Friday, February 10, 2006

DUNGEONS & DRAGONS: WRATH OF THE DRAGON GOD

Making it's direct-to DVD debut this month is the sequel to the disastrous theatrical DUNGEONS AND DRAGONS movie, DUNGEONS & DRAGONS: WRATH OF THE DRAGON GOD (2005).

While it's not a "great" movie, it's a vast improvement over the theatrical film, and a genuine and respectful attempt to adapt the conventions of the role playing game into a live action movie, unlike the first one, which just seemed intent on ripping off other fantasy franchises. Monsters and character classes act as their game counterparts do, spells are recognizable and handled correctly. Wizards of the Coast, the company that now produces the game, was much more involved in the production of this one, and it shows.

All the elements of a good D&D campaign are present in the screenplay by Brian Rudnick and Robert Kimmel, and the talented cast of unknowns play their roles straight and without any self-parody. No Wayans brothers in this one, thank God. The story and direction could have been stronger, but hey, a group of adventurers actually go into a dungeon on a quest. That's all I ask of a D&D film, and at least this one (unlike the first) delivers that.

The CGI effects aren't LORD OF THE RINGS quality, but neither are they embarrassing. In fact, some of the designs are actually quite effective, especially the White Dragon. The location work in Lithuania is also particularly nice, with authentic-looking medieval locations and some very picturesque woodlands (it makes a nice change from the now-familiar New Zealand backdrops of LOTR and XENA.)

Gamers will have fun identifying which spells and skills the characters are employing (they are not all "spelled out" for the audience, which I found refreshing) while fans of fantasy films in general will appreciate the solid production values, costume design and well-choreographed action sequences. In fact, the movie had a small budget, but doesn't look particularly cheap.

The DVD looks and sounds great – Warners provides a rock solid 1.85:1 anamorphic widescreen transfer with a healthy Dolby 5.1 Surround sound mix. For extras, there's a commentary track featuring a bunch of D&D experts and players, an informative behind-the-scenes "Making of" featurette, and an interview with D&D creator Gary Gygax.

As I said before, it's not a great film, but the story – while familiar – holds together well, the performances are generally pretty good, and it's entertaining. And don't misunderstand me – while those familiar with the game will get the most out of it, it's not necessary to enjoy the movie.

D&D gamers will definitely want to check it out, while for fantasy film fans, it's at least worth a rental.

BUY: Dungeons and Dragons- Wrath of the Dragon God (Widescreen Edition)