Sunday, January 24, 2010

Sentenced to the Dungeon

Dungeons & Dragons (2000)

Slay this foul time waster.

This “movie” should be used as a textbook case of how NOT to do a fantasy film, with its generic quest non-story, totally miscast group of actors, dull to non-existent characters and weak production values. It nearly sent me into a coma with its torpidity.

Ostensibly based on the popular role playing game created in the 1970s, this movie has all the thrills of going to the dentist for a root canal. Make that a double root canal with no anesthesia. The story, such as it is, concerns our heroes finding the "Barber of Seville" (at least that’s what it sounded like), a magical whatsits that controls the Red Dragons, before the evil mage Profion who will use it to over throw the Princess of Izmer. To do so, involves all manner of adventure and peril for our heroes. Just kidding. It really doesn’t.

I’ve never played D&D but I’ve a little familiarity with the game. Our heroes are supposed to represent the types of characters you can play in the game: thieves (here, Ridley and Snails), apprentice mage/magician (Marina), dwarf (Elwood) and elf (Norda). Apparently the writers thought that was all that was needed was a label to create a character. “You’re a mage and you’re a dwarf and you’re an elf. Now we have a cast of great characters, right?” Everyone had the same personality: annoying.

Director/co-writer Courtney Solomon is heavily influenced by Star Wars (the original) as he lifts its structure where one character leads you to the next character, who takes you to the next one. We meet Ridley and Snails (Justin Whalen and the irksome Marlon Wayans), who take us to Marina (Zoe McClellan), who takes us to Elwood, etc.

It’s hard to believe this movie was released by New Line Cinema, the same studio behind the magnificent Lord of the Rings trilogy, which was being shot at the same time as this super-turd. I want to know how New Line exec Mark Ordesky can look himself in the mirror after overseeing this offal. D&D is not even up to the level of fantasy as Willow, which is just a pale imitation of LOTR.

Jeremy Irons is flat out hilarious as the scenery chewing mad wizard Profion. He acts like he’s got Mad Cow Disease and only has a week to live; he snarls and growls and he GESTURES WILDLY as he races through his lines like he's got an aeroplane to catch and let's get this over with shall we. It’s funny, but also sad at the same time to see this Academy Award-winner (for Reversal of Fortune) act so bug-nuts insane.

Irons just tops the list of all the miscast actors in this stupid thing. NO ONE fits their role or feels believable in any way. Thora Birch looks embarrassed and more than a bit ashamed to be in this movie, especially in the green screen work where she sits atop a flying dragon and has to react to nothing. Justin Whalen (Jimmy Olson in the Teri Hatcher/Dean Cain Lois & Clark show) acts like he just came from the mall where he failed to pick up girls at the Chick-fil-A. Bruce Payne as Damodar the chief evil henchman runs around with a bald head and blue lipstick. Blue. Lipstick. (Yes, he looks like a total ass, and he chews the scenery nearly as well as Irons.) But the absolute worst, most aggravating casting choice is the human Jar Jar Binks, Marlon Wayans. He’s always shucking and jiving, and he’s NEVER funny – the cardinal sin of a “comic relief” character. It’s a great, great joy when his character dies.

Shot in Czech Republic for the cheap, the movie looks it. One big sword fight takes place in an average looking field with weeds. Way to location scout, people. The completely overshot hills of Los Angeles look better than anything here. The main characters' costumes look like generic fantasy garb at best and Renaissance Fair cast offs at worst. One set of baddies look like Power Ranger villain rejects. The sets look like cheap sets, accentuated by flat lighting, but they must have hired half the Czech population because they are always filled with what look like hundreds of costumed extras. The movie would have been better served with fewer extras and better, more authentic sets and props.

The visual effects are TV quality at best. The city of Izmer has what looks like skyscraper-sized buildings (with a dozen different architectural motifs, it seems) among all the regular brick and thatch-roof huts. Since they are done with CGI the director goes bananas and has the computer camera swoop up and around and into the things, which is a complete contrast to the pedestrian camera work in the live action scenes. Way to balance your film-making techniques, Herr Direktor.

The old Saturday morning kid’s show Land of the Lost was done for a mere fraction of the budget of this pimple of a movie, but they were creative, inventive and imaginative where these filmmakers were none of those things. The makers of LotL created an intriguing story and built a believable world and characters to inhabit that story, something this movie's Dungeon Masters failed to do at every turn.

1 comment: