Dungeons & Dragons (2000) (part 7 of 10)
So, the map. After exclaiming “Piece of cake!” and reminding us of another 2000 epic we’d all like to forget, Snails walks over to pick it up, only to find that the rug is some kind of magical trap; not only does it really hold the room together, it sucks down intruders just like quicksand. This was actually done as a physical effect, and is kind of cool looking.
Snails struggles over to the edge of the carpet, only to find that Damodar is there waiting for him. And the imp, because, well, why not? Damodar drags Snails out of the sludge, prompting much whining.
Ridley sneaks down to the castle dungeon, and produces a key ring to unlock Marina’s cell. I’m not entirely sure when, where, or how Ridley got the keys, but never mind. He walks in to find Marina huddled in a blanket, her head down, rocking back and forth. (Actually, I think they may have just found Zoe McLellan doing that on the set one day.) She embraces Ridley instantly, a sign of how confinement is sapping her judgment.
Upstairs, Snails backs away from Damodar, grabbing the map as he does so. Damodar makes the following attempt at a bon mot:
Well played, Damodar. Well played.
Snails, still covered in carpet-oatmeal, decides to stand up to Damodar. A brutal ass-kicking ensues. Damodar disarms Snails and slaps him around for a bit before the annoying thief manages to knick him with a knife and run screaming out of the room. Oh, don’t worry. It’s not over.
In the meantime, we enjoy some rudimentary swashbuckling as Ridley and Marina get in a scrape with a bunch of guards. Marina still can’t do any magic for some reason, but she does lightly brush a torch against the back of a guard’s head, which knocks him out. Fire: nature’s tranquilizer.
At one point, Ridley runs into a large guard captain, who proceeds to knock him around a bit for our amusement. This guy was the stunt coordinator, so it’s actually a decent fight, though I think I’d enjoy poorly-choreographed violence against Ridley almost as much. The guard eventually gets knocked out, and is never seen again, so it’s kind of embarrassing that he’s the best villain in this movie so far.
The lumbering Damodar, the veins in his head now a bright cherry color, pursues Snails outside, into a castle courtyard that opens onto a several-story drop. I like where this is going. Snails falls to the ground in despair, caked in mud, bleeding, standing in harsh light in bombed-out ruins, and something about the way this is filmed makes me think Daniel Craig or Matt Damon should be entering the shot right about now.
The gritty intensity of this scene is at odds with the rest of this film, and obviously it’s hard to be that involved because it’s Snails. Our annoying hero draws a knife to make a last stand, prompting Damodar to quip “You must be joking” again. I’m not sure if that’s supposed to be his catchphrase or what.
Damodar quickly beats Snails until he’s bleeding from his mouth. Ridley runs up to confront Damodar, who takes Snails in a headlock while quipping that the boy isn’t “his usual punctual self.” And no, I don’t know what he’s talking about there either.
Damodar promises to let Snails go if Ridley gives up the Eye of the Dragon. Ridley considers the offer, but Snails shows him that he’s got the map. He throws it to Ridley, and Damodar quickly stabs him in the back. Ridley sinks to the ground with a “Nooooooo!” worthy of Calculon himself.
Just to be on the safe side, Damodar throws Snails off the castle to the ground below. Ridley gives the world’s least convincing angry roar and rushes forward to attack. Hey, we might get a twofer! Damodar blocks Ridley’s sword with his spiky gauntlet, wrests it from his hands, and gives our hero a nice stab in the shoulder. He presses the sword down into the wound and entreats Ridley to give him the Eye.
Marina finds the bag of magic powder that Snails had pinched, now lying in the courtyard. Just as Damodar is about to deliver a death blow, she zaps the baddie with more purple lightning, and with the magic word “Transporting!” opens a portal. First off, okay, it’s apparently the powder that lets you cast spells, I guess. Second, “Transporting”? They couldn’t even bother to give us something silly in Latin? Marina drags Ridley with her to safety, and this time the wibbly-wobbly door closes right after them, so Damodar can’t follow.
The sequence ends with of a final beatific shot of Snails lying dead on the ground. He looks kind of like Jesus, if Jesus had been an annoying comedy sidekick. (Sadly, the Catholic Church refuses to acknowledge the canonicity of the Gospel According to Twiki.)
I’m honestly not sure how to react to this. On the one hand, an irritating character is dead. On the other, it wasn’t really fun to watch no matter the victim. And though it is rare (though not unprecedented) to see the comic relief in a movie get killed off, it’s also a total cliché that the black guy dies. Basically what I’m saying is, even when the movie does something right, it screws up.
