Dungeons & Dragons (2000) (part 6 of 10)
Speaking of Xilus, he makes a desperate attempt to reclaim the Eye and salvage the scene’s entertainment value by ordering his thugs to jump Damodar’s men. Another big, messy brawl ensues. Ridley is knocked to the ground by a random tough, and drops the slightly scorched map, which rolls onto the floor. Marina slowly crawls after it as though she’s lost the ability to walk. Snails dives behind a desk and hits random people.
Most of the fight is vaguely coordinated and not that interesting. Remember how Marina cast some wicked spells earlier? There’s none of that; she crawls around like an idiot and gets grabbed on the forearm by Damodar, who drags her off like she’s Dale Arden’s weaker, less assertive cousin.
To get all nerdy again for a moment, mages in D&D do have some limit on how many spells they can cast each day, but it’s been a while since the business at the magic school, and the film doesn’t bother to explain any limitations or restrictions on Marina’s magic to the audience at any point. She just loses her competence when it becomes convenient to the plot.
Ridley goes after Marina, and Snails is told to fetch the Dwarf, who has been completely absent in this scene so far. (One of the deleted scenes features more footage from the guild fight, where he’s attacking people with a lit brazier and Xilus tries to smash his head with a giant wooden club. Why you would cut something like this, I have no idea.) Snails complains about always having to get the dwarf, again revealing way too much about his and Ridley’s relationship, before shuffling off in a mildly offensive manner.
Ridley runs out of the underground market into the blue, klieg-lit night, and apparently sees that Marina is gone. There’s no reverse angle so we don’t know what he’s looking at, so I guess this was shot as a pick-up after principal photography was done. And apparently after they’d sold the Steadicam rig, because it’s jerky as Hell for no good reason.
We’re back in the nondescript woods again, or possibly some other nondescript woods. Snails says that they should just sell the Eye of the Dragon, but Ridley wants to go after Marina. This threatens to provoke another annoying argument, but thankfully a bunch of hooded soldiers with crossbows surround the party.
This turns out to be Norda’s formal entrance into the plot, as she is the one who led the beaked [?] soldiers of the Empire after Ridley and Marina, and the scroll they took. Ridley tells Norda about Profion and Damodar’s machinations in his usual humble and polite manner, and in response she flips open a glowing hand mirror to communicate with the Empress.
We cut to Savina, in a feathery gown and a haircut that seems specially designed to emphasize her gigantic forehead. She’s been caught kneeling in prayer or something like that, and goes to the mirror on her wall to inquire about the fate of Snow White—I mean, talk with Norda. The elf has the following bad news to report:
At least that’s what the graffiti in the Council bathrooms says. (I got a million of ‘em, folks.)
Savina orders Norda and her men to seek out Damodar and go after the Rod, as the Council is putting pressure on her to respond to whatever the heck it is she needs to respond to. Norda orders the group to move out, her prisoners in tow.
Another Bruckheimer-esque swooping CGI shot takes us to a half-ruined castle where Damodar and the Crimson Brigade (either a band name or the world’s worst time-of-the-month euphemism) are hiding out. What follows is one of the weirder scenes in the movie.
Damodar comes into Marina’s cell to interrogate her. It starts off standard; he asks her about being at the Thieves’ Guild when she’s an aristocrat, she snaps at him for betraying the Empire, etc. Then he tries to win her sympathy by saying he doesn’t want to do this, pleading, “Look at me!” as he opens his armor to show his increasingly veiny neck, a side effect of being possessed by the Ceti Eel thing. He says that he’ll die if she doesn’t help him, but she says she can’t.
And then, since he’s playing the role of Good Cop, the worm thing takes on the role of Bad Cop, emerging and attaching itself to her ears.
And the worm gets to… sucking. Damodar gets a near-orgasmic grin, and I’m not doing a screengrab of that, and you’re welcome. He gets the information about the Eye of the Dragon, and leaves her be. And… well, that went from unpleasant to cheesy to unpleasant rather quickly, didn’t it?
