Growing up with two older brothers already familiar with the game, I started playing the second edition of Dungeons and Dragons at the hilariously tender age of seven. Even then, I immediately took to the game and still play later editions to this day.
When New Line Cinemas released the Dungeons and Dragons feature film in late 2000, I was almost nine. It was the coolest thing I could imagine – finally, a movie made from the game I loved so much. I was wide-eyed and excited, and demanded to see the film in theaters. I left that theater feeling… underwhelmed.
Where was the interdependence, the group dynamic? Where were the warriors and priests? Where were the dungeons? Where were all the monsters? Where was all the cool stuff, and what was all this other stupid stuff? Why was Marlon Wayans in it? I’d like to remind you once again that I was still eight years old when this movie completely failed to impress me.
Sure, I mean, it had a dwarf in it. That was cool, I guess, even if he didn’t do anything. And there were dragons toward the end, even if they didn’t really do much. I was so eager to enjoy it that I made some excuses for it. I ignored the reality of the situation, because I was so eager to gain some enjoyment from a film based on my favorite game franchise.
That harsh reality was that Dungeons and Dragons was one of the worst movies ever made. Rewatching it, nearly fourteen years later, did an excellent job helping me to realize that.
But where do I even start? This movie… it’s… it’s really, really bad. If I remarked and expounded upon every line, every background detail, every plot element, every character, every joke, etc. etc. etc., it would take me as much time to review this as it took the producers to actually make it, only I won’t get 45 million dollars to do it (in case that gave you pause – yes, this movie’s budget was 45 million dollars). This movie doesn’t deserve that kind of in-depth criticism because it obviously didn’t actually try.
This was a mistake I made when I was looking back at the film through 8-year-old-colored glasses. Sure it sucked, but at least it gave it a shot. It tried to make a satisfying film, it just failed. You can’t really blame it for that, can you?
Nope, I can. This movie didn’t try. It fails in every respect – it fails as a comedy. It fails as an adventure. It fails as a romance. It fails as a children’s film, and as an adult’s film. It fails as a standalone movie, and it fails even harder as a D&D movie. Like I said, I can’t harp on every small detail, so let’s try to rip this apart in broad strokes.
It’s cheap!: One year after this film was released, the exact same studio released Fellowship of the Ring. Fellowship used things like actual armor (not plastic), actual swords (not plastic), actual staffs/wands/items/etc. (not plastic), and managed to make the 6’2” John Rhys Davies look like a 4-foot dwarf.
Dungeons and Dragons, on the other hand, managed to very expertly make the 5’4” Lee Arenberg look like a 5’4” dwarf. And in case you missed the subtle allusions in the above paragraph, pretty much all the film’s equipment and items look like they’re made of plastic. The film’s central McGuffin, the yadda yadda red dragon wand thingy, looks just like those little tiny translucent plastic swords that you get in cocktails.
It’s not funny!: While we do get a couple of actually-sorta-funny lines from Elwood (the dwarf fella), they are more a matter of the actor’s delivery than the line itself (“That’s a bad way to do business” springs to mind).
The heavy lifting, humor-wise, is shouldered by Marlon Wayans, who plays Jar Jar Binks.
I mean, Snails.
…Nope, I mean Jar Jar Binks.
Let’s go down the list of traits that Snails and Jar Jar share:
- They’re not funny
- They’re extremely annoying
- They outstay their welcome
- They’re outrageously offensive black stereotypes
- It makes me happy when they get hurt
And, um… I think that’s really all the comparisons I need to make, there.
Long story short, the only laughter this movie will get out of you is when you’re pointing at the screen, mocking how truly awful it is.
It’s really badly acted: Despite having a few good actors (Jeremy Irons… why?!) everything in this film is either wildly overacted, or it looks like the actors forgot why they showed up for this crapfest in the first place. I won’t harp on this too much because there’s only so much breath I want to waste on saying that the acting sucks.
It’s awful: The characters suck. The story sucks. One of the backdrops is very clearly an actual painting. The fight scenes are terrible. The CGI is outright hilarious. The dialogue is so bad the characters may as well just remain silent. This is probably the broadest stroke possible – I may be doing the broad strokes thing wrong.
Anyway, I stand by it.
It’s insulting to gamers: This is important. And yes, people have been bitching about movies not matching the source material since movies based off of specific source material started being released, whether it’s books or comics or video games. But if you’re going to make a movie based on the most popular and enduring tabletop RPG of all time, at least try to make sure that a legion of dweebs aren’t going to start throwing their Player’s Handbooks at your face (I keep mine on my person at all times, hoping that I’ll randomly meet someone involved with this film).
This goes back and forth from defying the source material (a big load of nonsense about elves not casting spells comes to mind), to condescending to the source material (“Why, I’d have to cast a Feeblemind spell on myself to want to do that!”). Yes, Feeblemind is a spell, and it exists. How about instead of mentioning that it exists, you have someone… y’know… maybe cast it? Would that be cool?
There are several bizarre creatures that even the most seasoned gamer can’t put a name onto (whatever the hell that purple guy was), there are weirdly misplaced creatures and races (such as the orcs seen in a tavern scene – at least, I assume they were orcs since they were green, they didn’t resemble orcs in any way), and there are weirdly misused class abilities (such as Snails getting what I can only assume was a Sneak Attack, despite it actually just being a cheap shot and not sneaky at all).
Probably the worst instance of this (or at least the one that bothered me the most) was where one character mentions that another character is “just a low-level mage.”
Now… alright… really?!
You’re just gonna go there? Go right there? “Low-level?” Low-level. 12-year-old gamers know better than to say “low-level” when they roleplay, and you’re gonna actually make a movie (that I presume takes itself seriously) and actually address the level system? You can’t say “you’re just an apprentice,” or “you have a lot to learn,” or even “you’re a really crappy mage?” I can’t decide if this is condescending, idiotic, uncaring, or some other form of brick-headedness. But I do know one thing.
It’s a baaad way to do business.
So I honestly can’t tell if the creative team behind this movie decided that they just didn’t give a damn about who watched it, or if they actively chose to pander towards what they decided was a large, simple-minded, unwashed clan of manchildren. I’m leaning towards the latter.
So, lords and ladies, that’s Dungeons and Dragons, and unless you’re a connoisseur of bad movies, there’s a good chance that this will be the worst film you’ve ever seen. Absolutely nothing about it is charming, cool, or even “neato.” Every single copy of this needs to be burned with dragonfire.