Arneson and Actor Justin Whalin
• Audio Commentary with Director Courtney Solomon, Dungeons & Dragons Co-Creator Dave Arneson and Cinematographer Doug Milsome
• ďLet the Games Begin Ė A Profile and History of Adventure GamingĒ Featurette
• ďThe Making of Dungeons & DragonsĒ Featurette
• Special Effects Deconstruction
• Deleted Scenes
• Trailer


PURCHASE @ AMAZON.COM

EQUIPMENT
Panasonic 50" TH-50PZ77U 1080p Plasma Monitor; Sony STR-DG1200 7.1 Channel Receiver; Panasonic DMP-BD60K Blu-Ray Player using HDMI outputs; Michael Green Revolution Cinema 6i Speakers (all five); Kenwood 1050SW 150-watt Subwoofer.

RELATED REVIEWS


Dungeons & Dragons: 2-Movie Collection [Blu-Ray] (2000)

Reviewed by Colin Jacobson (February 9, 2011)

Long-time readers probably wonít need this confirmation, but Iíll admit it anyway: Iím a geek. I never got heavily into ďDungeons and DragonsĒ as a kid, but that happened mainly because my friends didnít care for the game.

With no fellow travelers, I couldnít get terribly involved in the cult, but the arrival of out first Apple III computer in the spring of 1982 broadened my horizons. No licensed ďD&DĒ computer games existed back then, but there were some fine knock-offs. The best was ďWizardryĒ, a wonderful dungeon romp that filled an absurd number of my hours during the summer of 1982; almost 30 years later, ďWizardryĒ remains possibly my favorite game experience.

Although I may have an affinity for that kind of fantasy role-playing game, other forms of entertainment that featured ďsword and sorceryĒ themes rarely entertained me Ė at least until Lord of the Rings came along, that is. I liked some of these kinds of films to a moderate degree - 1996ís Dragonheart was pretty decent - but for the most part, they left me cold. Even the most respected flicks in the genre such as Excalibur and weaker entries like Krull failed to arise much interest in me.

Nonetheless, I was curious to take a look at 2000ís Dungeons and Dragons. This was the first film to boast the official ďD&DĒ license, and with Jeremy Irons in tow, it seemed like it might be a fun experience.

Or maybe not. While I disagree with some of the absolutely scathing reviews that have attacked the film, I canít go too far to defend it either. D&D musters a few entertaining moments, but as a whole, it falls flat.

The story is standard fare. A commoner - thief Ridley Freeborn (Justin Whalin) - and his moronic friend Snails (Marlon Wayans) get unwittingly involved in a quest to save the empire of Izmer from the nasty efforts of an evil mage named Profion (Irons). Thereís a teen empress stuck in the middle as well; Savina (Thora Birch) wants to create a society in which all citizens are treated as equals, which isnít currently the case in mage-dominated Izmer.

Both Savina and Profion have little to do in the tale, really, except wait for the results of the romp that features Ridley, Snails, apprentice mage Marina Pretensa (Zoe McLellan), dwarf Elwood Gutworthy (Lee Arenberg) and scout elf Norda (Kristen Wilson). Theyíre out to find the magical Rod of Sevrille, a device that will control red dragons, before Profionís minions can get it. Along the way, Profionís stooge Damodar (Bruce Payne) causes the party all sorts of trouble with his nasty ways.

On the surface, the plot may seem mildly complicated, but itís really quite simple. At its core, this is just a big-screen rendition of a traditional ďD&DĒ romp. We pick up a party along the way and see how they deal with the myriad of challenges thrown at them. Granted, Ridley is the focal point of this group, and the others largely seem to be along for the ride with little to do other than add color, but itís still not conceptually different than the kind of quest one might find in a game of ďD&DĒ.

However, a ďD&DĒ contest likely would offer greater depth and originality than this fairly bland action fantasy. At best, the acting could be competent. As our main heroes, Whalin and McLellan provide attractive presences, and I donít think either does anything to harm their roles. That said, neither actor offers a great deal of spark or charm to their parts; they look cute and manage to work through their lines acceptably well, but thatís about it.

Surprisingly, the bigger names in the film are the worst participants. Wayans seems to be in a different movie altogether. Perhaps this was due to the fact he did D&D in the middle of his time on Requiem for a Dream, but I always feel like his portrayal of Snails seems out of place, and his look makes it seem as though he thought this was Orcz In Da Hood. Actually, the goofy tones he gives to Snails would have seemed more at home in Scary Movie where he played an equally dippy character. I donít dislike Wayans as a performer, but he feels disconnected with this project.

