Starring Bruce Payne, Mark Dymond, Ellie Chidzley, Steven Elder, Lucy Gaskell, Tim Stern, Clemency Burton-Hill and Commander Adam Dalgliesh.
Directed by Gerry Lively. ((Gerry Lively also directed Hellraiser: Bloodlines. Bad Gerry Lively! Bad!))
With a few exceptions (Battlestar Galactica, Dune, Children of Dune) the words “SciFi original” are my cue to crank the Standards dial down to Very Low. Once my expectations are properly set, I’m able to enjoy drek like Frankenfish, Crocodile 2: Death Roll and Man-Thing.
Monday night, Miscellaneous G™ and I watched Dungeons & Dragons: Wrath of the Dragon God. The fact that D&D:WotDG was shown on basic cable (the SciFi Channel, no less) a month before its release on DVD wasn’t exactly reassuring, so our outlook was rather grim. Nonetheless, we are geeks, through and through, and we considered it no less than our solemn duty to watch.
Best. Dungeons & Dragons movie. Ever.
Tough Act to Follow
Okay, I’d better qualify that. There are currently a grand total of two Dungeons & Dragons movies. ((Dragon Strike doesn’t count.)) The first one, released in 2000, starred Jeremy Irons, Bruce Payne, Justin Whalin, Marlon Wayans and Thora Birch. It was universally proclaimed to be a masterpiece of modern cinema. In the director’s commentary of The Return of the King, director Peter Jackson made reference to Dungeons & Dragons:
[Director] Courtney Solomon is a true visionary, and throughout the filming of my trilogy I often asked Fran [Walsh] if our entire endeavor would look like the work of children in a sandbox by comparison.
(It’s Peter Jackson, so imagine that being spoken by a guy with an Australian accent, like Mick “Crocodile” Dundee or Steve “Crocodile Hunter” Irwin.) ((I am not aware of Peter Jackson being in any way associated with crocodiles, but many prominent Australian personalities are… mate.))
Given such high praise and acclaim for the original, how could a movie making its world premiere on the SciFi Channel possibly be better? For that matter, why wasn’t the sequel released in theaters? Because I’m a big, fat liar. The first Dungeons & Dragons was a travesty, and if Peter Jackson ever mentioned it he probably used language too vulgar to reproduce here. Fans of the pen-and-paper role-playing game upon which the movie was based consistently failed their Save vs. Revulsion rolls while viewing it. Actor Jeremy Irons (who played the villain, Profion) reportedly said (and I’m paraphrasing here), “Some movies you make because you love the story, others because you need a paycheck. Dungeons & Dragons is one of the latter.”
I’m guessing he said that after he’d cashed the check.
While it clearly wouldn’t take much to improve upon Dungeons & Dragons, the low-budget sequel is actually considerably better. The costumes and sets were decent, as were (for the most part) the special effects. The acting is largely unremarkable, but certainly not bad. Bruce Payne—whose character, Damodar, was Profion’s lackey in the original—delivers a solid performance as the major villain. The story (five heroes must stop the villain from unleashing an ancient dragon and laying waste to the kingdom) is pretty much a standard scenario straight out of the role-playing game, and is rife with references to the source material.
The Good and the Bad
- Monsters. Most (such as the lich, a powerful undead critter) work pretty well. Some do not. The darkstalker, for example, is a bad special effect that hangs from the ceiling and attempts to kill the heroes by being aggressively pointy. The computer-generated dragons aren’t perfect, but they’re a far cry better than anything seen in Dragon Fighter.
- Heroes. The heroes are portrayed fairly well. The rogue (Nim) is sufficiently devious, the barbarian (Lux) appropriately headstrong, the elf mage (Ormaline) adequately mysterious. However, all the heroes insist on referring to Nim as “rogue,” which is akin to constantly calling your friend Valerie Plame “covert agent” at the ambassador’s dinner. The cleric (Dorian) turned out to be the biggest disappointment. He was suitably pious and turned an undead posse like nobody’s business, but he also turned out to be as dumb as a brick and never actually healed anyone. If you’ve played D&D, you know that the cleric serves two purposes: turning undead and patching up his teammates. Dorian never even produced a bottle of mercurochrome. Plus, his forehead tattoos looked like the realm’s worst combover.
- Magic. Pretty much a grab bag. The human mage’s spell-casting looks as though someone in the SFX department just got lazy and ran part of the scene through a Photoshop filter. The elf mage’s combat magic, on the other hand, is fairly satisfying. When she uses her Ring of Ramming, a blue ram’s head flies from her hand to strike the unlucky villain in the chest.
As “SciFi originals” go, Dungeons & Dragons: Wrath of the Dragon God is certainly above average. I felt none of the compulsion to curl up in the fetal position to despair at the loss of two precious hours that normally follows a SciFi Channel Saturday feature presentation. When compared to its predecessor, D&D: WotDG definitely a step in the right direction. It is more respectful of its roots and makes for a fairly entertaining watch.