Back in the opera house, Profion and the Council of Mages have called the Empress onto the metaphorical carpet. (They never got around to putting in a real one.) They want her to relinquish her scepter, and she says no, citing her conscience and belief in freedom, equality, puppies, and the like. It’s high-stakes political brinksmanship, with the fate of an Empire at stake. It’s time for Savina to give the speech of her life, and so she does.
Ladies and gentlemen, we are approaching the darkest pit of the movie’s awfulness right here. In the commentary, Courtney Solomon takes great pains to emphasize that the character of the Empress was in no way influenced by Natalie Portman’s portrayal of Queen Amidala in The Phantom Menace, because they were making this movie well before any information on the plot for that picture leaked out. I’ll take his word on this.
The weird part is, if you do compare this scene with the one in Episode I wherein Amidala is talking to the Senate, you cannot help but notice how much better Portman comes off. Nobody will ever call the Star Wars prequels showcases for great acting, and it’s not like the dialogue is any better, but at the very least, Portman made an effort.
Thora Birch pretty much plays this scene like a junior high drama student who’s just learning about reading with intonation and making gestures. I can’t even remember how this speech goes because it’s so blandly delivered. It’s a combination of generic rhetoric (war benefits no one but she’ll do it if it’s necessary) and pointing out the blatantly obvious (i.e., Profion’s out to take over the council once he overthrows her).
Profion accuses the Empress of violating “our highest law”, which is never defined, so I’m going to assume it’s the Law of the Universe. As Irons grows more impassioned, Birch speaks more haltingly and (pardon the pun) woodenly, as though he’s sapping her talent bit by bit. It would explain the longevity of his career.
The Empress responds to Profion’s accusations by raising her voice slightly. (I must clarify something here: I don’t think Thora Birch is a bad actress. She just doesn’t care and is making no attempt to hide that fact.) Her climactic point to the Council is pretty much, “Screw you guys, I’m going home”, and she strides out like the angry teenage daughter on a bad sitcom. Several mages leave as well, which I guess is supposed to signify a rift forming in the Council. This may not mean much, but hey, at least nobody yelled out “You lie!” during her speech.
Profion does a cool golf clap and declares, “A wonderful performance.” Irons really earned his paycheck just choking that out, though he gets to follow it up with, “Is now not the time we should act?” That’s probably more what he was thinking. Profion gets the remaining Council riled up for war, working the crowd like he’s cutting a promo for a steel cage match, throwing in a few good villainous gestures because he’s that awesome.
The heroes wander through what I’m pretty sure is the same patch of forest that’s been in every other woodland scene. Ridley, still wounded, is being carried on a stretcher, while I guess everyone just left Snails where he fell. Fair enough. Marina stops and gapes as they come across the candlelit, treetop city of Lothlorien—well, actually, nobody ever says what this place is called. But elves live there.
It’s here that we meet the Lord of the Elves, played by, thank you again merciful powers that govern the universe, Tom motherfucking Baker. The former Doctor Who and full time lovable crazy person appears for one scene and, like O’Brien before him, provides far more entertainment value than the people who are supposed to actually hold our attention. It’s generally a bad sign when your stunt cameos manage to steal the entire picture. Tom (again, the character’s name falls through the cracks in the script) waves his hands over Ridley, they glow, and this cures his wounds. Interesting fact: this is not an effect. Tom Baker can actually do this, but only when he’s sober.
Somewhere in this, we were supposed to get another effects sequence. Ridley has a dream in which he sees a dragon hatch from an egg, and the barren area around the egg becomes lush and fertile. I think. This got dropped really early and was very CGI-heavy, so what we have is just sort of incomprehensible.
However, since this scene was also important to the story, when Ridley regains consciousness, he and Tom Baker actually recount the dream so as to make sure we don’t miss out. Just to rub it in, Ridley even says how amazing it was.
As Baker explains, the vision is telling Ridley about the part dragons play in the wondrous circle of life. You see, he can heal Ridley without using any spells (glowing hands notwithstanding) because the elven people are naturally at one with magic, but of course so are all living creatures. Magic surrounds us, penetrates us, it binds the universe—yeah.
The Elven Time Lord emphasizes that dragons, for all their breathing of fire and occasional kidnapping of damsels, are an important part of the pattern, like giant reptilian midichlorians. When they’re born they bring new magic with them, which brings life to the world. A bunch of dragons dying at once, say in some kind of war, would throw life out of balance, and disharmony, death, and Philip Glass music would ensue.