Similar comments apply to Thora Birchís work as Empress Savina. During an audio commentary, the director states that he didnít steal this character from Queen Amidala in Phantom Menace, and I believe him. However, the similarities are striking, as are the flat performances by the teen women who played the roles.

Actually, Birchís bland and lifeless work here makes Natalie Portmanís turn in Menace look like Oscar material. Iím not sure Birch knew that she was involved in the production; she seems so subdued that I think they may have drugged her and used her against her conscious will. Perhaps she thought this was the sequel to American Beauty and she fired up some of the joints her boyfriend in that film smoked. All I know is that her work is painfully stilted and flat.

On the other hand, we have Jeremy Irons. Itís hard to believe that this guy took home the Oscar for his work in Reversal of Fortune 20 years ago. Perhaps Irons still has all of the skills he possessed then, but none of them are on display during D&D. He goes a route totally opposite of that taken by Birch as he overacts relentlessly.

In fact, I think this was the ďbiggestĒ performance Iíve ever seen; itís certainly the broadest portrayal I can recall from a major actor. Irons is so over the top that itís astonishing. Sure, this sort of role needs a larger than life presence, but there are limits to that, and Irons consistently crosses those.

Granted, his scenery-chewing can become amusing at times, but thatís unintentional, and the performance feels way past the boundaries of necessary behavior; Irons goes so far that he makes it clear he feels the material is beneath him. If youíre going to do this sort of film, you canít look down your nose at it; Ironsí approach may have attempted to distance himself from the absurdity of the project, but it ultimately only presents him in a negative light.

The story is serviceable, but the visual effects tend to be a negative. Some of that stems simply from the movieís vintage and budget. Computer effects were still pretty new in 2000, and the flick didnít have enough money at its disposal to invest in top-notch effects.

Excuses donít make the CG elements here look any less awful, though. In particular, various creatures such as dragons seem relentlessly plastic and fake. I try to view movies through the prism of their eras and not penalize a flick that looks like a product of its time, but in this case, I canít help but feel the effects are a consistent weakness. Even in 2000, they were iffy, and theyíve definitely not aged well.

Bizarrely, one other facet of D&D makes up both a strength and a weakness for the film. As I watched the movie, it appeared patently obvious that the filmmakers really liked both the Star Wars and Indiana Jones flicks. Not only does D&D share a tone akin to those offerings, but also a number of its scenes blatantly steal from them. One closely patterns itself from the cantina sequence in Star Wars, and another obviously takes from the opening to Raiders of the Lost Ark - which it follows with a nod to Temple of Doom. Thereís a fine line between homage and theft, and D&D frequently crosses it.

So how come I feel this aspect of the movie also constitutes a strength? Because although those elements are very derivative, they offer the most fun sequences found in D&D. When Ridley goes through a tricky maze to find a prize, it may steal from Raiders, but itís still reasonably exciting in its own right. With dogfighting dragons and a sword duel, the filmís climax clearly ďborrowsĒ from Star Wars, but it still works pretty well.

During those and a few other occasions, Iím able to forgive the many flaws found during Dungeons and Dragons. Actually, I may not be able to truly forgive them, but I find them to be much less problematic than I probably should.

D&D has gotten a terrible rap since it hit screens in 2000, but I think the negativity isnít totally deserved. Make no mistake: this is an often weak film that does nothing to expand the genre. However, it provides some moments of fun and excitement, so the flick isnít a total loss. Itís not something Iíd want to watch again, but Iíve seen many less enjoyable films.


The Blu-ray Grades: Picture C-/ Audio A-/ Bonus B+

Dungeons and Dragons appears in an aspect ratio of approximately 1.85:1 on this Blu-ray Disc. This was a surprisingly ugly presentation.

The biggest concerns came from the grainy look of the film. The copious use of smoke effects led to a lot of this, but I still thought the Blu-ray resolved those elements in a poor manner. This left the movie with a dense, grainy appearance that affected all other aspects of the visuals, especially sharpness; some of the murkier scenes became so soft that they looked like they came from eighth generation dupes. The graininess also meant that colors could be murky and messy, and shadows were dense.

Even without the grain, the image rarely prospered. Fine detail was an issue; parts of the movie offered decent sharpness, but they never became especially well-defined or concise. Though the movie boasted a vibrant palette, the colors usually seemed okay at best, and they could be somewhat messy; look at the muddy red lighting when Ridley gets to the middle of the maze, for instance. Most of the colors were fine, but they lacked much vivacity.

