Dungeons & Dragons (2000)

This week sees the release of a new Dungeons & Dragons film, but not wanting to be caught off guard, we roll back to the original D&D movie from 2000.

Set in a magical kingdom divided into powerful mages and the non-magic underclasses, the story finds a pair of thieves (Justin Whalin and Marlon Wayans) caught in the middle of a political struggle between two ideological factions: one a teenage Empress (Thora Birch) who wants to make the commoners equal citizens; the other an evil wizard (Jeremy Irons) who leans more towards enslaving everyone using a golden dragon army. Before you can say “Hear out both sides”, the rogues find themselves in possession of the magical rod he needs to control the dragons.

A critical fail and box office poison (whose notoriety is somewhat overshadowed by the same year’s Razzie-loaded Battlefield Earth), Dungeons & Dragons flies in the face of what is fun about the classic RPG: using imagination to craft your own adventure. So although the plot might resemble an average D&D quest (find a map that leads to a key that unlocks a tomb that houses a magical object), the passive, linear experience feels no more or less D&D than any fantasy feature. Rather than carve its own identity, the film thieves from The Phantom Menace (the wackily dressed girl queen) and Harry Potter (an artefact-laden magic school), as though all the filmmakers know about Dungeons & Dragons has been gleaned from the title.

Irons steals the show with so much scenery chewing they have to rebuild entire sets out of CGI, but his overacting is underused. Whalin’s bland human hero Ridley (-1 charisma) and Wayans’ racist servant sidekick Snails are not so much non-player characters as simply non-characters, joined by an obligatory love interest (Marina Pretensa) and superfluous dwarf (Lee Arenberg) whose motivations escape even the highest Sense Motive check. Tom Baker and Richard O’Brien are thrown in for generic fan service but cannot save a script whose fantasy mumbo jumbo ranges from, “I must have that Rod of Savrille!” to “I’m sorry about Snails.” As for Birch’s Amidala wannabe, there are better performances in most actual D&D parties.

Despite a couple of dicent set pieces and Irons nailing the brief, the movie fails to conjure the spirit of Dungeons and doesn’t half drag on. Barring the straight-to-DVD sequels, it would take Hollywood 23 years to risk another roll of the dice on a D&D picture. After watching this one, it doesn’t take a wisdom bonus to understand why.

Honor Among Thieves.


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