Dungeons & Dragons (2000) (part 3 of 10)
Snails’ high pitched wailing alerts Marina and the sage, and he sends her up to the attic to see what the deal is. In the meantime, Ridley recognizes that the costly phantasm is just an illusion, and gets it to go back in the box. Just then, Marina breaks in and ensnares the two in a glittery magic rope, looking kind of hot as she does so.
It’s hateful banter at first sight for Ridley and Marina. He suggests this is the only way she can get dates, to which she replies, “I’d have to put a feeblemind spell on myself to want to take you home.” As geek humor goes, I’ve heard worse. (Snails thinks it’s funny, but, well, he’s Snails.) But before she can cart the thieves off to the city dungeon (and the dungeon/dragon ratio of this movie has been kind of low), there’s a noise from the library.
Marina runs back, Snails and Ridley in tow, just in time to see the Old Sage captured by Damodar and his garishly dressed henchmen, known as the Crimson Guard. Damodar wants the scroll, but the Old Mage refuses it, and magics it across the room into Marina’s hands. Damodar snaps the guy’s neck—by which I mean he squeezes his shoulder fairly hard—and it’s goodbye Old Sage whose name I never bothered to learn.
Marina picks up a handful of magic dust off the floor, and uses it to cast crazy purple lightning bolts on Damodar and his goofy soldiers. She then opens up a swirly Stargate portal and escapes with her companions. Marina kind of kicks ass in this scene, but she’s about to come down with a bad case of “Not-the-Protagonist-itis”.
The heroes (I guess) run down the streets of Prague, er, Sumdall, and Marina’s competence already starts to fade as she trips and falls headfirst into a pile of garbage at the end of a filthy alleyway. There’s a sign posted saying “Dwarfs Not Allowed” [sic], so I guess in this fantasy world the dwarves are like raccoons or something.
The portal has been open long enough for Damodar to bring his entourage through, and they very slowly advance on the protagonists. But the characters’ flailing in the junk pile (during which Marina finally removes the magic rope) stirs something awake. Ladies and gentleman, meet the Dwarf.
The Dwarf has a name—Elwood Gutworthy, of the Oakenshield Clan—but the one scene where it’s actually used got left on the cutting room floor. Much like Ralph Bakshi’s take on Gimli, the Dwarf just seems to tag along; he’s basically in the movie because dwarves are in the D&D game. Lee Arenberg gives an interestingly enthusiastic performance, but the character’s usefulness begins and ends with this scene.
The Dwarf is angry at having been disturbed, and is further incensed when Damodar shoots his helmet off for no good reason. After some weird grunts, he says “You shouldn’t have done that” in his best Clint Eastwood voice, and advances on the heavies. Damodar blocks his axe but gets his legs kicked out from under him, which provides time for the Dwarf to retrieve his helmet and beat cheeks through a passage in the heap of trash. Snails follows and Ridley pushes Marina forward with him, and they fall down into the sewers.
Damodar’s reaction? He orders brigades to be posted at every sewer entrance and exit (a distinction without a difference if I’ve ever heard one), sneers menacingly, and turns and walks away.
You have got to be kidding me. I’m trying to think, but this is the first fantasy epic I can recall wherein the main evil henchman, in pursuit of the heroes, gives up at the first sign of minor inconvenience. He hasn’t lost any men or received any serious wounds, he knows where they went, they didn’t lock a door behind them or anything… does he not want his armor stained? I really hope Profion isn’t paying this guy too much for his services, this is just subpar henching. Dude couldn’t even snap what’s-his-face’s neck properly.
We cut to a wanted poster of Marina, who’s been charged with the murder of the Sage, and aww, she’s all frowny! I have no idea why I found this so hilarious, but I do admire the ability of the Crimson Guard’s sketch artists.
It’s the next day, and a guard is holding up the poster and informing people of the threat, while the heroes watch from behind a cart. So much for blocking the sewers. See what I mean? Lazy. (There’s actually a deleted scene in the sewers, but it doesn’t explain how they got out, and apart from giving us the Dwarf’s name, it’s pretty useless.)
Marina’s upset, of course, because she’s a mage and thus an aristocrat, but Ridley points out that she’s low-level and totally expendable. He actually does call her “low-level”, which is a nice shout-out to the game. Marina sees no option but to trust three random people who have yet to show any sign of usefulness, and they melt into the crowd by donning totally inconspicuous black robes and walking over all hunched. I think the townsfolk are humoring them.
