A and A's Movie A Day

Watching movies until we run out.

Movie 411 – Dungeons & Dragons

Dungeons & Dragons – April 15th, 2011

I love this movie so much. Not because it’s good. Far from it. But it’s bad in such an amazing collection of ways that I can’t help but adore it much in the way that I instantly adored Dragon Wars. I first saw it when I was in college and I knew it was going to be horrible from the first few seconds. Hell, I knew it was going to be horrible from the cover. But I was determined to watch it anyhow and to this day I remain glad that I did. There’s a reason that I insisted on buying this and it wasn’t just to get back at Andy for things like Punch Drunk Love and Death Proof. It’s because I unapologetically love fantasy cheese and this is some of the cheesiest cheese ever. This is state fair blue ribbon winning cheese. It is cheese with bite. And I love it.

I honestly don’t remember where I first heard about it, but I know I became convinced I needed to see it when I found out that it had Richard O’Brien and Tom Baker in it. Richard O’Brien! Tom Baker! In one movie! Based on D&D! With bonus Jeremy Irons? Count me in. Count me in right away. And I know also that before I saw it a friend relayed some things she’d heard about it. Like that Tom Baker was playing an elf. And that Richard O’Brien was playing the king of thieves. These were most definitely positive selling points to me. That and the undoubtedly cheesy D&D references.

When I was a kid there was a Dungeons & Dragons based cartoon that sometimes played on Saturday mornings. Alas, I always seemed to only tune in at the tail end of an episode, or it was coming on when it was my brother’s turn to pick a channel. And then it would leave the lineup for months and months and I’d end up catching it at a friend’s house or something. When I got older I had a fascination with the game as a concept, but pathetic as it sounds, I didn’t have anyone to play with until I hit high school and then the two campaigns I could have joined intimidated the hell out of me. But I’ve always loved the idea. I have boxes of the trading cards and a couple of tattered issues of Dragon magazine tucked away somewhere. So on one hand, I would have loved for this movie to really have taken all the stuff I’d absorbed and pored over and brought it to life. That would have been fantastic. But it didn’t and that’s sad. The closest I think it actually gets to the classic D&D stuff is when you see a couple of animated Beholders.

The thing is, even as a failure on that front, I can’t help but laugh hysterically whenever I watch it. By all rights I should be in pain from this movie. It’s bad. It’s really bad. And it’s not at all the sort of thing I wanted to see from a D&D adventure-made-real, so I should be offended, or something. And I’m not. My chest feels sore from laughing through most of the movie. Maybe it’s a self-defense mechanism against the incredible intersection of suckage from multiple directions. Or maybe it’s just the sort of movie that sucks so badly it comes out the other side.

Now, let’s be clear on a couple of things. This movie does indeed have dungeons and it does indeed have dragons. So it’s delivering on some level, I suppose. It’s got some stock character types like a haughty mage and a couple of wisecracking thieves. It’s got a drunken brawling dwarf and an elf tracker. And they all end up on a quest to go and find a treasure that will lead them to another treasure that will help the Empress of their land stop the villain from taking over. The villain is a grand vizier type, working to oust the Empress from within her council, so of course he needs a henchman to do his dirty work. And then along the way there are encounters like the mystical elves and the bawdy thieves guild. Thinking on it now, maybe it would have made for a better SyFy miniseries (like they’d care it’s not science fiction) with each encounter being the climax of an episode. Alas, such things were not to be and we’re stuck with this.

I can’t even begin to hope that I could adequately describe the ridiculous special effects and stiff acting and stiffer dialogue. It sort of has to be seen to be believed. Imagine it for yourself and then watch the movie and you’ll see it’s worse than you thought. A couple of the actors get to work through it a little. I mean, Jeremy Irons as the villain? He chews the scenery up and spits it out again. His performance in this movie is practically the definition of scenery chewing. Tom Baker gets to do the wise-with-a-wink thing he does so well. And Richard O’Brien clearly knew precisely what sort of movie was being made here and played the whole thing to the hilt, turning in a performance I will love for all my days. But everyone else? Well, when your character is supposed to be over the top you can carry that a long way. When you’re supposed to be determined and adamant about the rights of your people like poor Thora Birch? Nope, you are out of luck. Nothing could have saved her lines. When you’re the comic relief and nothing you’re given to do is funny? Again, out of luck. And while I hesitate to lay the poor lead entirely at the feet of the actor playing our hero, Ridley, the fact remains that he is bland as Wonder bread. At least the mage, Marina, gets some attitude to work with. That they tried to give them a romantic subplot just makes it worse.

