Dungeons & Dragons

Thanks to some fortunate timing, the Dungeons & Dragons movie is screening while I'm in the same city as an old friend and fellow player, so naturally we went along to see it together last night. In an impressive display of social insight for two former D&D players, we both correctly guessed that neither of our wives would be in the slightest bit interested.

D&D took over our lives for a couple of teenage years. My friend observed that while he often can't remember what was said in a meeting that morning, he can still remember countless rules and details of the game, which we haven't played since about 1985.

Certainly it all came flooding back while watching the movie. It's actually a pretty good representation of the feel of a D&D campaign, even if some of the more pedantic players-turned-critics have been picking the script apart. Okay, so it's a bit unlikely that low-level thieves and magic users could take on a high-level MU and an army of red dragons; personally, I was more annoyed by Thora Birch's staggeringly wooden performance as the young empress, a terrible piece of casting.

Given that it was ten years in the making, the producers must be annoyed that some of its thunder was stolen by The Phantom Menace, of which Dungeons & Dragons is now a little reminiscent. But apart from that, there's plenty to enjoy here for former players, from Jeremy Irons's hammy performance to Tom Baker's cameo (now that was better casting). All the D&D staples are here: taverns, equipment-buying, thieves' guilds, mazes, gold pieces, dragons. When I saw the Beholders (a classic D&D monster that is essentially a floating ball of eyes—eye of the Beholder—geddit?), I knew that here were some movie-makers trying to do this properly.

The sets and costumes are terrific, and the CGI is mostly of a high standard, although it can't compete with Menace. The plot only has a few holes—particularly during the final show-down—but most of the actors get into the spirit of it well.

I do wonder, though, what non-players would make of it all. So much of the pleasure of the movie comes from knowing the game. I guess it's no worse than movies of video games—better, I'd say, since D&D is inherently a story-telling game—but some of it may seem a little odd to the uninitiated.

But that's nothing. If you want odd-to-the-uninitiated, wait until Lord of the Rings.


First published in Walking West, 25 January 2001.
This page: 1 February 2001; last modified 16 February 2001.

©2001 Rory Ewins