Dragonlance: Dragons of Autumn Twilight – DVD Review

Available at Amazon.com
For the most part, book series based on games, television shows, or movie franchises are disproportionately bad. Sure, there are a few exceptions—Timothy Zahn’s Star Wars books and many of the Forgotten Realms novels written by R.A. Salvatore and Elaine Cunningham immediately come to mind, but they are the exceptions to the rule. For every Zahn and Salvatore there are twenty writers who act as little more than word processors, churning out page after page of substandard stories with little to no character development or even a rudimentary sense of drama. However, the granddaddy of all of these franchise stories has to be Margaret Weis and Tracy Hickman’s Dragonlance trilogy, Dragons of Autumn Twilight, Dragons of Winter Night, and Dragons of Spring Dawning. Weis and Hickman returned to the world of Krynn many times, but those were the three that started it all and it holds a special place in the hearts of many along with Tolkien, Lewis, and other masters of Fantasy.

As I write this, I have a copy of The Annotated Chronicles, the omnibus collecting the first three books complete with annotations by Weis and Hickman, by my keyboard. It’s been well thumbed-through and more than likely will have to be replaced in a few years because reading it is like visiting with old friends and that’s a feeling that should always be nurtured. So, it’s understandable that I was rather excited about watching the animated version of the first novel, Dragons of Autumn Twilight. I knew going in that it wouldn’t be perfect, but I thought that it would be like the recent direct-to-DVD features that Marvel Comics released through Lionsgate, Iron Man and Doctor Strange. Those two weren’t perfect, but they were fun and featured characters I liked. I thought Dragons would be similar. Sadly, it wasn’t.

The strength of a story relies on many different factors, such as richness of character and story depth, but an animated features can be made or broken by the quality of animation, and Dragonlance is severely lacking in this area. In fact, it’s barely a step up from the Dungeons & Dragons cartoon series I grew up watching in the eighties. The characters move slowly and woodenly and many of the scenes suffer from short abrupt pauses like a lag in a streaming video and they seem separated from their environment. The worst moments, though, come from the inept integration of CGI characters into the traditional hand-drawn animation. I have no idea if this is a result of picking a substandard animation studio or simply due to time restraints, but this looks and feels like a rushed job.

And that rushed feeling extends beyond the animation to the script. Naturally the movie will have to make certain changes to the story because of time constraints or the expectations of a different audience. Peter Jackson just about took a chainsaw to The Lord of the Rings trilogy, excising the character Tom Bombadil, the Hobbit’s battle to retake the Shire, and shuffling the entire narrative structure, but it worked because he retained the themes and the enchantment of the novels. I didn’t feel any of that when I watched Dragons of Autumn Twilight. It wasn’t an entirely unpleasant cartoon to watch, but there was nothing special about it—not like the novel it’s based on.

The best part of the feature has to be the voice work, especially the acting of Michael Rosenbaum, Lucy Lawless, and Kiefer Sutherland. They invest depth, humor, and integrity to their roles, and with the exception of Kiefer Sutherland, I quickly forgot the actor and accepted that this was Tanis Half-Elven or Goldmoon speaking. Sutherland, unfortunately, simply has too distinct a voice for me to forget that it was him speaking, but to his credit he sounds like Raistlin should. The only voice that seems off is Rino Romano as Caramon, but that’s just a matter of personal preference.

What makes this movie irritating is that it had the potential to be so much better than it turned out to be. The source material was strong, and there is a strong, loyal fanbase already in place that Wizards of the Coast and Paramount could have capitalized on, but Wizards seems either unwilling or incapable of producing a quality movie—live action or animated—based on the Dungeons and Dragons franchise. D&D fans will find this disappointing as will general fans of animated movies. Children under thirteen may enjoy this, but honestly, the cartoons they watch on Cartoon Network have far better animation and that would be the deciding factor for the majority of them. Do yourself a favor and skip this one and use the twenty instead to buy the novels it’s based off of or at least put it away for the new Fourth Edition rulebooks coming out soon; at the very least that will have better art.

Dragons of Autumn Twilight is presented in widescreen with a 1.85:1 aspect ratio. The video quality was fine, but there were plenty of confusing visual moments due to poor animation. Audio is Dolby Digital 5.1 Surround. While there were no large problems with the audio, like the animation you can tell that they rushed this aspect; the sound stayed on the center channel and it sounded flat and lifeless at times.



Original Test Animation (running time: 1:25)
People interested in the nuts and bolts of animation may find this feature interesting, but honestly, rough, colorless versions of scenes I already saw just weren’t that engaging.
Initial Character Design <running time: 2:40)
Over two minutes is a long time to watch character sketches, especially considering they followed the same basic format; highly repetitive.

Previews (cumulative running time: 10:08)
Stardust, Transformers, Casshern, Iron Man, Beowulf

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Paramount Home Entertainment presents Dragonlance: Dragons of Autumn Twilight. Directed by Will Meugniot. Featuring the voices of Lucy Lawless, Kiefer Sutherland, and Michael Rosenbaum. Running time: 90 minutes. Rated PG-13. Released on DVD: January 15, 2008. Available at Amazon.com