The YouTube video after the first quote is a must listen before reading this review.
The YouTube video after the first quote is a must listen before reading this review.
'Dungeons & Dragons' - Dungeons & Dragons, Satan’s game. Your children, like it or not, are attracted in their weaker years to the occult, and a game like D&D fuels their imagination and makes them feel special, while drawing them deeper and deeper into the bowels of El Diablo...
The late Gary Gygax and Dave Arneson were brave men. If you invented a game whose primary players were single males, who gamed in groups with other males living vicariously through a miniature and a stat sheet while the head nerd...player navigates you through a magical world full of enchanted weapons, magic spells, and horrible monsters, chances are you wouldn't want people to know your name. But these men were proud, proud that they had created a game whose only limits are your imagination (or your dice rolling prowess), a game that will exist and live on for years to come, outliving any video game system ever made. Aside from some controversies from religious groups, more than likely the same ones who had a fit over 'Harry Potter,' and the occasional psychotic episode blamed on the game, there is one giant black mark that will never be forgotten, something so cruel that it's amazing the game survived. That disaster, of course, is the 2000 film adaptation of the fantasy RPG.
A poor amalgamation of the fantasy action genre and the quasi-board game, 'Dungeons & Dragons' may very well be one of the worst films ever made. It makes 'Eragon' look original. Heck, it makes 'In the Name of the King' seem inspired, coherent, and well paced. These things should not happen. An adventure story starring a pair of thieves (Justin Whalin and Marlon Wayans) and their accidental journey to help save their kingdom from the schemes of Profion (Jeremy Irons), this film tries to appeal to both gamers and the genre film audience at once, and fails to provide enough for either side to enjoy.
I wanna cast a spell!
Magic is a very important component of the film, despite the fact that the magic effects all look tremendously awful and ancient. To be fair, though, compared to the effects in other films of its age, it looked ancient even when it was new. With the lead villain being a mage of sorts, and magic centering around the main plot, concerning a mysterious scroll that may save the kingdom (despite the fact that it is a McGuffin), there are plenty of opportunities for fans to possibly recognize the spells portrayed, even if they seem like basic genre norms.
Where are the Cheetos?
There's an abundance of cheese in this film. In fact, one could argue that the entire plot, and numerous characters, are far too similar to those found in 'Star Wars: Episode I: The Phantom Menace.' You have the scenes with senate unrest and a young ruler (a horrible Thora Birch) who is seemingly naive, and the evil council members trying to take her power. One of them, we'll just call him Darth Irons, is plotting to take over the entire kingdom. He has a bald warrior apprentice, and both share a pool of "warriors" who can be overcome in mass quantities, so much so that there is no tension whatsoever to any sequence they're found in. There's a Jar Jar Binks doppelganger who meets the fate most fans could only have dreamed of. In fact, the apprentice kills one of the two heroes, and leaves it to the now pissed off other hero to take revenge. Swords in the final act glow, with the hero getting blue sparks and the villains having red ones. Gee, sounds familiar. There's a really old chick with pointy ears (when two hundred forty some odd years old you reach, look this good, you will not) whose presence is confounding, and a drunken, lazy dwarf, who obviously represents George Lucas or something, I don't know.
Roll the dice to see if I'm getting drunk!
Quite honestly, liquoring up may be the only way this film will be any fun. The countless swooping establishing shots are lame, the class battle subtext of the film doesn't work, and we never really see the problem, only hear it, over and over. It's hard to be intimidated by a bald villain with blue lipstick, especially if it's a dude. It's harder to care about the heroes when they're one dimensional. The random D&D monsters thrown in for familiarity sake (to try to appeal to fans) don't fit in one bit, and did I mention there's a dwarf who does nothing but drink and have the worst fake beard in film history? If you took the tiniest sip of a wine cooler for every stupid moment in this film, you'd still end up falling off your chair as you got up to turn this fiasco off.
Cool, I get drunk!
