I have only vague recollections of "DragonLance," the series of fantasy novels inspired by the Dungeons & Dragons role-playing game; it came out when I was a young geek-in-the-making, and I think I read one or two before moving on to other endeavors. My apathy was obviously not shared by many, however, as the books became popular enough to have generated some 150 titles published over two decades, presenting readers with what I assume to be a sprawling, complicated fantasy universe.
Now comes the first movie based on the series, a direct-to-video animated adventure with the unfortunate title "DragonLance: Dragons of Autumn Twilight - A Dungeons & Dragons Adventure Tale." Adapted from the first novel in the series (which in turn was based on two games from the role-playing series), "Autumn Twilight" contains everything you may remember about your hazy D&D days: wizards, knights, elves, dwarves, thieves, goblins, swordplay, magic, and inns where buxom lasses serve ale with a smile.
And, of course, plenty of fantasy silliness. Please forgive me if I have a hard time taking such character names as "Sturm Brightblade" and "Flint Fireforge" seriously, although I admit those names go down more easily than the cheap animation that leaves some creatures looking like leftovers from those damn Rankin-Bass Tolkein adaptations. (Worse: some baddies are rendered as CGI 3D creations, while others are hand-drawn 2Ders. The combo is a mess.) The story itself is perpetually goofy, obnoxiously convoluted, and mired in cliché. This must be what all fantasy adventures look like to somebody who loathes the genre.
It's been 300 years since the gods have abandoned the world of Krynn, and its various tribes of men, dwarves, elves, etc., live in dark times. One of the gods - one of the bad gods, that is - has returned and is looking for a blue crystal staff with healing powers. The staff is in the hands of a powerful princess, and a gang of heroes - old friends reunited and ready to return to action together - vows to protect her on her journey.
There's the potential for some deep themes here, what with all the religious chatter bandied about. The princess eventually becomes a "true cleric," signifying the return of the gods, and thoughts on faith-vs.-secularism bubble to the surface. But the film, scripted by George Strayton (he previously penned a few "Xena" episodes) and directed by Will Meugniot (whose last project was the equally underwhelming DTV cartoon "Ultimate Avengers II"), is ultimately too episodic in its clumsy bouncing from scene to scene, and it never settles down enough to let the headier themes soak in. As such, they're just there, acting more as overly complicated fantasy backstory instead of fascinating metaphor.
The action scenes, then, become unimpressive; once you've seen one swordfight against dragon-men that turn to stone when you kill them, you've seen them all. The cheap animation and mediocre scripting (not to mention a voice cast - including Michael Rosenbaum, Keifer Sutherland, Lucy Lawless, and Michelle Trachtenberg - that sounds like they'd rather be reading anything else) are tiresome. There are a few glimpses of energy and wit sprinkled throughout (Sutherland, as a weakened wizard, sneaks in a couple choice one-liners), but for the most part, this is fantasy by rote, a formulaic adventure that would get laughed off the Sci-Fi Channel if it were filmed in live-action.
To score your damage caused by watching this film, roll 3d6 and add your armor bonus. If the result is greater than 15, give yourself a swirlie for understanding the reference.
Video & Audio
Despite the unimpressive animation (seriously, the 2D/3D combination makes for some ugly viewing), the presentation itself is very solid, which should not be surprising in an animated feature produced for DVD. The anamorphic widescreen (1.78:1) transfer deftly handles the rich colors and background textures, bringing all the unsightly character designs to life with a pop.
The soundtrack is available in a rich Dolby 5.1 and a lesser, yet still impressive, 2.0. Optional English subtitles are offered.
The bonus material is limited to brief slideshow presentations of original test animation (1:25) and character designs (2:40). Even serious animation buffs will have a hard time working up any interest in these snippets.
Previews for "Iron Man" and "Beowulf" are included; they also play as the disc loads.
D&D fans might get a kick out of seeing their favorite characters brought to the screen, but it's hard to ignore so much genre cheese and sloppy filmmaking. Skip It.