Awfully Good: Dungeons & Dragons
If WARCRAFT doesn't give you your fill of epic fantasy this weekend, there's always... literally any movie except this one...
Dungeons & Dragons (2000)
Director: Courtney Solomon
Stars: Justin Whalin, Marlon Wayans, Jeremy Irons
A group of people, including a progressive female leader, must prevent a loud, nonsensical villain who "plays to the fears of the people" from taking power.
Aside from all the dragons, are we sure this isn't about the 2016 U.S. presidential election?
It's not easy creating a cinematic world that's both fantastical and convincing. There's a lot that can go wrong in both scope and execution, which is why there is no shortage of terrible fantasy movies. DUNGEONS AND DRAGONS, however, sits atop that throne. Every part of this film is 100% wrong.
Alfred had to star in a bunch of crummy movies just to find Kryptonite for Master Bruce.
Even if you're not familiar with the game, when you hear the title DUNGEONS AND DRAGONS, you expect a creature-filled epic of magic and excitement. Instead you get one of the cheapest, laziest and amateurish Hollywood productions ever released. A $45 million budget may seem small compared to the $200+ million price tags some blockbusters now carry, but this movie seriously looks like it cost $45 with ramen craft services. The costumes look cheap and fake, the laughable CGI dragons are worse than Sci-Fi Channel Originals of the time, and the creature makeup and effects would be bad...if they even existed. For example, they put blue lipstick on one of the main bad guys and just call it a day. And there's a STAR WARS cantina-style scene set at a bar where they clearly only had enough prosthetics for two creatures, leaving everyone else to be human.
You know what makes a bad guy intimidating? Colorful, kissable lips.
D&D players spend hours inhabiting this world, yet the filmmakers could barely come up with enough story to cover 90 minutes. They also couldn't be bothered figuring out a natural way to reveal everything and instead have the characters discover the film's plot off screen. Two of them get sucked in to a magic scroll and come back and literally tell everyone what's going on. It's all very generic fantasy stuff: Bad guy Jeremy Irons wants to take over the kingdom but needs a magic device to let him control red dragons so he can defeat the queen's gold dragons. (The device they're looking for is a magic scepter that the writers for some reason call "the rod"—meaning you have people constantly saying "We need the rod!" and "Give me that rod!") A thief and his token black friend somehow stumble upon this plot and join a quest to locate the rod for the queen. The best part of it all? When they finally track down the mystical phallus, it's in a cave protected by a magical spell that prevents anyone except the Chosen One from entering. So the entire plot to keep Jeremy Irons from getting it was completely pointless.
Makeup by Rick Baker's less talented nephew Chad.
In case you had your hopes up that there would be some cool magical action, you might not want to get your wand too excited. The film's budget and the first-time director's lack of experience seriously hinder any chance this movie had at decent action scenes. The big action set piece in the second act takes place in a supposedly-unbeatable maze that turns out to be a couple small hallways turned in to an obstacle course. The finale is a huge showdown between warring wizards and dragons, which sounds like a concept that's impossible to mess up. But DUNGEONS AND DRAGONS finds a way to make it not just silly but painfully boring.
The movie also has no idea how to balance the tone. There's so much terrible comedy that you assume they're going for campiness, but then there are also random moments of seriousness and graphic violence that just seem out of place. Marlon Wayans' comic relief sidekick gets beat up and killed in a rather gruesome scene that comes out of nowhere. (Wayans was shooting REQUIEM FOR A DREAM at the same time, so this might've been their unsubtle way of writing him out.) The title creatures aren't featured too often, but when they are they're constantly getting killed in disturbing ways. One gets crushed to death by a giant spiked door and we see it bleed out. Another dragon gets shot with a crossbow and the camera follows its body as it impales itself on a tower spike, lingering as it moans and slowly dies.
Sharing the same brainworm isn't quite as romantic as sharing spaghetti in LADY AND THE TRAMP.
Plenty of movies have bad scripts and special effects, but DUNGEONS AND DRAGONS truly sets itself apart with its terrible acting. There are some talented thespians here, but everyone turns in performances that are next-level awful. It's just a cavalcade of bad line readings that make me truly curious as to what notes the director gave his actors to make them go so wrong. "Make this speech as if you're just encountering the concept of spoken language for the first time!" "That's not over the top enough. Think about Jim Carrey on meth!"
"Sebastian, what are you doing in this story?"
Jeremy Irons (who literally admitted to doing this movie so he could pay for a castle he had just bought) gives one of the great overacting performances of our time. He can't breathe in this movie without making it way too dramatic. He constantly screeches through his dialogue, makes bizarre faces, and does weird stuff AFTER delivering his lines, as if every take the director forgot to yell "Cut!" and he needed to stall. Thora Birch followed up AMERICAN BEAUTY with this and essentially plays the Childlike Empress from THE NEVERENDING STORY. If Irons is enjoyably bad, Birch is painfully dreadful. You can actually see her trying to remember her lines in her head and also trying to decide what accent to use mid-sentence. Sadly, both of these actors have supporting roles. The film's main hero is played as generically as possible by Justin Whalin, who you might recognize as Jimmy Olsen in "Lois & Clark: The New Adventures of Superman."
"And here's my little secret..."
And what fantasy movie would be complete without a sassy black friend for the generic white lead? Marlon Wayans isn't particularly good in this movie, but the way his character Snails is treated is just plain embarrassing. His role as the token sidekick, always decked out in goofy headgear and screaming in reaction to everything, seems really anachronistic here. His character always gets the short end of the stick, whether that’s being forced in to a romantic subplot with the only other minority character in the movie, or for predictably being the first (and only) person killed. But even after he's dead, DUNGEONS AND DRAGONS isn't done disrespecting Snails. They toss his lifeless body off the roof and his best friend just leaves it there. At the end, there's a touching scene set in a graveyard full of beautiful headstones...and Marlon Wayans' grave marker is just a pile of loose rocks lazily stacked on top of each other. I actually did a spit take when I saw it the first time. The man gives his life to save the entire kingdom and that’s all you can do for him? I don't want to say this is racist, but it's pretty freaking racist. Especially for a movie where Thora Birch keeps shouting "Everyone is equal!"
"...I killed Mufasa!"
The worst line readings courtesy of Jeremy Irons, Thora Birch and many more.
Marlon Wayans amusing death scene and some of the hilarious CGI dragon action.
Take a shot or drink every time:
- Someone says "rod" and it makes you giggle
- Jeremy Irons overacts
- Thora Birch is unconvincing as a human
- Something comes out of Damodar's head
- Something possibly homoerotic happens
- The female hero gets sidetracked by shopping
Double shot if:
- A dragon dies
Thanks to Lucas and Arish for suggesting this week's movie!
|Extra Tidbit:||Jeremy Irons also starred in ERAGON. The man must really like dragons.|