Adapted from the famous — or infamous — “role-playing” game, Dungeons and Dragons is the first effort from director Courtney Solomon, with the help of equally fledgling screenwriters Topper Lilien and Carroll Cartwright. Glancing at most of the reviews that have come this film’s way, one would think that the three amount to the unholy trinity of cinema. Possibly not since David Lynch’s Dune — which Dungeons and Dragons somewhat resembles — has a fantasy/pseudo-sci-fi movie been so viciously, and unnecessarily, attacked. Sure, it’s basically Star Wars in medieval clothing, but it’s also more interestingly written and played than the average Star Wars installment. At heart, it’s a large, somewhat silly B-picture — decked out in flashy production design and a ton of sometimes good, sometimes bad, usually eye-catching computer-generated special effects. Taken on that level, Dungeons and Dragons is an OK fantasy about an evil magician trying to take over and enslave an empire that becomes something slightly more than that — owing primarily to a cast of villains that may be the most enjoyably over-the-top collection of bad guys since the days of Boris Karloff and Bela Lugosi. In fact, it may be a good thing that so much of the scenery is computer-generated, or Jeremy Irons — as arch fiend Profion — might have chewed all the scenery up and asked for more. Irons partly reprises his Boris Karloff impressions found in, say, Reversal of Fortune, but adds a touch of Peter O’Toole and a ton of Patrick Magee’s portrayal of Mr. Alexander in A Clockwork Orange to the mix. In the process, Irons creates one of the most outrageously loopy, ranting, raving villains in film history. This isn’t just Irons doing Karloff. This is Irons doing Karloff on amphetamines. That, alone, is reason enough to see the film. And Irons has help from Bruce Payne (Highlander: Endgame) as his chief henchman, Damodar. Payne is not as flashy as Irons, but the script provides him with a genuinely menacing villain to sink his teeth into. And for extra seasoning, Dungeons and Dragons offers a supporting role for The Rocky Horror Picture Show’s Richard O’Brien as Nilus, a singularly unscrupulous outlaw chieftain who offers the film’s hero a chance at securing the key to his quest. The fact that everyone else who has tried to obtain the key has died only causes O’Brien to cheerfully note that means it’s still there! O’Brien comes close to matching Irons in intense ferocity, but, unfortunately doesn’t appear in the film long enough to have the same insane impact. (He is, however, better served than fellow “cult” guest star Tom Baker — of Dr. Who fame — who has one brief scene as an improbably elfin version of Obi Wan Kenobi or perhaps Yoda.) While the film’s quality lies in its seasoned villains, it’s unfair to entirely slight the younger cast members — especially Justin Whalin, Marlon Wayans and Zoe McLellan, who make a nice screen team and are far more anchored in characterizations than their fairly obvious Star Wars models. Courtney Solomon’s direction isn’t especially brilliant, but neither is it as incompetent as some critics have suggested. And, occasionally, the film captures some stunning, non-computer-generated imagery, such as a ride through a forest that might be out of Fritz Lang’s classic Siegfried and a beautifully elegiac moving shot through an ivy-covered graveyard. Make no mistake, Dungeons and Dragons is not a great picture — even within the confines of its genre — but taken on its own level, it’s a good bit of hokey fun.
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