I remember when I first read that “Dungeons & Dragons” was about to come to theaters in cinematic form. At the time of the film’s release I was obsessed with fantasy, and dragons and wouldn’t you know it? Zoe McLellan was co-starring. To fans of obscure science fiction, she co-starred as a gorgeous nerd in the TV series “Invisible Man.” If you want to know what that is, look it up. It’s a long story. I digress. McLellan would go on to play a gorgeous nerdy librarian in “Dungeons & Dragons” who really didn’t do much in the film. But she looked fetching the entire time. What makes “Dungeons & Dragons” such an astonishing film, is that it was released by New Line Cinema in the year 2000. As stated by other movie critics, “Lord of the Rings: The Fellowship of the Ring” would be released a year later around December of the same time.
“Dungeons & Dragons” is far and wide a truly awful fantasy adventure film, while “Fellowship of the Ring” is such an incredible fantasy epic, it’s obscene. So “Dungeons & Dragons” feels like, in many respects, a test drive before the big run with their future fantasy epic. It’s almost like the beach goer taking a cold shower before getting in to the cold ocean. It’s just one big preparation for the actual business at hand. And thinking back on “Dungeons & Dragons” years after watching it and being colossally disappointed (and even disgusted in some way), it seems obvious New Line funded this film to warm up for the big “Lord of the Rings” run in theaters. I mean, come on, there’s even a gutsy dwarf warrior (played by Lee Arenberg), and a Elvish soldier (Kristen Wilson), both of whom accompany our heroes on their journey. That can’t be just a coincidence. As stated “Dungeons & Dragons” is a truly awful fantasy epic and one that makes terrible decisions at every turn.
The casting is bad, the writing is bad, the acting is bad, and the special effects are just shameful. I used to be able to appreciate this film on a guilty pleasure level, but that’s tough when the crew behind this seem to deliver the material with such conviction in spite of the fact that it’s all so convoluted and bland. The character names are so void of enthusiasm, they all sound like prescription medication (take one Profion and a half of Damodar before bedtime!), The special effects and set pieces feel like throwaway props from “Xena” and “Hercules” that were in Kevin Sorbo’s garage sale, and much of the script’s narrative feels either incomplete or not completely thought out. What in the name of God does the final scene of this movie even mean? Are the characters that died actually alive? If so, then how? Where did they go? Why are the heroes going to meet them there? Why can’t the undead comrades meet our heroes? If Elvish tracker Norda could transfer bodies of her comrades, why didn’t she just do that in the first place? Is there a heaven in “Dungeons & Dragons”? What does it look like?
But hey at least there’s Marlon Wayans who plays sidekick Snails. The man is so out of place in this film, it’s absolutely distracting. And Snails is little more than the urban comic relief often reminiscent of Mantan Moreland on more than one occasion whose job is to react to dialogue with double takes, and scamper around with a goofy scream. And the casting of Justin Whalin feels like preliminary casting of child actors before Elijah Wood became Frodo Baggins. “Dungeons & Dragons” feels incredibly under developed and ham fisted for the most part. The story is poorly developed and incredibly convoluted, the special effects are mediocre at best, and acting champs like Thora Birch and Jeremy Irons suffer from poor direction varying between chewing the scenery and being mistaken for scenery. All of those men and teenagers who spent most of the eighties playing the board game, hoping to play a great film to synch with their weekly 7up and Cheeto filled campaigns will have to look elsewhere. “Dungeons & Dragons” is just pure dreck as an adaptation, a film, and fantasy fare. I doubt anyone will be cosplaying as Snails anytime, soon.