Movie Number– 38
Title– Dungeons & Dragons (2000)
Running Time– 107 minutes (“PG-13”)
Director– Courtney Solomon
Writer– Topper Lilien, and Carroll Cartwright (based on the game by E. Gary Gygax)
Starring– Justin Whalin, Jeremy Irons, Bruce Payne, Marlon Wayans, Zoe McLellan and Lee Arenberg
Movie Number– 41
Title– Dungeons & Dragons: Wrath of the Dragon God (2005)
Running Time– 105 minutes (“Unrated”)
Director– Gerry Lively
Writer– Brian Rudnick & Robert Kimmel
Starring– Bruce Payne, Mark Dymond, & Clemency Burton-Hill
(Originally an IP Movies Review – Edited for this site)
The Dungeons & Dragons (D&D) universe is an epic role-playing game that needs no introduction. It is loved by millions around the world, and mocked by millions more. When it comes down to it, it is a fantasy role-playing adventure that transports players to worlds that can only exist in his or her imaginations. With a world so large and detailed, how does one go about creating a movie based on the game that will appease the hardcore, cult fans, but still appeal to the average moviegoer? This Dungeons & Dragons 2-Movie Collection contains two different approaches that attempt to answer that very question: the 2000 film Dungeons & Dragons, and the 2005 sequel Dungeons & Dragons: Wrath of the Dragon God.
The first film of this double feature, Dungeons & Dragons, joins young thieves Ridley (Justin Whalin – Child’s Play 3, Lois & Clark: The New Adventures of Superman) and Snails (Marlon Wayans – Requiem for a Dream, Scary Movie) as they become entangled with the young mage Marina Pretesna (Zoe McLellan – JAG, Mr. Holland’s Opus) and Elwood Gutworthy (Lee Arenberg – Pirates of the Caribbean trilogy). The group searches for the Scepter of Savrille – a powerful item that gives control over red dragons – in order to defend the Empire of Izmer from the evil mage Profion (Jeremy Irons – Die Hard with a Vengeance, The Lion King, Dead Ringers). Profion sends Damodar (Bruce Payne – Passenger 57, Highlander: Endgame) to track the group of heroes and find the Scepter before them. The survival of the Empire of Izmer is in the hands of these four unlikely heroes.
Dungeons & Dragons plays out like a fantastical teen romance, and feels aimed for that audience more than adults. It is accessible to people like myself that haven’t spent years playing D&D, but may not appease the diehard crowd as much as the filmmakers intended.
The teen romance vibe comes first from the casting of pretty boy Justin Whalin and scenery chewer Marlon Wayans. These two fit the roles of the characters well, but are not who I expect to see when I put in a movie labeled Dungeons & Dragons. Whalin does a nice job alongside the beautiful Zoe McLellan, but Marlon Wayans role is more reminiscent of his Scary Movie days than his Requiem for a Dream role, and thus has him hamming it up to the extreme for the majority of the film. Jeremy Irons is passable as the evil Profion, but this is nowhere near his best work, and he flirts with the line of mocking his character rather than playing him legitimately. Irons’ choices as Profion reminded me of Doc from Back to the Future, and I kept listening closely for the words “Great Scott”. A young Thora Birch plays the Empress of the Empire of Izmer, but comes across green and immature in a role that requires the opposite (even though the character is young). The standout in the film is the man who returns for the sequel: Bruce Payne. His character is written to be one-note throughout, but Payne still manages to create an excellent villain. Once the audience gets past his blue lipstick, which is no small feat, Payne is a formidable and passionate force. Though the acting can be hit or miss in Dungeons & Dragons, the most important characters are entertaining enough to keep the audience interested in their stories.
Speaking of the story, Dungeons & Dragons is a classic boy-meets-girl love story at its core, and because the characters are so young, the teen romance feel dominates the film. It comes off as a 90s teen soap opera along the lines of Dawson’s Creek more than a hardcore fantasy film, which will appeal to younger audiences easier than adults. The story is extremely simple to follow, not relying on heavily on D&D knowledge to understand it fully, which is a fact that can either be a strength or a weakness depending on who is watching the movie.
Almost entirely on the flipside, Dungeons & Dragons: Wrath of the Dragon God is obviously aimed more at hardcore D&D gamers. Unfortunately this leaves non-players out of the loop a bit. The director uses small moments of dialogue to try and explain some of the rules of the game to non-players, but this is wrapped up in other, more complicated ideas and relationships that – unless one goes into the film specifically looking for these explanations – can easily be missed.
Dragon God takes place 3,000 years after the original. Damodar (Bruce Payne, reprising his role from Dungeons & Dragons) has stolen the elemental black orb, and declared vengeance against the kingdom of Ismar. The aging warrior Berek (Mark Dymon – Die Another Day, The Clinic) joins four other heroes that represent honor, strength, wisdom, and intelligence to try and save Ismar, and Berek’s love interest, the young mage Melora (Clemency Burton-Hill – The Little Fox 2, Supernova).
This story feels like one that most D&D players could go through in any of his or her countless gaming sessions, and translates well to the screen. It is the complexity of the universe, and how much the director attempts to fit into this one film, that hurts Dragon God’s appeal to the casual fantasy fan. With a world this deep, the plot is forced to slow down in order to tell the story, which may have casual fans checking their watches after only a few scenes.
The acting performances are more consistent in Dragon God than in the original, and these characters felt like real people with real problems, desires, and needs. This is an even more impressive feat when one takes into account how fresh most of these actors are to the movie business (at least when the film was released in 2005). Clemency Burton-Hill is excellent as the amateurish mage, and her story is the most compelling in the film thanks to Burton-Hill’s work with the character. The acting is the film’s strongest aspect, and Dragon God may have benefitted from relying more on the acting and less on the CGI work, which dominates virtually every scene in the movie.
With a slow moving plot, complex world, and major CGI overload, Dragon God doesn’t have the charm of its predecessor. The acting is solid throughout, but this comes off as a movie where the more the viewer knows, the more they will like it, meaning that D&D players will appreciate Dragon God more than non-players. Dragon God ditches the comedy that Dungeons & Dragons thrived on for a more serious tone, making this sequel seem like a completely different series than the original, which, again, can be either the movie’s biggest strength or biggest weakness, depending on the viewer.
It would be tough to recommend either of these films on their own, but together, these two vastly different fantasy movies are a worthy purchase. Since this can be picked up for less than $20, it is highly recommended to casual fantasy fans, and hardcore D&D players alike.
Branden has been a film fan since he was young, roaming the halls of Blockbuster Video, trying to find the grossest, scariest looking VHS covers to rent and watch alone in the basement. It wasn’t until recently, though, that Branden started seeking out the classics of cinema, and began to develop his true passion for the art form. Branden approaches each film with the unique perspective of having studied the art from the inside, having both a bachelor’s and master’s degree in acting. He has been a film critic since 2010, and has previously written for Inside Pulse Movies, We Love Cult, and Diehard Gamefan. His biggest achievement as a film critic, to date, has been founding Cinefessions and turning it from a personal blog to a true film website, housing hundreds of film and television reviews, and dozens of podcasts.