After years of legal disputes between Warner Bros., Allspark Pictures, and Sweetpea Entertainment the latest attempt at a Dungeons and Dragons movie is moving forward. There aren’t many details being revealed at the moment, but a few facts have been released. The biggest piece of new is probably the fact that the movie is going to be set in the Forgotten Realms. The biggest question on my mind is will the creative team be using some of the highly recognizable characters from one of the many novels set in the Forgotten Realms, or will they choose to feature new characters of their own. Elminster and Drizzt would seem like the most likely choices to appear in a movie.
In the past Dungeons and Dragons movies have been very hit or miss, and they have yet to achieved the level of success that studios expect from such a popular franchise. Dungeons and Dragons is one of the most recognizable staples of the fantasy genre right alongside of The Lord of the Rings and Harry Potter.
As we anticipate the upcoming film I thought it might be worth examining the history of previous Dungeons and Dragons movies that have been released in the past.
Dungeons and Dragons
The first Dungeons and Dragons movie came out in 2000, and since then it has been an almost universal sore spot for tabletop gamers. The plot revolved around a pair of thieves, an aspiring mage, a dwarf, and an elf in the service of the empress all of whom were attempting to keep a magical staff out of the hands of and evil mage named Profion.
Viewers criticized everything from the acting and the directing, to the plot and the overall look of the film. I actually own it on dvd, and I’ve never felt that it was as bad as many of my fellow gamers make it out to be. However the first time I saw it was more the a decade before I played Dungeons and Dragons so I didn’t have any emotional connection to the game. To me this movie is a lot like a campaign being run by a new dungeon master for players who are just getting started with roleplaying games. It relied on a plot that was familiar, the characters felt more like stereotypical than anything else. I can easily imagine the actors from this film sitting around a table years later remembering moments from this campaign with a mixture of groans and laughter.
Dungeons and Dragons: Wrath of the Dragon God
In 2005 another attempt was made to capture the attention of audiences with a made-for-TV sequel. In this film the evil Damodar played by Bruce Payne returns as the new antagonist. After his defeat at the hands of Ridley Freeborn, he suffered as an undead entity under the curse Profion placed on him. Seeking revenge he spent years searching for the Orb of Faluzure, a powerful artifact linked to an imprisoned black dragon.
This film achieved an impressive feat in and of itself, it carried on some of the plot threads from a wildly unpopular film and managed to improve some of the things that had hurt the first Dungeons and Dragons movie. For one thing the characters are just cooler for lack of a better word. This time around the heroes are Lord Berek a lord and former captain of the king’s guard, his wife Melora a young mage, Lux a female barbarian, Nim the master thief, Dorian a cleric of Obad-Hai, and Ormaline a elf wizard.
While Berek, Lux, Nim, Dorian, and Ormaline go on a quest to recover the Orb of Faluzure from Damodar Melora works with the Mage’s Council to find a way to defeat the dragon. The plot feels far more adventurous and epic than the first film did, and the characters were purposefully patterned after characters from an actual Dungeons and Dragons campaign. It also featured some classic D&D creatures such as: a white dragon, magimin, lizardfolk, and a Lich named Klaxx the Maligned.
Critics said that Wrath of the Dragon God should only be viewed by hardcore Dungeons and Dragons fans as many of the references would be lost on others. Most people I talk to vastly prefer the sequel to the original film, and feel that it was a move in the right direction.
Dungeons and Dragons: The Book of Vile Darkness
In 2012, more than a decade after the release of the first Dungeons and Dragons movie a third installment was released as a direct-to-DVD feature. This time they tackled an issue that has been plaguing DMs and players for years. The evil campaign. A warrior in the service of Pelor infiltrates a group of evil warriors seeking the Book of Vile Darkness. I enjoyed the movie, but I think it’s been largely ignored by most people aside from those who are avid followers of everything related to Dungeons and Dragons.
So what can the crew behind this new film learn from the previous attempts? First, don’t ignore the source material and rely on fantasy tropes to draw in a broader audience. Second, don’t make the movie inaccessible to people who’ve never rolled a d20. Finally, don’t be afraid to experiment. Say what you will about the first three movies I give the creative teams behind them credit for telling their own stories I’m looking forward to learning more about the new movie as further details become available.