Dungeons & Dragons (2000) (part 2 of 10)
Before I go any further I should say this: Marlon Wayans shot his scenes for the movie in the space of weeks, during a break in filming for Darren Aronofsky’s intense drug tragedy Requiem for a Dream, which ended up getting released that same year. His performance there is really good, so he has actually contributed something of worth to society. Bear that in mind while reading this; he’s going to use up that goodwill pretty quickly, believe you me.
Ridley thinks the fires are the result of a twisted magic experiment gone wrong, not because he’s seen the first scene but because he blames the mages for everything. After all, he says, “When’s the last time you saw a river catch on fire?” Clearly he’s not from Cleveland.
Why, in general, is Ridley stewing for payback against the mages? Well, in the film proper, we never actually find out. A cut scene later will explain everything, but director Solomon’s overly optimistic commentary hints that they’re saving some of his back-story for a sequel. Thankfully, it didn’t work out that way.
Snails isn’t having any of this, and chuckles at the idea of “Ridley the savior,” which in a movie like this is just tempting fate. But first things first, they gotta get paid, and Ridley finds a way to combine business with vague personal vendetta by suggesting they rob the Magic School, which for some reason looks like the Sleeping Beauty castle of Disney logo fame.
Ridley’s logic is unimpeachable; with the fire keeping everyone busy, the school will be unguarded. Because… the magic school security guards will be needed to… I dunno, direct traffic? Throw buckets of water on the water? I don’t think our heroes rolled very high Wisdom scores.
Another spinning CGI landscape shot (at last count there were about eighteen billion of these) takes us to the Council of Mages. The interior is actually the Prague State Opera, and it’s a great location for a scene like this, though the lights look a bit too much like they’re electric. (This is a problem with a lot of the on-screen lighting in this film, actually.)
Profion is trying to persuade the Council that the still-unseen Empress is trying to disband them, and wants them to confiscate her royal scepter, which she uses to control dragons (like the glowy rod from the opening scene, except it actually works.)
Profion gives a stirring speech, and since he’s pretending to be a good guy he doesn’t quite turn it up to 11; more 10.5. I’m confused as to why he’s brought Damodar along, though. Having your black-leather-clad, blue-lipped henchman seen with you at this sort of event can’t be good for your image. The Council gets in a tizzy, apparently convinced that if the Empress won’t surrender the scepter, it must be taken by force.
Yet again, the CGI model of the city gets spun around, and we end up in the interior of a church; I don’t think that’s what it’s supposed to be in the scene, but it’s the location that they found so there you go. Empress Savina is here, walking with… some old guy. He’s got a name, it’s on IMDB somewhere, but he’s a disposable wise sage figure who may as well have “I Am Doomed” stenciled on his forehead.
A word about Thora Birch’s performance in this movie, if I may. It sucks. Birch shot this film before American Beauty was released, and it’s a good thing that movie came out first, because her performance here is sleep-inducing. She obviously didn’t care about the project at all, and though I can’t blame her, her phoned-in readings make the experience of watching this all the worse. I came away from this film convinced that her performance in American Beauty had been a fluke, but then I saw Ghost World and mostly forgave her. Mostly.
Savina is upset because the privileged aristocrats she’s about to dispose have inexplicably turned against her. She knows that the people should be free and equal, “from the depths of [her] soul” no less. She asks Old Dude what she can do to stop Profion, and he reveals that he has a scroll which tells the location of the Rod of Savrille, which has the power to control red dragons.
Geek infodump time. You see, the dragon that Profion killed was a gold dragon, the type Savina can control with her scepter. Dragons in D&D have their morality color coded for your convenience, and gold dragons are Good while red dragons are Evil. If Savina had the Rod of Jimmy Saville, she could give away her scepter and still control a bunch of dragons.
