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DUNGEONS AND DRAGONS

Review by Andrew Manning (12/00)

Release: 2000, New Line
Starring: Justin Whalin, Marlon Wayans, Thora Birch, Jeremy Irons
Director: Courtney Solomon
MPAA Rating: [PG-13] violence
Genre: Fantasy/Action


Adventure hinges on more than just a throw of the dice...



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SUMMARY

Inexperienced adventurers Ridley (Whalin) and Snails (Wayans) must stop an evil warlord (Irons) from conquering a peaceful kingdom.

THE SUDDEN RUNDOWN

Impressive visuals are king in this entry in a long-neglected genre.

WHAT'S GOOD

When you ask someone to name a fantasy movie, most people will come up with something like Conan the Barbarian. That proves that Yes, Virgina, it's really been that long since we've seen a major fantasy motion picture. This is a seriously neglected genre (though it shall soon be less so, thanks to the highly anticipated Lord of the Rings trilogy on the horizon). But Dungeons and Dragons, if nothing else, proves one thing: that this is a class of movies that can provide as much action as any terrorist, car chase, or destructive asteroid flick.

The movie plays out like a game of Dungeons and Dragons: when a spellcasting tyrant (Jeremy Irons) attempts to conquer a peaceful kingdom ruled by a young empress (Thora Birch), it's up to a band of mismatched adventurers to stop him. To these ends, they must go on a quest to obtain a magical staff that has the power to control dragons. In the final analysis of might-makes-right, it's all about who controls the great scaly beasts.

The special effects seamlessly integrate real world actors with computer generated dragons and other fantastic denizens. The visuals are truly impressive, especially when armadas of dragons fill the screen and wreak havoc. During such scenes, the action is fast and furious, and the fantasy genre's depiction of magic stands out as an extremely cool plot device. One of my favorite moments in this film was when Irons ices over a tower in order to deflect the fire of incoming dragons.

While the story is fairly pedestrian and lacks any depth whatsoever, the movie makes up for its shortcomings with a good amount of action and beautiful visuals. Perhaps my low expectations made me more receptive to this movie, but all I wanted was flashy magic and dragons locked in aerial deathmatches--and that's what Dungeons and Dragons delivered.


WHAT'S BAD

Many elements of Dungeons and Dragons seem borrowed from better films that came before it. Most annoying and notable of these is Thora Birch's character of the Empress (can anyone say "Episode One"?). The Empress is a virtual knock-off of Queen Amidala in The Phantom Menace, right down to the "addressing the counsel" scene.

As the main villain, Jeremy Irons takes his role far too seriously. He's so unshakably evil that he's not much of an interesting character, and no sense of fun comes through this role in the least. I wanted to tell him, "Hey, it's a D&D movie, lighten up!"

Finally, too much of the movie spends time being a game of Dungeons and Dragons instead of telling a story. The party of heroes navigate through treacherous mazes, dodge fantastic obstacles, and swordfight with evil creatures. It's so terribly game-like that you nearly expect them to roll dice in the middle of scenes. While a developed story wasn't the most critical element to the success of this movie, it would have been nice to have at least a little engaging storytelling.


Rating: 6 out of 10 (0=Abysmal, 5=Average, 10=Excellent)
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