The Dungeons & Dragons (D&D) universe is an epic role-playing game that needs no introduction. It is loved by millions around the world, and mocked by millions more. When it comes down to it, it is a fantasy role-playing adventure that transports players to worlds that can only exist in his or her imaginations. With a world so large and detailed, how does one go about creating a movie based on the game that will appease the hardcore, cult fans, but still appeal to the average moviegoer? This Dungeons & Dragons 2-Movie Collection contains two different approaches that attempt to answer that very question: the 2000 film Dungeons & Dragons, and the 2005 sequel Dungeons & Dragons: Wrath of the Dragon God.
The first film of this double feature, Dungeons & Dragons, joins young thieves Ridley (Justin Whalin – Child’s Play 3, Lois & Clark: The New Adventures of Superman) and Snails (Marlon Wayans – Requiem for a Dream, Scary Movie) as they become entangled with the young mage Marina Pretesna (Zoe McLellan – JAG, Mr. Holland’s Opus) and Elwood Gutworthy (Lee Arenberg – Pirates of the Caribbean trilogy). The group searches for the Scepter of Savrille – a powerful item that gives control over red dragons – in order to defend the Empire of Izmer from the evil mage Profion (Jeremy Irons – Die Hard with a Vengeance, The Lion King, Dead Ringers). Profion sends Damodar (Bruce Payne – Passenger 57, Highlander: Endgame) to track the group of heroes and find the Scepter before them. The survival of the Empire of Izmer is in the hands of these four unlikely heroes.
Dungeons & Dragons plays out like a fantastical teen romance, and feels aimed for that audience more than adults. It is accessible to people like myself that haven’t spent years playing D&D, but may not appease the diehard crowd as much as the filmmakers intended.
The teen romance vibe comes first from the casting of pretty boy Justin Whalin and scenery chewer Marlon Wayans. These two fit the roles of the characters well, but are not who I expect to see when I put in a movie labeled Dungeons & Dragons. Whalin does a nice job alongside the beautiful Zoe McLellan, but Marlon Wayans role is more reminiscent of his Scary Movie days than his Requiem for a Dream role, and thus has him hamming it up to the extreme for the majority of the film. Jeremy Irons is passable as the evil Profion, but this is nowhere near his best work, and he flirts with the line of mocking his character rather than playing him legitimately. Irons’ choices as Profion reminded me of Doc from Back to the Future, and I kept listening closely for the words “Great Scott”. A young Thora Birch plays the Empress of the Empire of Izmer, but comes across green and immature in a role that requires the opposite (even though the character is young). The standout in the film is the man who returns for the sequel: Bruce Payne. His character is written to be one-note throughout, but Payne still manages to create an excellent villain. Once the audience gets past his blue lipstick, which is no small feat, Payne is a formidable and passionate force. Though the acting can be hit or miss in Dungeons & Dragons, the most important characters are entertaining enough to keep the audience interested in their stories.
Speaking of the story, Dungeons & Dragons is a classic boy-meets-girl love story at its core, and because the characters are so young, the teen romance feel dominates the film. It comes off as a ’90s teen soap opera along the lines of Dawson’s Creek more than a hardcore fantasy film, which will appeal to younger audiences easier than adults. The story is extremely simple to follow, not relying on heavily on D&D knowledge to understand it fully, which is a fact that can either be a strength or a weakness depending on who is watching the movie.
Almost entirely on the flipside, Dungeons & Dragons: Wrath of the Dragon God is obviously aimed more at hardcore D&D gamers. Unfortunately this leaves non-players out of the loop a bit. The director uses small moments of dialogue to try and explain some of the rules of the game to non-players, but this is wrapped up in other, more complicated ideas and relationships that – unless one goes into the film specifically looking for these explanations – can easily be missed.
Dragon God takes place 3,000 years after the original. Damodar (Bruce Payne, reprising his role from Dungeons & Dragons) has stolen the elemental black orb, and declared vengeance against the kingdom of Ismar. The aging warrior Berek (Mark Dymon – Die Another Day, The Clinic) joins four other heroes that represent honor, strength, wisdom, and intelligence to try and save Ismar, and Berek’s love interest, the young mage Melora (Clemency Burton-Hill – The Little Fox 2, Supernova).
This story feels like one that most D&D players could go through in any of his or her countless gaming sessions, and translates well to the screen. It is the complexity of the universe, and how much the director attempts to fit into this one film, that hurts Dragon God’s appeal to the casual fantasy fan. With a world this deep, the plot is forced to slow down in order to tell the story, which may have casual fans checking their watches after only a few scenes.
The acting performances are more consistent in Dragon God than in the original, and these characters felt like real people with real problems, desires, and needs. This is an even more impressive feat when one takes into account how fresh most of these actors are to the movie business (at least when the film was released in 2005). Clemency Burton-Hill is excellent as the amateurish mage, and her story is the most compelling in the film thanks to Burton-Hill’s work with the character. The acting is the film’s strongest aspect, and Dragon God may have benefited from relying more on the acting and less on the CGI work, which dominates virtually every scene in the movie.
With a slow moving plot, complex world, and major CGI overload, Dragon God doesn’t have the charm of its predecessor. The acting is solid throughout, but this comes off as a movie where the more the viewer knows, the more they will like it, meaning that D&D players will appreciate Dragon God more than non-players. Dragon God ditches the comedy that Dungeons & Dragons thrived on for a more serious tone, making this sequel seem like a completely different series than the original, which, again, can be either the movie’s biggest strength or biggest weakness, depending on the viewer.