Apparently nothing else of importance happens that day, and that night we swoop through more architecture to return to Profion’s lair. He is rightly pissed about Damodar’s terrible performance last night, at least in terms of letting the good guys escape with the scroll (Jeremy’s in no position to critique his line readings at this point). Yes, it’s time for the main villain to punish his underlings for failure, and Profion’s got a doozy lined up. He zaps Damodar with a spell, which makes the blue-lipped henchman writhe in pain as CGI distortions run under his skin. Bruce Payne gurns to his fullest as strange mouthy tentacles burst from his ears and shriek before retracting back into his skull.
Before you ask, no, I have no idea what the Hell that is. It’s not any D&D monster I know about; the commentary refers to the things as “Mind Flayers”, but in the game those are guys with squid heads. Much less ridiculous. Irons says that Damodar’s new friends will help him do his work properly, and when his job is done, they’ll vacate the premises. It’s probably not a good idea to think about that in any detail.
Also, the shot is framed so that Damodar is on his knees sweating and straining, while Profion stands right behind him. Profion then takes the homoeroticism meter from “Rocky III training montage” to “Volleyball scene in Top Gun” by lunging down to whisper over his shoulder.
Oh, yeah, and during this, Profion tells Damodar that the Empress has sent Norda, her best tracker, after the scroll possessed by Marina and Co. This is an important plot development, so of course it happened off-screen. Get used to it.
Cut to the Mos Eisley Cantina, and by that I mean some nameless tavern in Sumdall. Different races abound, from stiff-looking orcs, to guys in various shades of blue and white, to just regular little people playing halflings. There are also pretty dancing girls, lots of general carousing, and I gotta say: for an oppressed underclass whom the prologue describes as little more than slaves, these guys are living pretty well.
Obviously, all social discrimination is bad, and it’s not like we expect a fantasy adventure movie to pause for a dissertation on the social nuances of its caste system. Still, making life in Sumdall look so festive makes the villains seem toothless. If you can’t oppress the people properly, how can we expect you to destroy the world?
Our heroes are subtly hiding out on a table on the mezzanine, where the Dwarf is in the final stages of brutalizing a roast chicken. He says, “So we find the Rod, then the Empress heaps us with gold, huh?” I think we missed a conversation. Marina is apparently disgusted by the Dwarf and others expecting money in compensation for this quest that we’ve just now been informed that our heroes are interested in undertaking, and rags on Ridley in particular for being a thief and a commoner. Ridley makes a point about honor among thieves that will come up later, but she dismisses it as more common talk.
Incidentally, this scene would probably play out a lot more as it was intended if Marina weren’t more charismatic and well acted than our down-and-out hero. Granted, part of my reaction is because Zoe McLellan is hot, but so far Ridley has done nothing badass enough to merit the Outrageous Okona attitude he’s pulling.
Marina gets back to trying to decipher the scroll. It just so happens that Ridley recognizes the marks on the scroll, because they’re similar to the ones his father used to put on blueprints when he built carriages. Wait a minute, so his father could do magic? Wouldn’t that make him an aristocrat? If he was just a lowly commoner, and even he could scribble down magic runes, then shouldn’t the relative power of the magic-users be—damn, I’m thinking about the internal logic of the setting again. Don’t try it, folks, it’ll do you no good.
Ridley grabs the scroll, and tries to repeat what his father did, placing his hands on the runes and saying some weird magic phrase. It seems not to work at first, but before we get the impression that there’s something Ridley can’t do, the scroll flares up and the jackass-of-all-trades disappears into it. Marina repeats the words and follows him. Snails looks at the scroll and sees the two inside it, standing around as runes float past them.
Originally, there was a scene here of Ridley and Marina inside the scroll. They didn’t have enough money to finish the effects for this sequence (as we’ll see), but for the sake of the movie making a little bit more sense, I’ll splice it in here.
Cut scene begins here:
Ridley and Marina are surrounded by giant sheets of runes, which rotate slowly around them. (It’s an okay if Doctor Who-ish effect.) In a tonal shift from what we’ve seen before, Ridley is genuinely surprised that he was able to get inside the scroll. Marina asks him how he could do something the Old Sage couldn’t, which sets him up for the big reveal.
Seems that when Ridley was a kid, his father, who hadn’t been to magic school, invented a flying carriage all by himself. The mages were threatened by a “commoner” doing magic, so they erased his mind. Okay, you see, this is important back-story. It makes Ridley’s pissiness a bit more understandable, since he has an actual motivation. It adds a few wrinkles to the whole “rule by magic users” angle. What I’m saying is, you don’t cut this, or if you do, you move this information somewhere else (and it’s not like they didn’t have time to do this, as we’ll see later.)
Marina apologizes and they make up. Which would present a continuity flaw if this had been kept in the movie, because they’ll be back to bickering for no reason shortly enough. Their relationship does not have an arc so much as it does a very confused zigzag.