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Sunday 21 April 2013

Terrible Films I Love, Volume II : Dungeons & Dragons

Part two of the ongoing series: Terrible Films I love, start with the introduction if you haven't already.

Phantom Menace poster anyone?

As a teenager and into early adulthood I was an avid player of various RPGs and it was with D&D that I first began. It's been well over ten years now since I last played and I'm currently suffering from a real sense of nostalgia about it. It may well be time to dig out the old D&D books (unless I've sold them on eBay and can't remember) and try and convince some aging academics to take part in a game.

I can remember countless conversations when we were young about how our ideal fantasy film would look (and I think Peter Jackson did a great job of satisfying my 13 year-old self's idea of a Lord of the Rings film) and so although I was quite a bit older when I heard they had made a Dungeons & Dragons film, I was still intrigued with a proper Wizards of the Coast backed film project. Especially as it featured Jeremy Irons, an actor I really admire and enjoyed in Brideshead Revisited and many more.

One fear was a 'Disneyfication' of the film, by that I mean a softening of tone, although keeping various stereotypes, and an anachronistic simplification of Medieval style cultures, with a harking back to crypto-right-wing notions of tradition and hierarchy, albeit ones that never actually existed anywhere. This was something increasingly began to bother me about fantasy setting RPGs as I grew older. I need not have worried too much though, because that particular problem was the least of concerns for the Dungeons & Dragons film.

It would be no understatement to say that Jeremy Irons steals every single scene he is in, indeed, he does more than just steal scenes he utterly devastates them with overacting so fierce that it's probably dangerous to witness. It's scenery chewing that defies belief.

Don't look right at him!!

We might ask ourselves why, that is, why would a well-established, respected, and seasoned dramatic actor find himself with a first-time director, an awful script, and less than excellent co-stars? Perhaps he has a rubbish agent, or has no personal judgement, or is desperate for the money. 

Certainly it can't be his love of the project that motivated him. Irons gives the impression of a man who has found himself somehow in a crap job and thought to himself, "Sod this, I'm going to go as far as I can, have fun doing it, and let's see if that stupid kid director has the balls to stop me!" Which, for the record, Courtney Solomon did not, but also I'm not sure that Jeremy enjoyed himself given a brief insight a 'behind the scenes' clip gave me. 

In one of the many pointless extras on the DVD, there's an opportunity to see the "D&D creator" in a cameo appearance. I'd like to point out that there were TWO D&D creators, although Dave Arneson was probably lucky to get that mention (even though he got deleted from the film) as Gary Gygax was probably better known (thanks to Futurama).

Anyway, in said clip, we see Jeremy Irons gie'in it laldie (much like the clip above) and once line is delivered and "cut!" is called he drops and stomps off with such an expression that you'd never think he was in any way finding joy in his work.

Summary: If only Jeremy Irons played every character in this film...

What of our heroes? Well, they're quite a pair... Ridley or Ripley (excellent fantasy name there writers! Oh and I checked it was Ridley) is your typical anti-hero every-man super-man, played with something like charm by that bloke who played 'Jimmy' in the New Adventures of Superman  (Justin Whalin). I say 'something like charm' because the only evidence of this charm is the occasional attempt at a mischievous grin, which results in our hero looking like a lobotomy patient or deranged sex pest. This isn't to say the actor's terrible, or massively overacting, but just that he seems woefully miscast as the hero. Especially when they have to rely on a chosen one trope to explain why any of this shit is happening. 

So far so American hero cliche, what better accompaniment than a throw-back black sidekick? Marlon Wayans plays the servile retarded comic-relief character Snails as a homage to Chris Tucker's character in The Fifth Element. Although I've no way of checking and it hardly excuses him anyway, Wayans filmed his scenes in only four days before returning to another production. Maybe that's why he didn't notice quite how awful it all was and it's certainly why when both heroes are wounded, one falls to an ignominious death (Snails) and the other (Ripley?) is, for no other than reason than he's the 'chosen one', healed by the elf king (is he a king? maybe not, but he's Definitely NOT Elrond) played by the least elf-like actor they could find, the always extraordinary Tom Baker. Maybe it was the Doctor Who connection that led to his casting, but not even as Doctor Who has Tom Baker had to say such nonsense. Actually, it appears the director was trying to give us another depiction of despised Jar-Jar Binks from the Phantom Menace in the character of Snails, because he's apparently meant to fulfill the same role, in that he's equally irritating and offensive. If, however, you've got a character who spends the majority of his time wailing and falling into things it does seem a bit odd, cruel even, to then have him slaughtered and throw his body off a castle battlements.

Summary: Worst buddy combo ever? Miscasting and offensive stereotypes are not a great double-act.

What of the supporting cast? Because no true D&D inspired film should be without 'the group'. For those that don't know, one of D&D's key features (that makes up for the lack of actual role-playing) is the necessity for a group of characters to work together, each utilising their class-specific skills, i.e. you need a thief to open doors and disarm traps, a fighter to fight, a cleric to heal, and a magic-user to support with magic.

So, what's the combination of the movie team? Two thieves, a mage, a dwarf, and an elf 'tracker'. Actually, Ridley is probably more of a thief/fighter with some innate magic skills. One of the benefits of being the 'chosen one' is that you can do everything on your own, which goes against the whole idea of D&D as a game. Not that a truthful adherence to the rules will make it a better film, but just that (like I've mentioned before in my Hobbit review) it's a Tolkien-influenced fantasy theme for the individual to be reliant of his or her group, that is, their friends. D&D as game comes from the Tolkien idea that nothing can be achieved without collaboration as a group.

I've already got to the point, much quicker than anticipated, where I can't be bothered going on with this review. If I was to tell you ALL that is bad about the film it would take another 100 hours and probably remove all the fun you can have with it.

So, for the sake of brevity and my sanity, here is just a short list of a few of things that I could have mentioned:

1. Where did that dwarf come from? What's his name? Where's he gone? Who the hell is that guy?! Why is the DWARF the same height as everyone else?
2. Does that elf's breastplate have nipples?
3. Why does the big bad guy have blue lipstick? Who'd tell him?
4. Richard O'Brien has a 'crystal' maze.
5. Constant establishing shots of Disney castles.
6. Does the director really love Indiana Jones THAT much? *copies scene*
7. Not Phantom Menace too! *copies inherent racism*
8. "We're all equal... and I'm getting knighted." *sigh*
9. Random purple headed man, possibly an extra from Buffy.
10. If you can't afford decent CG why use it so much? And in direct shot?
11. Thora Birch can't be bothered to act. Note: This is being EXTRA kind.
12. Who the fuck are these guys? Where did they come from? What are they saying?
13. Makes an episode of Xena look like a well-researched historical epic.
14. Must have taken plot ideas directly from a 12 year-old boy's D&D game.

That's probably enough.

Final reckoning: If not for Jeremy Irons this would be an excruciating experience, but once ol' Jezza has settled you in for what's in store, it really is quite a fun shout-at-the-idiot-athon.

Requirement: Beer, group of raucous friends, ability to find humour in dire acting/script/effects.

Finally, a top 20 moments video compilation from the same guy (The RetroCritic) that made the excellent Street Fighter movie 'embarrassing moments' video.