Blacks were about the same. Those tones appeared decent to good, but they didnít present great depth. Shadows were usually acceptable but also not especially smooth or concise. At least source flaws were absent, and I saw no artifacts related to the digital process. Maybe the Blu-ray accurately reproduced the original film, but I would find that hard to imagine; it just looked too messy for this to be an accurate representation of a fairly recent movie from a big studio.

The presentation rebounded with the excellent DTS-HD MA 5.1 soundtrack of Dungeons & Dragons. I thought the soundfield started a little slowly, but once it caught fire, it became an active and engaging presence. The front spectrum displayed great activity throughout the film. Even during more subdued sequences, the forward channels offered a nice blend of ambient sounds that seemed well-located and convincing.

The action scenes, all of which appeared broad and encompassing, nicely complemented these aspects. All five speakers received a fine workout throughout much of the film, as the surrounds added a solid layer of reinforcement to the mix.

The rears also contributed quite a lot of unique information when necessary. The various fight scenes worked quite well, but two sequences stood out in my mind. First, when Ridley romps through the maze, the sounds of swinging blades and jets of flame nicely filled the room; these became tremendously active segments. Even better was the entire climactic battle during which dragons flew about the screen. They also flitted about the room, as the mix put the flap of wings all around the soundfield. It was a fine effect that brought life to the film.

Audio quality seemed to be positive. Dialogue sounded natural and distinct, with no signs of edginess or problems related to intelligibility. Music appeared clear and bright, and the score displayed good dynamic range. The music didnít really stand out during the movie, but it seemed quite well-reproduced with no apparent concerns. Effects also were clean and accurate, and they showed nicely qualities. I heard no distortion and usually found solid bass response.

At times I felt the low end could have been stronger - the dragon footsteps heard at the filmís start should have provided greater oomph - but as a whole, the track offered nice depth. Ultimately, I thought that D&D featured a very strong soundtrack that nicely complemented the movie.

How did the picture and sound of this Blu-Ray compare with those of the original DVD? Unfortunately, I was unable to directly compare the two, but I canít imagine that the Blu-ray does much to outdo the DVD, especially in terms of visuals. I suspect the Blu-ray looks better than the DVD, but given its many weaknesses, it seems unlikely that itís a great improvement. Thereís just too much messiness and too little detail in this Blu-ray for it to be a big step up in quality.

Most of the DVDís extras repeat here. We start with two separate audio commentaries, the first of which comes from director Courtney Solomon, actor Justin Whalin, and D&D co-creator Dave Arneson. Solomon and Whalin were recorded together for their screen-specific remarks, while statements from Arneson have been edited in along the way. Arneson occasionally drops a tidbit about the structure of the game, and he provides a few comments about what he saw during a visit to the set, but for the vast majority of this track, itís Solomon and Whalinís baby.

And thatís surprisingly fine with me. When I first started the commentary, I feared that it would be a tough listen. The two men seemed excessively loose, and I thought the entire track would offer little more than their giggling inanities.

However, the piece actually offers a lot of solid information, and though Solomonís laugh - a hissing ďsss-sss-sss-sssĒ affair - could get on my nerves, the chemistry between the two meant that the track featured few dull moments. We hear about a nice variety of subjects, from changes made to the original script to mishaps on the set to general production issues. Whalin provides a good point of view; we donít often hear the actorís perspective about effects-intensive flicks, so his remarks give us a lot of compelling information. All in all, this was a fun and lively track that I enjoyed much more than I expected.

For the second commentary, we hear from director Courtney Solomon, D&D co-creator Dave Arneson and cinematographer Doug Milsome. This track uses the same format heard in the first one, whereby Solomon and Milsome were taped together; Arneson was recorded separately and his statements were edited into the piece. Arneson got into a few more details about the game, and he added some other notes about his experiences with the film, but again, his portion of the commentary was fairly minimal.

Solomon and Milsome dominate the piece, and their discussion display a more technical bent than the chat heard during the first commentary. Quite a few remarks about lighting challenges abound, and other issues in a similar vein predominate the track. It was a more subdued conversation when compared to the Solomon/Whalin one; thereís a chemistry between Solomon and Milsome, but itís not nearly as strong. Actually, this commentary could get a bit annoying, as the two often talked over each other in a manned that occasionally made it tough to hear what either said. Ultimately, this was a decent track but not a terribly good one; a fair amount of material is repeated from the first commentary, and the presentation wasnít as much fun.

