[Contains stolen stuffed cats and SPOILERS!!!]
When the Dungeons & Dragons movie was first released back in 2000, it was savaged by the critics, and bombed at the box office… but today this turkey looks even more pathetic, as it shrivels in the shadow cast by Peter Jackson’s Lord of the Rings trilogy and HBO’s Game of Thrones. I guess the lesson here is that it’s better to adapt a well-regarded series of novels for the screen, rather than a best-selling rulebook without any kind of established narrative or characters. Who’d a thunk it?
The story of D&D is nonsensical, in a drunk-man-at-a-bar-trying-to-remember-what-happened-in-Star-Wars sort of way, and the sloppiness of the “acting” suggests that the cast thought they were appearing in a low-budget children’s television show, rather than a motion picture intended for theatrical release. As for the dialogue, well… at times I found it easier to just pretend that the characters were speaking in a foreign language, and I was “reading” their words as poorly translated subtitles. Surely no native English-speaker could have been responsible for this (supposedly cutting) put-down: “Just like you thieves… always taking things that don’t belong to you!”… which isn’t an insult, so much as a basic job description. Gah!
The most famous actress here is Thora Birch, who plays ‘Savina’, a baby-faced Empress who’s naïve to the point of idiocy… or possibly insanity? You see, the people of Izmir are divided into two (and only two!) classes: The elite, educated Mages, and the uneducated Commoners. Savina wants the Mages to stop lording it over the Commoners, just because their incredible magickal powers clearly mark them out as superior to the filth-dwelling rabble… and she sets out to demonstrate that everyone is equal in a brotherhood of man by using her own superior magickal prowess to summon a flock of dragons and launch a pre-emptive aerial assault on the Mages’ tower! So, she’s hoping to establish a socialist utopia under her own sweetly-tyrannical rule, by assassinating the only established governing body in the Empire that might oppose her? It’s a tad confusing, frankly, and she ultimately comes off as an extremely poor man’s Daenerys Targaryen (who is nice enough to go about freeing slaves, but doesn’t make any bones about the fact that she’s the Mummy Monarch in charge). Thankfully, Birch’s godawful performance here didn’t prevent her from subsequently scoring the iconic role of ‘Enid Coleslaw’ in Ghost World, and winning the hearts of indie geeks around the globe. Hurrah! While browsing her Wikipedia page for this post, I discovered that The Guardian had conducted an interview with Birch back in January to find out what she’s up to these days… and frankly, I found it a little depressing.
Despite setting the whole plot in motion, Savina doesn’t get much screentime, and the female lead is actually a preppy young mage named ‘Marina Pretensa’ (played by Zoe McLellan), who conforms so closely to the creaky old “Sexy Librarian” cliche, you have to wonder if the film-makers were deliberately trying to troll the 21st Century. When we first meet Marina, she’s literally working in a library, wearing glasses and frumpy clothing, with her hair tied up in a bun… then as the story progresses, and the roguish Hero smugly smirks his way into her snooty heart, the glasses disappear*, her hair comes down, and her outfits mysteriously shrink! Tch! Apparently all she needed was some ruggedly-handsome beefcake to bring her out of her shell, and cure whatever impairment was effecting her eye-sight back in her book-worm days! In another astoundingly regressive “F*ck you!” to feminism, it slowly becomes apparent that the Mage-hating Commoner she’s scurrying around after, also happens to be The Most Naturally Gifted Mage There’s Ever Been, so her own supposed speciality goes straight out the window, as she’s forced to surrender the driving seat she briefly occupied when they first “met cute”. Pretty much all she does after that is get captured and rescued and covered in human excrement (okay, that was only in a deleted scene, but still…) FEH!!!
The third (and last) female character is ‘Norda’, an ancient Elven Ranger with plastic pointy-boob armour, played by Kristen Wilson. As you can hopefully tell from the photo there, Wilson is a woman-of-colour, which immediately marked her out as a potential love-interest for the Hero’s obnoxious sidekick, ‘Snails’ (played by Marlon Wayans)… because the film-makers don’t mind Elves and Humans hooking up, so long as they still abide by strict skin-colour segregation! It’s probably not worth getting angry about the (unwitting?) racism here… but, seriously, the protagonist is a multi-talented white daredevil named “Ridley Freeborn”, who’s destined for unspeakable greatness, while his black bestie is a clownish kleptomaniac named after a slimy garden nuisance, who’s destined to die before the third act! In fact they’re both mortally wounded during the same fight with a blue-lipped baddie, and while the white guy is carried off to be healed/resurrected by Elven magick, the black guy is left to just bleed out in enemy territory. Tch! The sight of the sad little rock-pile they arrange over his grave in the finale scene made me burst out laughing the moment it appeared on screen. “We’ve saved the kingdom from ruin and befriended the richest woman in the land, but we didn’t think you deserved a proper gravestone with your full name on it… so we just carved your dumbass nickname on a pebble, and figured people would know what that meant. Hope it doesn’t topple off in a strong wind! Toodles!” Sigh…
* I rewatched her first few scenes to see when/where she shed her glasses, and discovered that they literally vanish off her face between shots! One second she’s wearing them and reaching down to retrieve a magickal scroll, then she’s standing up and they’re nowhere to be seen! It’s really bizarre.