Both films are given a 1080p, 16×9 widescreen presentation, with a contrast ratio of 1.85:1, and both look excellent. Wrath of the Dragon God looks a smidge better at points than the original, but this is probably due to the age of the films. The CGI, love it or hate it, transfers well onto this Blu-ray Disc release.
The sound on Dragon God is one of the best things going for this Blu-ray, as it had my surround system shaking with bass. The movies handle their loud soundtracks well. Both are given a DTS-HD Master Audio with English 5.1 option. Dungeons & Dragons also has a French 5.1 Dolby Digital option. Both films have English SDH, French, and Spanish options, and Dragon God adds a Netherlands subtitle option.
Dungeons & Dragons
Commentary by Director-Producer Courtney Solomon, Justin Whalin, and Game Co-Creator Dave Arneson: These three are very friendly with each other, and easy going. Whalin and Solomon do a lot of talking throughout about the filming process, as one would expect in a commentary. This group talks a lot about the acting side of the film more than anything.
Commentary by Director-Producer Courtney Solomon, Director of Photography Doug Milsome, and Game Co-Creator Dave Arneson: Due to the large amount of CGI work, hearing Doug Milsome’s take on the film is a great opinion to hear (because he was the director of photography). Unlike the first commentary, this group covers the actual filming of the scenes, and the problems they encountered along the way. What is most amazing is that both commentaries stand on there own as informational and entertaining. The most hardcore fans will be thrilled that both commentaries are available on this release.
Let the Games Begin – A Profile and History of Adventure Gaming (15:29): As the title suggests, this is a history of role-playing games, specifically the Dungeons & Dragons game. Filled with guys who have been playing most of their lives, this plays like a “History of D&D for Dummies” documentary in that it contains information that most players will already know. For someone who knows virtually nothing about the universe, this is quite interesting.
The Making of Dungeons & Dragons (20:39): Director and producer Courtney Solomon, as well as his production crew and actor Justin Whalin, discuss the filming and post-production processes. This contains a lot of details on shooting, and is recommended for anyone that enjoys the feature film.
Special Effects Deconstruction (13:21): Contains four scenes broken down into Stage One, Stage Two, and Final Scenes. The first stage is when most everything is shot behind a blue screen, while the second stage adds in more detail. The final scene, obviously, is what the finished product looks like. This is a bit more than most will care to watch, especially since there is no “play all” option.
Deleted Scenes (19:18): There are 11 deleted or extended scenes (one of which is an alternate ending), and all are available to watch with or without Courtney Solomon commenting on them. There are a lot of scenes to watch here, and without the commentary option, most wouldn’t want to sit through these. Luckily the Solomon commentary is informative enough – even telling which scenes he would add in if he ever released a Director’s Cut of the film – which fans of the movie will enjoy. The alternate ending is arguably better than the ending that was chosen for the final release, adding a more adult tone to the finale.
Dungeons & Dragons Theatrical Trailer (2:32): This is a solid representation of the film that doesn’t give too much away like a lot of trailers tend to do.
Dungeons & Dragons: Wrath of the Dragon God
Rolling the Dice – Adapting the Game to the Screen (22:03): A great, in-depth look at how the filmmakers tried their best to incorporate the actual D&D rules and characters into the film. Filled with director and actor interviews, as well as D&D aficionados that helped progress the film along during shooting. This is an excellent special feature that is highly recommended.
The Arc – A Conversation with Gary Gygax (16:48): This is an interview with the co-creator of the Dungeons & Dragons game. Gygax expresses his appreciation for the film, and says, “It hits on all the bases”. He then proceeds to talk about how the characters in the film fit into the D&D universe. This is an interesting feature for someone like myself that is on the outside looking in to the D&D world, but may prove repetitive for fans of the game.
Commentary by Edward Stark (Wizards of the Coast D&D Special Projects Manager), Dawn Akemi (Lidda), and John Frank Rosenblum (Jozan): These three take on the roles of D&D characters, and stay in character, commenting on the film as it plays. It’s similar to Mystery Science Theatre 3000, but less humorous and way dorkier. Fans of D&D might have fun with this, but everyone else will get bored a few scenes in.
It would be tough to recommend either of these films on their own, but together, these two vastly different fantasy movies are a worthy purchase. This 2-movie collection is jam-packed with hours of entertaining extras, and the picture and sound quality is up to the Blu-ray standards. Since this can be picked up for less than $20, it is highly recommended to casual fantasy fans, and hardcore D&D players alike.
Warner Bros. presents Dungeons & Dragons 2-Movie Collection. Directed by: Courtney Solomon (Dungeons & Dragons) and Gerry Lively (Dungeons & Dragons: Wrath of the Dragon God). Starring: Bruce Payne, Jeremy Irons, Justin Whalin, Marlon Wayans, Zoe Mclellan, Mark Dymond, Clemency Burton-Hill. Written by: Topper Lillien & Carrol Cartwright (Dungeons & Dragons), and Brian Rudnick & Robert Kimmel (Dungeons & Dragons: Wrath of the Dragon God). Running time: 212 minutes. Rating: PG-13 (Dungeons & Dragons)/Not Rated (Dungeons & Dragons: Wrath of the Dragon God). Released on Blu-ray: February 15, 2011.