This is a movie base on a game. Strange to base a movie on a game, but there it is.
I was huge into the Dungeons and Dragons game when i was in college. I played every week. It was a real break from the monotony of constant study. (Right about now Tracers is saying, "Don't geek out PostLibyan. Don't geek out." How can i review this film and not geek out?)
I know people who still play D&D or related games weekly. I play every month or so, and let me tell you the gaming community was not amused at the prospect of this film. No one that i talked to thought that a Hollywood production would do justice to the sheer fun of the game.
Which brings me to an interesting problem that the makers of this film had.
On one hand, the role-playing game, Dungeons and Dragons has millions of loyal fans in this country. There are conventions devoted to the game, where the faithful gather to discuss their characters and to play the game. There are stacks of novels about the game in any book store. There is a ton of stuff to draw on.
So, given the fan base, it must be easy to make such a film: you know you've got an audience. Do a good job with the film, and you will be rolling in cash.
On the other hand, you have a few million people to disappoint. It's kind of like the situation that surrounded that terrible Dune movie that starred Sting: when taking a cult phenomenon and adapting it for the big screen, you run the risk of angering the cult fans.
So having a pre-made audience for a movie is both a good thing and a bad thing.
That said, i must say that the filmakers here follow in the footsteps of whoever made Dune. Real fans will blush and attempt to disassociate themselves from this film.
The first problem that i have with the movie is that it tries to be politically correct, but with no real rationale on the character's part . Modern opinions seem really out-of-place in a film where people are hacking at each other with swords. Sure, there is the whole "magic" thing, but basically the movie (like the game) is set in the Middle Ages, when people were generally ignorant, poor, and stupid. A modern, post-Enlightenment notion like equality for all people really seems out of place. I dunno, maybe it's just me, but i could suspend my disbelief to accept that the cutesy little female Mage can open magic portals and toss lightning around, but The Empress's idea that "all people should be equal" just seemed unbelivable.
It might be me, but it might also be that no real motivation is given for her thoughts and actions. She just "knows in my heart" that this is true and right and good. That is not good character development! Now, her nemesis, the Evil Mage, provides motivation in his assertion that equality for all means less power for Mages and therefore more for The Empress, but we are continually hit over the head with how he is bad and she is good, so that doesn't fly too well either.
In fact, there is a lot of this sort of lack of character development. The main characters in the film just sort of go wandering around doing stuff that advances the plot, without any real motivation. Take, for example, the Dwarven Warrior character. What the heck was he doing in the film? Aside from comic relief and adding a little bit of muscle to the group, i couldn't figure out why he would be wandering around with the rest of the characters.
It's funny, but the group of characters in the movie suffer from what gamers call the "a bunch of adventures meet in a bar and decide to go out seeking fame and money" syndrome. In the game this happens because all of the characters are created by different people, so it's hard to get everyone together. Presumably whoever wrote this film could have exerted a little more control over the characters origins, and this wouldn't have been a problem.
The movie does correctly reflect a problem that gamers are familiar with (the afore-mentioned "ABOAMIABADTGOSFAM" syndrome), and there is one more game thing that the movie does address: death. D&D is a game about people hacking at monsters with swords. Sometimes your character, no matter how funny he is or how much you like him, dies. One of the characters in the film, Snails the comic-relief thief character, dies. That was kind of shocking to me, especially in a Hollywood production ostensibly for children / a younger crowd. And the death was kinda brutal too: the the big bad guy Fighter pummels Snails, stabs him in the back, and then throws the body off a cliff. I respect the movie for allowing a character to die. I think that the mournful scene at Snails' grave at the end of the film was a little over done, but there you go.
But there were a lot of things in the film that were not game-like. The one that really annoyed the heck out of me is when the party of characters walk into a Thieves Guild Hall, unannounced, and didn't get killed! What the heck? In any game i had ever played the characters might have gotten halfway there before a group of 8th Level Assassins pops out of the woodwork and kicks their butt! God, what i wouldn't have given for an 8th Level Assassin to have taught those stupid movie characters some lessons.... Again -- i am willing to suspend my disbelief only so far, and that exceeded my limit!
It's even more troubling because i have seen plenty of films that might as well have been about The Game that suceeded in seeming pretty game-like and which did not ever cause me to go "wait a minute -- i can't believe that!" I am thinking here of Conan The Barbarian and it's sequals. Dragonslayer. Lady Hawke. I am sure that there are others that i'm just not remembering right now. These movies succeed in portraying a fantasy world that is internally consistent, and also uses real human motivations. There is some sort of delicate balance, and the D&D movie exceeded it.
So that's why i have given it such a poor rating. As a fan, this movie embarasses me! Oh, granted, the special effects were awesome. But really cool looking dragons (and there were enough of them to make a real game 12th Level Fighter shake in his boots!) is not enough to make a film.
There is one other thing about the movie that struck me as very very odd: this movie is obviously made in the wake of Star Wars. The magic-using characters toss lightning around that reminds me of The Emperor zapping Luke and Vader at the end of Return of the Jedi. The sword fight scene at the end features two characters with "magic swords" that sizzle and pop like a pair of lightsabers slapping against each other. I don't know if the similarities were intentional, but they seemed pretty obvious to me! Very wierd.
Anyway, my recommendation: if you want a silly film with nice visuals, see this. If you want a real fantasy movie to inspire your addiction to the game, rent a Conan The Barbarian film! Arnold Schwarzennegar -- now there is a D&D character!