'Dungeons & Dragons: The Wrath of the Dragon King' - So, how 'bout those 'Lord of the Rings' films, huh? You know, that story about a lost artifact with amazing dark powers that threatens the world, unless a group of heroes can risk everything to unite and battle unbeatable odds and suffer grave losses, in a magical fantasy land full of awesome creatures and numerous humanoid beings.
Oh...right...yeah, umm...'Dungeons & Dragons,' those films are about as far from the Oscar winning trilogy as any fantasy series can get, despite the similarities (if you want to call the occasional blatant rip off a similarity for convenience sake). 'D&D: The Wrath of the Dragon King,' the second film in the series (who knows, hopefully the last) is an improvement in every aspect over the original, and it's still a stinker. The focus isn't on an all-encompassing tale where heroes and villains jump in from out of nowhere. Rather, the actual sensibilities and play style of the game itself are taken into account, as we get a film that actually feels like it comes from the game universe.
The plot, if we can call it that, is just an excuse for the daring journey, but the kingdom of Izmir is once again in danger. Damodar is back, having apparently been cursed by Darth Irons unbeknownst to us, and has gone from being an undead wandering soul of sorts, to once again a flesh and blood evil doer who plans on resurrecting a horrible dark dragon that will spell the end for anyone in his path. A group of heroes, including a knight named Berek, a rogue called Nim, a female barbarian who goes by Lux (who is very poor about returning calls, by the way. I know...), a wizard dubbed Ormaline, and a cleric known as Dorian set out to stop the menace before it is realized, facing numerous perils along the way.
So, where does this film improve upon the original, besides having an actual D&D feel? For one, the lack of an extremely overacting villain and dead serious, boring ruler makes for a more free, believable tale. There's no class war subtext, or any subtext at all, for that matter. Instead, we get a story where there's an actual adventure, bonds forming between the party, and some very interesting problems faced by them along the way. The fact that the group is formed prior to the adventure (a fellowship, if you will...) means there aren't any random "hey, I'm here to help!" characters who may as well parachute in with machine guns or humvees. We may not have much reason to care for the characters, but now their villains are much more realistic and realized, rather than baddies for the sake of, on every level.
Of course, 'The Wrath of the Dragon King' is still a bit of a failure, due to the fact that it: a) looks about ten times cheaper than it actually is; b) is still horribly acted; c) features a main villain whose presence makes absolutely no sense, who may as well just be some new fiend, as it would make more sense; or d) all of the above. Of course, the answer is d). There really is never any sense of despair, or doom, from anyone involved, although some of the supporting heroes are dispatched in very cool manners. They seemingly die solely to create dramatic tension, a plot allusion teased in 'A Bug's Life.' It's also quite annoying that there is, again, an obstacle course that is expertly navigated. C'mon, in real life, these horrible machinations and traps would kill anyone, yet whenever a hero goes through it, they always succeed. I'd call it Indiana Jones syndrome, but I'd rather not invoke his name in this review.
The 'D&D' films aren't good. There can be no arguing that. 'The Wrath of the Dragon King' improves on the original in many ways, but it's still a failure, a film that's difficult to finish in one sitting or take seriously. It's escapist fantasy, and little else. If you go into these films with that mindset, you may have a good time, but you may be better suited just watching a single extended edition of the Tolkien films.
'Dungeons & Dragons' - .5/5
'Dungeons & Dragons: The Wrath of the Dragon King' - 2/5
The Disc: Vital Stats
The 'Dungeons & Dragons' two film pack arrives on Blu-ray across two separate BD25 Single Layer Discs, that are reportedly Region A/B/C. While 'Dungeons & Dragons' is making its debut on Blu-ray disc in this release, 'The Wrath of the Dragon King' was previously available as a standalone in Europe.
'Dungeons & Dragons' - I'm attacking the darkness!