There’s so much wasted potential here, with so many lost opportunities. I mean, when you find out you’re not going to be able to make the movie you dreamed of, maybe you should follow your villains’ leads and camp it up. But this movie takes itself too seriously in places. When it doesn’t, it’s fantastic. When it does it’s laughable and not for the right reasons. Still, regardless of all of that I can’t help but adore it. It is fantastically bad and I’m thrilled that we own it and I will treasure it forever more. For some reason I can’t really adequately articulate.

April 15, 2011 Posted by | daily reviews | , , , | 1 Comment

Dungeons & Dragons (2000)

April 15, 2011

Dungeons & Dragons

The year this movie came out Battlefield Earth swept the Razzies. I’m not trying to deny that Battlefield Earth was a confusing and disappointing mess, but there’s no way to deny that this movie was robbed. It is difficult to think of any way that a movie could be worse than this one – even if you intentionally set out to make it so. It has an awful script. It has hammy, ridiculous acting. It has awful cheap special effects. It is truly and unbelievably awful, made all the more dreadful because it defecates from a great height on an enjoyable, intelligent and engaging pass-time that occupied a great deal of time in my high school days.

Where to begin? Perhaps with the scenery chewing? Jeremy Irons in particular, as the evil mage Profion, seems to have been directed to over act as have never been done before or since. I dare you to find a more over the top line read ever in any movie than his “Let their blood rain from the sky!” with his wide eyes, snarling visage and clawed hands raised up in supplication to the dragons battling in the skies above. He is a character whose dialog should really be rendered in all-caps. He’s not the only one of course. The inimitable Richard O’Brien is no slouch (if you’ll forgive the pun) in the area of over acting, and his portrayal of the flamboyant thief king Xilus is one of the best parts of this movie. Then there’s Doctor Who himself, Tom Baker, who plays the elf king. His performance makes me wonder if Tom was acting when he portrayed the fourth Doctor or if that’s just who he is. The elf king has the same sense of smug wisdom to him, and it made me want to watch the Key to Time again. Let us not forget as well the wince inducing antics of Marlon Wayans as the “comic relief” Snails. It feels like he’s doing a less funny impression of Chris Tucker’s Ruby Rhod from The Fifth Element. Throw all this together in a single movie and you can just feel your brain cells dying as you watch.

The “plot” here involves an evil wizard who wants to rule the world by controlling dragons. He has failed in his attempts to manufacture a dragon-controlling rod, so he decides instead to use political intrigue to steal such a rod from a local empress who has incurred the wrath of the ruling elite (all wizards) by suggesting that the common people should be allowed some kind of representative government. Or something. It’s unclear exactly what her plan is and why it irks the mages so much. We know she wants all people to be equal but what exactly that means is never explained. Anyhow – to protect the empress and insure that the kingdom doesn’t descend into anarchy if the mages take her scepter away a wise old seer sends his apprentice on a quest to get yet another dragon-controlling rod that has been hidden away for years.

This apprentice, the wide eyed and slightly dim Marina conscripts a pair of thieves and a dwarf that they accidentally fall on while fleeing the palace. Eventually they also pick up a elf tracker. This little band has various adventures, mostly involving repeated encounters with Profion’s henchman Damodar, who is dogging the group in hopes of also acquiring the red rod. They visit a thief’s guild. They visit an elven wood. One of them, the incredibly bland “hero” of the movie Ridley, even goes into a dungeon (well a cave with three rooms at least.) In short the movie is a series of D&D cliches and over used tropes.

I don’t know. This movie makes me tired and sad. I see Thora Birch as the empress Savina, for example, and I just feel sorry for her. How did a classy and intelligent actress like Thora end up in this mess? There’s the throw-away dwarf caricature and the elf tracker in her very uncomfortable looking lacquered bread plate. There are the beholders that appear in one scene and are so laughably animated that they look like cardboard cut-outs hanging on strings. (I realize that they are bargain bin digital effects… they only look like cardboard.) The movie is plagued by constant swooping establishing shots of the towers of Savina’s kingdom that establish nothing. We have no idea where most of the climactic action is taking place because all the many towers and bridges of the city tend to blend into each other. There is a lengthy climactic battle involving tens of dragons trying to kill one another and the wizards, but by that time I’m half asleep with boredom and can’t be fussed to care.

The thing is that apparently this movie was a labor of love. Director/Producer Courtney Solomon seems to really have wanted to create the quintessential D&D movie for the ages and packed it with all the iconic things that such a film should require. It’s just that his two lead actors are pieces of wood, the supporting cast have so much scenery in their mouths its a wonder they can say their lines, the script is laughably awful, the effects are embarrassingly sub-par, and in short the entire mess is one of the worst movies ever made. I suppose it does work in one regard: it makes me want to play some D&D just to wash the taste of this travesty from my mouth.

April 15, 2011 Posted by | daily reviews | , , | Leave a comment