DUNGEONS AND DRAGONS
In the magical mystical world of fantasy, Dragons are real and Sorcerers reign supreme. Elves are magical and humans are well…humans. In the story of Dungeons and Dragons, the Empress of Izmer wants all humans to live as equals. Currently, humankind is split into two distinct groups. The Mages are the intellectuals and the Sorcerers and the Commoners are the thieves and rabble-rousers of the kingdom. To achieve the balance she's hoping to create, The Empress must go against her counsels who are led by the diabolical and power mad Sorcerer, Profian (Jeremy Irons). Profian secretly desires to rule Izmer and will stop at nothing to secure his acenscion to the throne. In order to rule however, Profian will need to procure a couple of magical items that will make his reign invincible. Those totems are: the Empresses staff, which controls the Golden Dragons of the Realm, and The Rod of Jabrille. A mystical wand that controls the Red Dragons of the Realm. To everyone's knowledge, no one knows the location of the Rod of Jabrille however, A Wizard loyal to the Empress has the map that identifies the rod's long secret hiding place. When it is learned that the wizard knows the resting place of the Rod of Jabrille, Profian's Elite Guard torture and kill him. Upon learning her master's fate, his apprentice takes the map along with two bumbling thieves Ridley and Snails, (Our heroes) and uses her skills in magic to propel them within time to different locations in Izmer. The fate of Izmer and the realm rests in their ability to procure the Rod of Jabrille before Profian does. If they are successful, the true enemies of the realm will be vanquished and the Queen's dreams of equality and peace will be realized. If not, Profian's reign will shed new light on terror and suffering never before encountered. OK, I've romanticized this one about as much as I can. On it's face, it sounds as though it should be a pretty great entry in the Fantasy Film category. Afterall, D&D has been around for ages and I didn't know too many people who didn't aspire to be Dungeon Masters when I was in high school. This is afterall, the father of all fantasy gaming and it's first foray into film would have fared better had they taken this film seriously by assembling a group of good and beleivable actors as opposed to pretty banal comic relief. It must be said that both Jeremy Irons and Tom Baker (Dr. Who) are excellent actors and lent greatness to their roles they were given. OK, maybe Irons was grossly over the top but, I think it helped cement his performance. Baker had about 3 minutes of screen time but man, was that time well spent! His few lines and presence did more for the film in total, than all of the special effects combined! (IMO, that is.) In any event, New Line Pictures delivers a top-notch Special Edition DVD as usual but the execution of the film is on the whole, laughable and in no way befits the mythos that is D&D. My main problem with the film is that more money was spent on effects than casting and scripting. D&D screams for great actors and a storyline that takes you to the furthest reaches of your imagination. However what we ended up with was a very pretty picture with absolutely no substance whatsoever.
The audio was presented in a fairly decent DD5.1 platform. The directional effects and dialogue were all nicely done and clearly understood. Where it stumbles is in it's Spartan use of the LFE. Not having ever actually seen a Dragon, I can only assume that their steps, given their mass would be thunderous at the very minimum. I'm spoiled. Chapter 11 of Jurassic Park's DD5.1 shows me just how funky the LFE can be. Conversely, D&D demonstrated what happens with lackluster audio effect. I spent a good 15 minutes checking my system and playing with the volume, trying to get some steam off of this disc. Chapter 17 provided decent aural effects but those before and after where great with the highs but stunk on the low end.
Two Commentary tracks are provided. The Director of the film, the Co-Creator of D&D Dave Amerson, provides the first and the second also features both of these men as well as the cinematographer. In it the Director describes his absolute love for D&D and what he went through to get the project greenlit. The Creator of D&D gave insights on the creation of the gaming experience and his total shock at how quickly it took off in popularity. For the record he was thoroughly pleased with the final effort of the film and made that abundantly clear. In regards to the Director's efforts regarding getting the film made, evidently TSR had been approached by a host of people that wanted to produce the feature but for whatever reasons, they could never get to the point where TSR was comfortable with the producers/filmmakers. As a result, D&D has been largely dormant on the cinematic front for many years. However on the online gaming circuit, D&DIII is about take D&D to a whole other level while introducing this thirty year old game to a whole new batch of fans for the game.
The video portion of the film was 99% perfect. Most of the environments onscreen were CGI so the level of clarity and depth of field was excellent. The colors were rich and true and the anamorphic transfer sparkled with unbelievable clarity. But, I have to go back to that bothersome chapter 17. There are literally seas of rich colors that run rampant through this chapter. The color Red plays the largest part and it bleeds through just about everything. The balance of the transfer is so nice it's just a shame that this chapter suffered from this kind of error. No other transfer errors were noted.
The extras on the disc are nothing short of plenteous. One of the coolest features on the disc are it's menu screens. In order to get to the special features on the disc, you have to go through a series of visual tests that may or may kill you off, forcing you to start again. The clue is to watch the movie first. It gives you all the clues you'll need to figure out how to get past this maze!
There are 11 deleted scenes in varying states of completion with a running time of 20 minutes. Only one of them looks as if it would have lent more information that could have helped the film. However, the balance of the scenes do little in the way of adding further insight and were rightly excised from the final film. In this segment, you'll find out which scene required the actors to utilize a real sewer, complete with all of it's wonderful olfactory sensations as well as a plug for a Director's edition of the film that may pop-up featuring these scenes in a completed version of the film. An Alternate ending is included that is 90% the filmed ending. If you are in the hopes that it will shed better light on the ending as included in the film, you're gonna be real disappointed.
Two documentaries are included. One is 25-minute behind-the-scenes making of Dungeons and Dragons feature and the other is a 15-minute history of adventure/fantasy gaming. The making of is fairly decent and sheds a fair amount of light on the actors and Director regarding the end result of their combined efforts. Each of the actors has their own way of approaching their roles and they provide insight on the driving forces behind them. Additionally, an extensive character design & development segment is included that identifies all of the players and how their characters came to be as they appeared in the film's final presentation. In the history of gaming segment, you are introduced to a very successful band of D&D players who have parlayed their love of the game into a successful business for themselves. It's an in-depth look into the world of playing D&D and all of the involved elements used in playing the game.
Presented in DD5.1 & widescreen, the trailer actually makes the film look and sound promising. Sadly, the delivery was nowhere near as engaging as the film's trailer.
Special Effects Deconstruction
There are four scenes that were chosen for this particular segment. They were: Dragons Attack Dragon Dogfight Savina Leading the Dragons and The film's opening scene. All four of the scenes go through three stages of completion. First, the Pre-CGI imagery, followed by the animatic and finally the completed visual with all the elements of sound and visual effect completed. If you use the angle button on your remote, you can bounce through each segment for comparisons.
Dungeons & Dragons is an immensely popular gaming experience that has all the trappings of being an incredible film experience. Unfortunately, the film's lack of acting talent not too mention a storyline worth paying attention to, hinder this film from start to finish. As I previously stated, Tom Baker and Jeremy Irons were credits to the film however the balance of the cast was nothing more than annoying. With the Lord of The Rings series a few months away from hitting theatres, there's still hope that the fantasy film experience will be done justice to. Unfortunately, D&D did not create the awe and interest it could have. It's little more than expensive fluff with no hard chewy center.