The original 'Dungeons & Dragons' film isn't all that sharp in HD, with the 1080p AVC MPEG-4 encode (notice, it's a WB release not using VC-1!) doing what little it can with what little is there. The picture starts out dirty, and cleans up as it goes on, perhaps due to any existing prints only ever playing the first reel before evacuating any theater and sparing the rest of the film from being worn in (yes, I know, that's probably not why, just let me have this one!), but that is the only problem that solves itself. The picture is regularly flat in the opening half of the film, and sporadically in the latter half. Numerous shots have off skin colors, with a few showing pale white features highlighted by a purple light. Noise can be brutal in some scenes, but not as brutal as the CG that blurs, waves, pixelates, and artifacts, never fitting in with the scene it is in, sometimes flickering in brightness to further highlight that it isn't real. Crush is a slight problem, but it's not drastic.
There are a few good shots, but they're often surrounded by such awfulness that it's a moot point. This one feels like a dump, and that's just fitting considering how much of a pile the film itself is.
'Dungeons & Dragons: The Wrath of the Dragon King' - 'D&D 2: Medieval Boogaloo' impresses on Blu-ray, with an absolutely rocking 1080p AVC MPEG-4 encode that's sure to make up for the awfulness that is the first film's transfer. Sure there are still cheeseball effects, but the picture as a whole is far more stable and infinitely more consistent. Picture depth is at times amazing, detail levels are constantly strong, with some absolutely gorgeous close up shots, and great textures, in hair and clothing alike. Sure, it's hard to get a good feel for the textures of the set when they're so obviously rubber or plastic and move when touched, but along with the fantastic edges and the random pop of hair or clothing fuzz, this release only has a few minor problems, like minor banding, blown out whites, and the occasional noise burst, that keep it from being top tier.
A surprising release, to be sure. Your brain may beg you to turn it off, but your eyes will demand you stay...so long as they aren't bleeding from the random fail on display in the film itself.
'Dungeons & Dragons' - 2/5
'Dungeons & Dragons: The Wrath of the Dragon King' - 4/5
'Dungeons & Dragons' - Whatever! Ok, you guys can talk now if you want.
Color me shocked. 'Dungeons & Dragons' gets a lossless DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1 mix that's actually pretty good! Between dialogue that always has proper dynamics and not a single out of place line, actual bass presence, constant rear use, including localization effects (even if they're hardly immersive), and an appropriate sense of busyness to match any segment shown on screen, this one is a winner. There are few things worse than big fight sequences that sound like there's no one in them, or muffled, fuzzy dialogue, and there's none of that here. It could be better, mind you, as there is some lack of punch, and as often as the rears are used, they're hardly powerful, and movement effects, non-existent as they are, would have been nice in the final fight. Still, a thumbs up!
'Dungeons & Dragons: The Wrath of the Dragon King' - There's one, and only one, audio option for the 'D&D' "sequel," and it's a pretty nice DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1 mix. Dialogue stays front and center, but there are no moments requiring a listener to strain to hear a line of dialogue, even in fairly busy sequences. Rears get nice presence, including some light echoes, that hold up through most of the film. Bass is late to the party, but once it starts it doesn't want to quit, particularly with the emergence of each dragon in the film. I would have liked some more localization or movement effects, as this one seems cheap (and with a fifteen million dollar budget, it wasn't), but for a film that's almost direct-to-video, it's not too shabby sounding.
'Dungeons & Dragons' - 3.5/5
'Dungeons & Dragons: The Wrath of the Dragon King' - 3.5/5
'Dungeons & Dragons'
'Dungeons & Dragons: The Wrath of the Dragon King'
'Dungeons & Dragons' - 3.5/5
'Dungeons & Dragons: The Wrath of the Dragon King' - 1.5/5
'D&D' is the king of fantasy role-playing games. It has been since it was first born, and will continue to be for a very long time. Amazingly, such a deep universe hasn't lent its hand to anything worthwhile cinematically, as the two films in the series are absolute garbage. This double feature captures them in all their "glory," with a crummy release for the original, and a stunningly good disc for the second. Extras are in abundance, as well. No matter what, this series will always be for fans only, and that's what this release is, by default.
Portions of this review also appear in our coverage of Dunkirk on Blu-ray. This post features unique Vital Disc Stats, Video, and Final Thoughts sections.