Aardy R. DeVarque (aardy) wrote,
Aardy R. DeVarque

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Aardevarque Comment: Dungeons & Dragons, Wrath of the Dragon God

I saw "Dungeons & Dragons: Wrath of the Dragon God" on the Sci Fi channel the other night, taped it, then watched it again with kateshort yesterday. It's technically a sequel to the cheesily bad D&D movie, but after replacing the writers, director, and almost all of the cast, the result is a surprisingly watchable film, even when re-watched. (Courtney Solomon is still around, but only as one of the executive producers.) It's no Lord of the Rings, mind you, but it's better than a LOT of fantasy movies out there. It also successfully manages to incorporate enough D&D elements that it actually feels like a "Dungeons & Dragons" movie. There were even a couple of spots where I could almost hear the dice rolling--and unlike most fantasy films where that happens, it felt right when it happened here.

If you play(ed) D&D, or tend to enjoy "Sci Fi original movies", or generally like B-level fantasy movies, I recommend watching this. Just pretend the first movie didn't exist; everything you might possibly need to know about the first movie is summed up in two sentences in this one.

If you didn't catch it on TV, I'm sure Sci Fi will re-run it at some point. There is also a forthcoming DVD available for pre-order from Amazon. I don't care much whether I get the first movie or not, but I'm definitely adding this one to my wish list.

There are a few spoilers behind the cut, but I've tried to keep them to a relative minimum in case any of you do decide to watch it at some point.

Basic summary: 100 years after the first movie, Damodar, the lone survivor from the original cast--if you can call 100 years of being undead "surviving"--finds an evil artifact, uses it to rejuvenate himself and wants to use it to awaken a dormant black dragon god from 1000 years of sleep, with the main goal of destroying the city/state of Izmir. Lord Berek, the former captain of the city guard--also formerly an adventurer, but the head of the city's tax bureau--is tasked with leading a quest to retrieve the artifact. At the same time, the city's Council of Mages, aided by Berek's wife, Melora, try to discover how the dragon god was originally defeated 1000 years ago. Berek's team consists of Lux (female barbarian), Dorian (male cleric of Obad-Hai), Ormaline (female elf mage), and Nim (male rogue). They fight a white dragon, run away from a lich, venture through a dungeon, suffer some casualties, and the two groups eventually manage to succeed in their parallel quests.

There are, unfortunately, some serious plot holes you could drive a Mack truck through (the ending, in particular, needed at least one more rewrite), and there were a couple of spots where the SFX leave a bit to be desired (the effects are on a par with Wizard of Earthsea--in other words, pretty good most of the time, but a bit hokey or insufficiently "realistic" a few times, particularly whenever actors have to be near large flames), but I found lots of little things that helped make the movie enjoyable, and so was willing to suspend my disbelief moreso than with many fantasy movies.

All of the main actors are British this time around, so there are no conflicting accents as there were in the first film. The actor playing the cleric Dorian has apparently been all over British TV, and the actor playing Oberon, the head of the Council of Mages, was also in the Sci Fi channel's movie of Jules Verne's Mysterious Island (starring Patrick Stewart & Kyle MacLachlan--now there was a schlocky B movie...), and Bruce Payne (Damodar), has been doing B movies and various TV roles for years; otherwise, most of the cast are relative unknowns.

The best of the lot, in my opinion, is the acress playing Melora (Clemency Burton-Hill). Early on, the character gets cursed to die slowly by rotting into a zombie, yet she retains her intellect and tries to help the Council of Mages even though she can feel herself slipping away. The actress does an excellent job of making you believe in the character and what she's going through. Her interactions with Berek felt like natural banter between a long-married husband and wife--not something you often see in fantasy movies, and even fewer get it right. Close behind her is the actor playing Nim the Rogue (Tim Stern). He pretty much nails the character of a grizzled cynical loner, and the writers gave him plenty of grist for that mill. The actress playing Lux the barbarian (Ellie Chidzley) has a couple of excellent scenes of going into and coming out of a berzerker rage; the character could use a touch more fleshing out, but she was my next favorite after those first two. The actor playing Berek (Mark Dymond) generally averages just above a Keanu Reeves level of emoting, maybe closer to Noah Wylie, but I suspect a large part of that is simply the nature of the character--I think he's supposed to be a somewhat uptight character who suppresses most of his emotions (much like X-Men's Cyclops). Some of the bits where the character shines--such as Berek's interactions with Melora near the beginning of the movie, and some of his more angry bits later on--make me think this is possibly what the writers and director wanted rather than a limit of the actor's range. I liked his performance, but I can see where some people would simply write it off as too wooden. Bruce Payne plays Damodar over the top as a moustache-twirlingly evil villain, but I didn't mind him as much this time--largely because he doesn't actually DO much, but rather sets plans in motion and lets others do his dirty work, smirks at Our Heroes, and then runs away whenever things get too hot for him. In short, he's not much of a character, he's simply a smirking villain, there purely to be a foil for the protagonists. However, he isn't as scene-chewingly awful as Jeremy Irons in the first movie, and the character actually has believable motivations for his actions (chiefly revenge, but it works in this context).

