Dungeons & Dragons (2000) (part 8 of 10)
So the elves are dismayed by so many people seeking out the Rod, because controlling dragons is almost as bad as killing them. The Rod is unnatural, man-made, and should not be disturbed. (The gun is still good, though, right?) I’m actually slightly confused about this, since the Rod and the Scepter are magic items and magic is supposed to be all force-of-nature lovey-dovey, but we’ve still got a ways to go so let’s put that aside. In any case, this is all we see of Tom Baker, so wave goodbye to yet another actor who did his best to make the experience of watching this movie bearable.
On a treetop veranda, Marina goes to talk to a brooding, slightly-less scratched up Ridley. He’s got a pained look on his face that implies we’re about to get a dramatic confrontation, so brace yourselves.
Marina tries to console Ridley with the knowledge that Snails died in the service of a noble cause, but he’s having none of it. In fact, despite having been told in the last scene that Profion and his followers could end up disrupting the flow of life as we know it, he thinks this is still all politics. He’s angry at Marina because she’s a mage and never had it as tough as he did, and he hates the mages so very much that he may as well never have gotten involved. I’m a little rusty on my Joseph Campbell, but I’m thinking it’s not such a good idea to have your hero refuse the call to adventure when the movie’s more than half over. Kind of late in the game.
Marina tries to defend herself, and lays down the bombshell that the Empress is trying to make the commoners equal to the mages. Which… is something she probably should have said earlier, when you think about it. We could have been spared so much bitching between these characters if he just knew from the start that this was in his interest. (It’s a sign of the relative talent disparity between the two actors in this scene that, despite this oversight, Marina is still more likable.)
But there’s more to this scene, unbelievably enough. When Marina first set up to help the Empress with her quest for medieval civil rights, she didn’t understand why it was so important for the commoners to be equal. It probably didn’t help that “equality” in this film has never actually been defined in terms of any tangible rights.
However, now that she’s met Ridley, her eyes have been opened. I don’t quite get how a smarmy, petulant adolescent with the world’s most annoying smirk is an ideal representation of commoner-kind, but of course, what this all really means is, she’s fallen in love with him.
Yep, it’s that time in the movie when the male and female leads, having hated each other from the get go and not having demonstrated any chemistry in the interim, admit their true love. Ridley admits that for a mage, Marina’s pretty smart (well, a high Intelligence score IS a requirement for the class), and they kiss with the passionate intensity of en eighth grade production of Romeo and Juliet.
The plot device homunculus is spying on them, and—no, see, he was back at the castle, and before that he was how the bad guys found out about the Rod, and yeah, that feels like a long time ago.
In a bargain basement version of Galadriel’s gift-giving scene, the elves present Ridley with a magic sword. It’s nice and polished and occasionally gives off a lens flare, so I imagine it’s about a +1.
The elves in this scene appear to be children with severe skin problems who wear animal hides and bones, which I admit is a novel take on the mythology. After Ridley and Norda walk off camera, the freaky elves have a subtitled chat about our hero’s true potential and some untapped power that he has not yet realized. Yep, he’s got an Epic Destiny. This was some kind of plot hook that Courtney Solomon wanted for a sequel, but it didn’t work out that way, so let’s have a nice shudder for what might have been.
One jump cut later and we’re at the dungeon entrance, located in the Forest of Generic Features. Our party of adventurers—Thief, Magic User, Elf, and Dwarf—is ready to advance. This is it, folks, this is where the Dungeons & Dragons movie is going to step up to emulate its source material.
Our bold hero strides through the dark mouth of a foreboding cave. The dwarf follows close behind, and…
…is immediately knocked back by a special effects ripple. Marina explains that some kind of powerful magic is now blocking the dungeon entrance. Norda realizes that only Ridley was meant to pass. He’s got to do this alone.
I’m not kidding.
Apparently, again, the filmmakers’ plan was for everyone to go in and to have us a good old fashioned dungeon crawl, but again, there was no money. So, again, the protagonist is the only character who matters, it’s all up to him, everyone else is useless. As for what’s left of the dungeon, well, the three room maze is basically the Mines of Moria by comparison.
Ridley walks down a long tunnel towards an obvious green klieg light, while good cinematographers weep. The way forward is blocked by a tangle of vines, and just as Ridley tries to figure out where to go, a trapdoor opens and he slides down a long chute.
