"Dungeons and Dragons" is a movie that's ahead of it's time. It's time, actually, was probably about 5 years ago. I've never played the game myself - I was more into baseball cards as a kid - a more profitable hobby. I've got nothing against the game, though. It obviously boasts a great deal of imagination and interesting fantasy worlds, with characters that players can become involved with for hours on end.
The film itself though, although not without some entertaining moments, has its problems. Empress Savina (Thora Birch) rules in the kingdom of Izmer. Mages run things and the people do the work. The empress wants things to be equal for everyone, but Profion(Jeremy Irons, chewing the digital scenery like Pac-Man). If Profion can get a special scepter, then he can control the dragons of the kingdom and overthrow the emperess.
Elsewhere, Ridley (Justin Whalin) and Snails (Marlon Wayans) are two thieves who find themselves involved in the battle to save the kingdom, along with new sidekicks Marina (Zoe McLellan); dwarf fighter Elwood (Lee Arenberg); and an elf ranger, Norda (Kristen Wilson). There's little development to any of the characters, and it's difficult to be engaged in the goings-on for any one of them. Wayans is on-hand for the comic relief, and this film needs some - it takes itself so seriously at times it becomes unintentionally amusing, especially since it really doesn't explain what's going on to those who aren't familiar with the game.
Although director Courtney Solomon is apparently a major fan of the game and has been developing the film for years, the choice of someone who has never been behind the camera for a picture this major is not a particularly strong (or logical) one. The screenplay is also a few drafts away from something filmable. It doesn't help that the acting is all over the map. Wayans has played wacky for way too long now - after seeing how amazingly good he was in the dark drama "Requiem For A Dream", I hope he'll be doing less of this kind of character from now on and trying for more intense roles. Jeremy Irons...I really don't know what he was thinking here. Director Solomon seemingly let him run loose, and the result is an actor who goes over the top and down the other side. Irons' performance is so ludicrously overdone that it almost becomes oddly entertaining, as he's really the only one who seems to be really energetic about the whole affair, unfocused performance or not. Birch is an excellent actress as we've seen in "American Beauty" and "Alaska"; here, she speaks in a monotone and has little to do. The other actors are so one-dimensional or silly as to be completely forgetable.
And yet, somehow, it all manages to be rather watchable. The production design during some of the interior sequences is detailed and interesting to look at, and although the visual effects are not always well-integrated into the scenery, they at least work fairly well with the "fantasy" tone of the movie. Visuals alone are hardly enough to recommend a picture though, and although I must say I didn't hate sitting through the film, I'm still very curious as to who thought the elements were in place here for a worthwhile 35m picture.
VIDEO: With any New Line title, I could almost simply cut and paste the same comments and it would very likely apply to any of the titles that the studio has released. With "Dungeons and Dragons", New Line meets expectations yet one more time as they deliver an absolutely terrific 1.85:1 anamorphic transfer. Sharpness and detail are wonderful throughout the movie, and the image often retains an excellent level of depth and clarity.
There really wasn't anything terribly wrong with the image, as usual with the studio's titles. There was a tiny bit of grain in a couple of scenes and a couple of minor hints of edge enhancement, but neither or these flaws really was much of a distraction - that, and they appeared only a couple of times.
Colors are terrific throughout the picture - the interior scenes present a wide variety of eye-popping colors that look incredibly well-saturated and bold as the sets are wonderfully decorated. Aside from a few minor concerns, this is, predictably, another outstanding effort from New Line, who I don't think could do a bad job in terms of presentation if they tried (don't worry, they won't try.)
SOUND: As with any fantasy epic such as this one, one would expect a fairly active, if not agressive, Dolby Digital 5.1 presentation. With "Dungeons and Dragons", my expectations were met by the film's sound - sound effects swirl around the room during the film's most intense sequences, and surround use is often heavily agressive, effective and even somewhat creative. It's not just the louder effects that come through, but there's also a superb amount of low-level details that really do a nice job of attempting to convince the viewer that they've been dropped into this fantasy world.
I think the only issue that I had with the film's sound is the score by Justin Burnett, which often seemed to take from other sci-fi pictures. Still, audio quality in general seemed terrific, as not only the score, but effects and dialogue came through with crystal clarity. Occasionally, there's also some very strong, deep bass during the action.
MENUS:: I think the main menu and the animated clip leading up to it are terrific and really beautifully animated. The animated clip leads the viewer up the castle into a room where a book awaits. It's really one element that annoyed me - to get to the special features menu you have to go through a maze and choose the right item to get past three screens. If you lose, you go back to the begining - I just want to see the features, I don't want to have to go through different screens and make choices...
Commentaries: The first track is a commentary from director Courtney Solomon, actor Justin Whalin and D&D co-creator Dave Arneson. The second track is director Solomon , Arneson and cinematographer Doug Milsome. Both tracks are generally informative, but the first one with the actor and director is a lighter, more engaging discussion of the film - the two frequently joke about what happened during filming, and are familiar enough with the goings-on that happened during filming that they're able to share a good deal of information. Arneson is recorded separately, and occasionally comes in to discuss the history behind the game and his thoughts on the filmed version. The second commentary is a bit more technical look towards the production, but still not a bad listen.
Documentaries: There are two documentaries included - Let The Games Begin, which takes a look at the history of the roleplaying game and Making Of, which is a look at the production of the picture. The "making of" is a more interesting presentation, as director Courtney Solomon discusses the meetings that he went through with excecutives to gain the rights to the tale. It was interesting to hear about the planning that had to be gone through to translate the game to the movie and, at the same time, discussing how people who weren't players could be brought into the story. Although I don't think they were particularly successful, it was fun to hear the steps that were taken. Combined, both documentaries last about 30 minutes.
Deleted Scenes: 11 scenes (including an alternate ending) are available, with or without commentary from director Courtney Solomon. These scenes are occasionally somewhat interesting to watch, but as the running time was obviously a concern for a film like this, some scenes had to be deleted to keep the pace of the picture. There are also a couple of scenes here with incomplete FX work, and it's always neat to see what things look like before some of the special effects are added into the picture.
Visual Effects Deconstruction: 4 of the film's most FX-heavy sequences are presented here, with the three stages (1, 2, final) of the effects available for that scene able to be viewed by hitting the "angle" button.
Also: The film's trailer (which actually is fairly decent) in Dolby Digital 5.1; cast/crew bios and production notes. Also, DVD-ROM game demo and original theatrical website.
Final Thoughts: "Dungeons and Dragons" wasn't a particularly great picture, but New Line again provides an incredible DVD with some great features and demo quality audio/video.
The Film * 1/2
Video 96/A = (384/400 possible points)
Audio: 94/A = (376/400 possible points)
Extras: 87/B = (261/300 possible points)
Menus: 85/B = (170/200 possible points)
Value: 84/B = (252/300 possible points)
FILM GRADE: * 1/2
DVD GRADE: A-