The thing is, it’s almost a good scene. It’s very close and intimately shot, and Bruce Payne, who thus far has demonstrated the rare ability to overact by underacting, conducts the scene mostly at a whisper. (Which doesn’t make sense because why is he whispering, but it’s a nice effect.) Zoe McLellan looks suitably frightened and distressed. But ironically, the whole sequence is too convincingly dark and disturbing to fit in the context of what has, up until now, been a light fantasy with the dramatic resonance of a Masters of the Universe episode. It just feels wrong, though it’s an interesting foreshadowing of the fact that Courtney Solomon would go on to executive produce the torture-porn-tastic Captivity.
Let’s move on, shall we? Yes!
It’s still nighttime, and our heroes and Norda’s men are riding horses through a path in the unusually well-lit woods. The Dwarf, clinging to his ride, complains that his people are terrified of horses. I gotta say, this is a fantasy trope that’s new to me, though I am aware that they’re afraid of trees.
Norda feels a random patch of ground and works out where Damodar’s men went to, and says she’s found a shortcut. Snails takes the opportunity to put the moves on her again, saying, “I love the way you track.” Hey, you’ve all heard that one, am I right, ladies? He also says, “You wouldn’t happen to be single, are you?” and I’ll let you look over that one to see why it irritated me. (No fair if you’re an English major.) She explains to him that it’s not meant to be, seeing as he’s 23, she’s 234, and these May-End-of-Time romances never work out.
By the next day, they’ve reached the walls of the ruined, nondescript castle. A proper fantasy saga would explain that this is Castle Darrowden, resting place of King Haffwit of the Polgar people, suitable for levels 5-8, etc., but the story’s moving slowly enough. Ridley and Snails use grappling hooks to scale up the side and spy on the surprisingly elaborate temporary hideout Damodar’s got going. Nice tents, bulls eyes for archery practice, a little scaffolded entrance, and beholders—giant floating heads with one big eye and a bunch of little eyes on stalks.
The beholders are a touch straight out of the D&D game, and it’s nice to see something unique to the RPG only halfway into the movie. Snails is worried about the beholders, but Ridley says to relax, they’ll just sneak around them. Not the best idea when dealing with creatures who can look in multiple directions at once, but again, Wisdom is not Ridley’s Prime Requisite.
Fortunately, one of the beholders is asleep (though still floating, impressively enough). This isn’t safe enough for Ridley, though, so he decides to distract it and the two guards at the same post by throwing a rock past them. Naturally, both the soldiers and the giant evil eye monster look and go after where the rock landed, conveniently abandoning their post and paying no attention to the direction it was thrown from. This is a new low for evil soldiers everywhere. Battle droids are hanging their heads in shame.
And of course, at no point does the beholder point any of its eyes in any direction other than straight forward, or use any of the powers it’s supposed to have or do anything. The beholders basically disappear after this sequence, even though in the game they’re intelligent and fearsome creatures in their own right. So it’s yet another waste of the effects budget.
With the guards occupied by Ridley’s infantile distraction, he and Snails sneak into the castle keep’s lower levels. Sneaking by another beholder and another brute squad, Ridley decides that he’ll go after Marina while Snails gets the map. Snails isn’t happy with the division of labor, but agrees, and the two share an ominously tender moment before parting ways.
Outside, the Dwarf suggests to Norda that they go in and help the two. Norda, however, displays her random prophetic gift and says, “We were not meant to enter this place. This task they must complete alone.” You heard it right, folks: prophecy, nay, the Gods themselves declare that the supporting characters must remain useless.
As the commentary explains, this is another budgetary thing. There was supposed to be some action involving the Dwarf, Norda, and the beholders (the reason the monsters are in the scene to start with), but it had to be lost. Solomon kept the now-useless, expensive computer monsters as a nod to fans of the game. So, uh, thanks?
Snails sneaks into Damodar’s room, marked as such by a set of spare armor set up on a stand in the middle of the shot. I’m sorry, I refuse to believe that any leatherworker made that atrocity more than once. Snails does an almost-funny impression of Damodar, searches some more, and finds a bag of magic glowing dust before finally setting eyes on the map.
It’s worth pointing out that Damodar’s bed is more of a full-on howdah, with a hookah sitting on the side, making the room look like the Sultan of Brunei’s bachelor pad. I suppose he might just keep his stuff here at the ruined castle, but I prefer to think he made his troops carry it up, because the character’s already been established as a delicate flower who tries not to get his hands dirty.