Next we find two featurettes. As its title states, Let the Games Begin: A Profile and History of Adventure Gaming takes a short look at the creation and evolution of D&D. We hear from movie participants Courtney Solomon and Justin Whalin as well as Mark Ordesky of Fine Line Features. In addition, there are interview clips with folks from Wizards of the Coast, the company that distributes D&D; we discover remarks from CEO Peter Adkison, game designer Jonathan Tweet, and Vice President Ryan Dancey.

While I didnít think the 15-minute and 29-second program provided a terrific history of the game, it still was an entertaining piece. Solomon and Adkison dominated the show as the various participants discussed the story of the gameís beginnings and its growth, and they also give us details about how itís played.

Much of the fun to be found here came from their personal tales of D&D addiction, such as how Ordeskyís choice of college was influenced by his love of the game. It seemed odd that we didnít hear from either of D&Dís creators, though; we briefly see shots of Gary Gygax from a convention, but Dave Arneson is nowhere to be found. Since he appeared elsewhere on the DVD, it was strange that he didnít more clearly discuss the gameís early years. Nonetheless, ďLet the Games BeginĒ was a fairly interesting and entertaining program.

The other featurette is simply called The Making of D&D, and its focus seems similarly self-evident. This 20-minute, 39-second show takes a brief glance at the creation of the film, with a very strong emphasis on the technical side of the equation. Other than actor Whalin, no performers appear in the documentary, and even his participation was modest.

For the most part, the program stuck with various aspects of the filmís special effects and production design. Solomon and others such as creature creator Tully Summers, production designer Bryce Perrin, and visual effects supervisor Charles Darby give us a decent look at the technical side of the equation.

Itís not all dry data, however. At the start, Solomon provides a nice overview of how he became involved in the project and the long road it took to make it to the screen. In addition, we see a lot of good footage from the set; I enjoy that kind of ďbehind the scenesĒ material and the shots here were quite interesting. Ultimately, this was a fairly average but still watchable program.

Next we get a collection of Deleted Scenes. The disc includes 11 edited snippets in all for a total of 19 minutes and 18 seconds worth of footage. None of these were terribly fascinating, though they added some decent character moments for smaller roles like Elwood and Snails. There are also a couple of pieces that would have made the movie were it not for budgetary problems; D&D was made for a mere $35 million, which is absolutely nothing for this sort of effects-heavy flick. Because of the relatively small budget, compromises had to be made. Director Solomon liked some of these segments but he didnít have the money to complete them.

That means that we find unfinished shots for some of these pieces; animatics or no elements show up where CGI should have appeared. In a bizarre way, this makes the scenes more interesting. Itís like two for the price of one; we see some unused material plus we get to view part of the production process.

The deleted scenes can be watched with or without commentary from Solomon. As was the case with his two feature tracks, he remains a chatty fellow, and he does all that I ask of a director who discusses edited footage: he tells us why the clips didnít make the film. Actually, he goes above and beyond that mission and he adds a fair amount of useful information during his chat. Itís definitely worth your while to check out the scenes a second time with Solomonís commentary activated.

Another section of the disc offers Special Effects Deconstruction. At last, youíll have the chance to use the ďangleĒ button on your remote! This program provides four different scenes and lets you view them during different stages of effects completion. There is a basic stage, an intermediate period, and the final film.

Each of the four segments runs between 30 seconds and two minutes, 10 seconds for a total of 13 minutes of viewing if you watch all three stages of each snippet. These were fairly interesting, though I must admit stage one was always the most fun; itís more entertaining to see what the actors had to work with, a period that is best represented during the most basic stage.

As a fantasy adventure, Dungeons & Dragons doesnít flop, but itís not a very good film. It offers a couple of decent sequences but as a whole, itís fairly clumsy and silly. The Blu-ray provides strong audio and supplements, but picture quality varies from good to messy. This ends up as an erratic release for a forgettable flick.

Note that D&D only appears as part of a ďtwo-movie collectionĒ along with 2005ís Wrath of the Dragon God. Given the setís low price, that doesnít seem to be a bad thing; whether or not one likes both films, at least the package is priced to sell. Also, both movies come on separate discs, so theyíre not packed onto one platter.

Viewer Film Ratings: 1.6666 Stars Number of Votes: 3
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Review Archive:  # | A-C | D-F | G-I | J-L | M-O | P-R | S-U | V-Z | Viewer Ratings | Main