A few distinctive D&D and D&D-like elements I noticed that show that the writers definitely used the rulebooks for inspiration:
  • The main titles use the capital Ds from the current D&D logo.
  • Berek mentions being in a group that infiltrated the Ghost Tower of Inverness
  • Lux's brother Yak saw something in the Barrier Peaks that drove him insane
  • The design for the full-head makeup of Damodar's half-orc side-kick is lifted straight from the 3rd ed. PH. (Unfortunately, the other half was apparently a 90-pound weaking, as the half-orc is short and skinny.)
  • Berek apparently weilds a vorpal sword, though it's never referred to as such and the main clue that it's magical is an occasional glow that could be written off as a trick of the lights--but over the course of the movie, it slices through two arms, the bars of a cage, and a few bricks of a wall like they were nothing.
  • Melora casts Vision, Gust of Wind (probably), and a Summon Creature spell, and tries to cast a Mending spell
  • Ormaline casts Lightning Bolt, Detect Magic, Teleport, and apparently uses a Ring of the Ram
  • Teleport has a chance of 'porting you into a wall or similar obstruction, and you have to have seen a place to 'port there.
  • Ormaline finds a magic ring but doesn't have Identify memorized, so she can't tell what it does
  • Nim finds (and figures out how to use) a Gem of True Seeing
  • Nim has a vial of purple worm stomach acid
  • Clerical magic and arcane magic both exist as separate forms of magic
  • There are clerics of Obad-Hai, using Obad-Hai's holy symbol as depicted in the 3rd ed. PH
  • The cleric turns incorporeal undead well enough to destroy them
  • Lux goes into a berzerk rage and almost doesn't come out of it
  • There's a lich. (He's unfortunately obviously wearing a rubber mask, but given the SFX budget, that's probably understandable.)
  • The lich casts Hold Person (or a variant thereon)
  • Two characters cast Restoration; one on-screen, one off-screen.
  • There's a variant on the typical chessboard room trap--a room whose floor is made up of 2-foot by 2-foot tiles that glow, and the only way across the room is to step on certain squares
  • The elf detects a secret door no one else saw
  • There is reference to worship of the demon/god Jubilex
  • The design for the black dragon is lifted from the picture of a black dragon in the 3rd ed DMG.
  • The design for the white dragon is lifted from the picture of a white dragon in the 3rd ed DMG, and the white dragon breathes a cone of extreme cold rather than fire
In conclusion, the movie does have weak spots, but overall it's a relatively good, watchable film, particularly when taken in comparison with other fantasy films. Perfect for park your brain at the door entertainment. In the theaters, it definitely would not be worth the ticket price except maybe as a matinee or in second-run houses, but it's fine on TV and should be fine on DVD.

Sci Fi also ran some ads for D&D itself during the commercial breaks; each consisted solely of the current D&D logo with scratchy white words on a black screen, with some battle-like sound effects and music in the background. I don't remember all of them, but the few that stuck in my head were:
  • The book really is better than the movie.
  • The rules of gaming: #1 Never split the party. #2 Keep the cleric alive. #3 Check for traps. (And the movie managed to demonstrate reasons why all three of those are important...)
  • Run for snacks! We'll hold off the movie as long as we can!
They were obviously tongue in cheek, but showed a decent sense of humor (and didn't take the game too seriously), hopefully piqued some people's interest enough to try the game, and were not too embarrassingly geeky (which showing a group of players around a table almost certainly would have been); I was happy to see them.

Feudalism: Serf & Turf
Tags: d&d, movies, reviews

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