Unfortunately, this conversation has been overheard by a CGI imp, who disappears in a flash of Lens Flare. Ol’ Impy is clearly in the service of evil, because we cut immediately to Profion twirling dramatically and growling, “I must have that Rod of Savrille!” Down, boy. Nobody likes someone who’s too eager. (Have I mentioned that I fucking love Jeremy Irons’ performance?)
Profion is delivering this monologue in a chamber full of bones. This is actually another Prague location, the so-called “Bone Chapel” built to honor victims of the plague (who probably did not anticipate being used as set dressing in a bad fantasy movie, but life and death are full of disappointments). So, if you ever want to see a building made out of dead people, there’s your next vacation.
Profion is consumed with desire for the Rod; with it he could bring down the Empress, the Council, that bastard Homeowners’ Association who won’t let him put severed heads on his front lawn, etc. Damodar asks for orders, so Profion slips into smug mode and tells him to “pay a visit” to the magic school and persuade the Old Dude to hand over the scroll giving the Rod’s location, with extreme prejudice. The magic school? Why, that’s where Ridley and Snails are going! This is either the beginning of an epic fantasy or a bedroom farce.
Can you guess what kind of shot transitions us to the next scene? Go ahead, try.
Very good! Yes, we spin over to the Magic School, where Ridley and Snails have made a daring off-screen climb into the highest tower. Snails whines about going up so high, sniping, “Why don’t we just rob God while we’re up here?” That’s almost funny. Kind of. The movie hasn’t pissed me off too badly just yet. Ridley tries to talk Snails off the rope, but the latter goes on griping, now about the time they robbed a halfling. “And who’d he beat from the waist down?” You may want to stop your stories earlier, Snails. Just sayin’.
Snails jumps down and Ridley almost catches him, but is distracted by a noise from off-screen, and so hilarity ensues. The two find themselves in the school attic, complete with unconvincing dragon skeletons and various magical knick-knacks, mostly culled from chemistry sets and garage sales by the looks of it.
We cut to the surprisingly small magic school library, which does have a nice ceiling painting (another authentic Prague touch; I think this film holds the Prague-per-minute record among American films). There, the Old Sage is working with Hot Librarian Wizard-in-Training Marina to find a scroll that gives the location of the Rod of Savrille. He warns that even if the Rod is found, they can’t use it right away. First Profion “must be made to expose himself” to the Council, and I’m sure that’s sound advice in context but come on. There are only so many puerile sex jokes I can make before I start to look bad.
Back to the hot librarian mage. Marina is played by Zoe McLellan, and is cute and geeky and redheaded despite not being in a Joss Whedon venture. Fetish Fuel aside, Zoe actually gives one of the film’s better performances. This isn’t saying much, but she generally makes the best of bad material.
The Sage locates the scroll, and Marina joins him at a table where they’ve got to do various magic things, and there is daylight coming through the windows. The opera house scene was one thing, but this is just dumb. This is clearly the kind of movie that had enough money to light scenes (and this is no small feat), but not enough to light them well. The sage tries to decode the scroll by sprinkling some magic dust on it and saying some words, but he gets a puff of smoke for his troubles.
The thieves are still poking around in the attic. Snails is taken with a dragon tooth that’s about as tall as he is (as well as a smaller gold one, which just raises questions), but Ridley makes him put them back, instead moving to the caged animal department, past some stuffed guinea pigs and roaches under glass. I hate to break it to you guys, but you can’t just raid the local medical supply center to find convincing props for a fantasy movie. Unless it’s about a magical medical supply center, obviously.
Snails finally locates the one genuinely treasure-like object in the room, an ornate jeweled box, and since they actually paid money for this prop you can tell they’ll be doing something with it. (It’s like the one brightly colored object in the scenery of a Scooby-Doo cartoon.) Oohing over the box, Snails accidentally presses something, and out pops a big skeletal CGI dragon thing, which makes him scream and run.
According to the commentary, the director was big on working this effect into the movie, which is interesting because as far as I can tell, it’s not really necessary. They needed Snails to scream, but I’m sure strong gusts of wind freak this guy out.