D ‘n’ D: It’s dynamite

By Paul Margach

Walking through the old part of Mac Hall on any given day, you’ll perhaps notice several students down by Speaker’s Corner playing with cards. I don’t know much about them but I’ve always found them to be rather fascinating people. Is that all they ever do? But the truth is, they’re really just like the rest of us, only the mind-numbing tonic is different. While we drink, they play Magic.

Speaking of mind-numbing, the film version of Dungeons & Dragons is coming. Actually, that’s a little cruel. Critics will doubtlessly complain this movie is childish, formulaic and poorly acted and, of course, they’re absolutely correct. But name a fantasy that wasn’t. Despite the brilliant Willow and a few others, the genre has never quite shaken the B-movie mentality and this is where D ‘n’ D thrives, albeit fleetingly.

The story goes back and forth between a major political crisis in the city of Izmer and a small group of bandits and Mages unwittingly thrown into it. Both the young Empress Savina (Thora Birch) and the deceitful Archmage Profion (Jeremy Irons) find out about a sceptre that controls the Red Dragons, and whoever gets it will attain supreme power. The Mage Marina (Zoe McLellan) is forced to befriend a pair of thieves and, together, they must prevent Profion from getting his hands on the sceptre.

The handful of scenes between Savina, her councilors and Profion are dull and full of nonsensical dialogue that made me wish I had a D ‘n’ D expert along with me to translate. While Birch has to tackle an appallingly underwritten character, it is Irons who’s a particular disappointment here. The evil and anger are present and accounted for but there is absolutely nothing lurking in the background. Why would he have chosen such a one-dimensional role? Shouldn’t he be doing what he does best, playing men who have taboo affairs but still come across as victims? Irons’ overacting does the film a disservice. By contrast, the lovable crooks Ridley and Snails are so charming precisely because Justin Whalin and Marlon Wayons are such limited actors. A fantasy does not need good actors but must avoid over-actors.

Even though many of the characters are good fun, the seriousness of the plot proves this film’s chief failing. Are we really expected to take the ridiculous premise so seriously? Shouldn’t a story with magic, dragons and some surreal special effects lighten up a bit? Like too many fantasies, the premise lacks believability but is presented seriously. It seems as though the viewer spends most of the time laughing at the plot, not with it.

But D ‘n’ D has a couple of things going for it that help to make it bearable. First, it surprisingly lacks pretension; characters such as Ridley and Snails manage to retain their common touch throughout. Second, it is one of the most delightfully campy Hollywood epics in some time. Like all good camp, it goes way over the top but doesn’t realize it for a second (The Rocky Horror Picture Show tries too hard). It may well go down one day as classic "so bad, it’s good" cinema.

D ‘n’ D is a perfectly adequate fantasy and shouldn’t let its hardcore fan base down. It is possible for the rest of us to like it as well but that means shutting off your mind for two hours, and avoiding anything approaching critical thought.

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