He lands in a pile of effects fog in front of a door featuring a detailed relief of a red dragon. One of its eye sockets has a jewel in it, the other doesn’t, so Ridley puts the Eye of the Dragon where one would naturally expect it to go. The eye glows and the door opens, though there is no ”puzzle solved” music on the soundtrack.
Striding through the horrifically bright light (Spielberg doesn’t abuse this effect as much), Ridley enters… the prop room. It’s supposed to be a treasure vault, but again, low budget movie, so the whole thing is festooned with random shiny objects, from Greek helmets, to candelabras, to jewelry boxes out of a family nativity pageant, to what I think may be a statue of a gorilla, but I can’t confirm that.
Sadly, looting costume jewelry and foil-wrapped chocolate coins just isn’t the same without his buddy Snails, so Ridley focuses on the task at hand. He is seeking the Rod. Looking around, he finds the Rod being clutched tightly by the bony hands of a skeleton, rigid, hard, almost throbbing—okay, I’ll stop.
This is our first look at the Rod of Saffron or some such, and it’s an ultra-plasticy red thing most likely manufactured in the magic realm of Taiwan. They gave it a kind of H. R. Giger look, to make sure it registered as evil and unnatural, but that just confuses the movie’s aesthetic direction even further.
Ridley smirks at the sight of the Rod’s dead owner, saying, “Finally, a mage who got what he deserved.” Hey, pal, remember a couple of scenes back? Marina convinced you that not all mages were bad and you made out like freshmen? Not even the characters are paying attention to this movie. I’m all alone.
The skeleton doesn’t take this insult too well either, and roars to life as Ridley goes to take the Rod from him. Now, in any other movie you would reasonably expect this to segue into some badass Ray Harryhausen—or Army of Darkness-style skeleton fighting, but this is the Dungeons & Dragons movie, so the skeleton will instead engage Ridley in conversation.
It seems that Ol’ Boney is the creator of the Rod, punished for trying to control dragonkind, and sentenced to rot until someone worthy takes the item off his hands. And how do you prove that you’re worthy? Well, Ridley just grabs the thing, and the skeleton makes no effort to stop him. (To be fair, a puppet like this only has a limited range of movement.)
The skeleton does, however, warn Ridley that anyone who wields the Rod will be cursed, because it’s evil and its spell must be broken. Apparently whoever or whatever cursed him didn’t have the power to do that, or destroy it, or just lock the damn thing away instead of leaving a path right to it. The sad thing is, I’d be willing to overlook all this if the rest of the film were entertaining, but here we are.
The Rod starts glowing with the fakest of lens flares (again with the lens flares), and Ridley acts uncomfortably excited as he caresses the precious—er, the Rod of Savrille. Suddenly, startled by the swelling music score, he notices on the wall a painting of a bunch of dragons and knights battling. Presumably this is the Great War that almost destroyed the kingdom thousands of years ago, or last week, or whenever it happened.
So, to reiterate, the great quest of this film and the second and final “dungeon” sequence of the Dungeons & Dragons movie consists of our hero walking into a cave, suffering a slight fall, listening to a skeleton talk, grabbing the artifact of unspeakable power, and walking out.
I’m not saying the filmmakers were under an obligation to slavishly adhere to the vaguely defined conventions of a tabletop fantasy game, but I think that even a non-geek would agree that we should be getting more actual adventure out of this fantasy adventure movie. All of this tedious back-story that doesn’t make sense could be condensed down to a minute or so of exposition without losing anything. And it’s not like drawing out all these events gets us anything in terms of character development or drama, it’s just the cinematic equivalent of a Dungeon Master starting the game by reciting thirty pages of flavor text.
In fact, there’s a way in which this whole movie is starting to resemble a bad D&D game. You’ve got the tedious exposition. You’ve got the one character whose player is best buddies with the DM and has everything interesting happen to him. You’ve got the one character whom the DM killed off because he was annoying the crap out of everyone at the table. You’ve got most of the other characters just sitting back and watching the plot unfold, since they have no part in it whatsoever.
To be fair, the actual climax hasn’t happened yet. While the film doesn’t get good from here on in, it at least gets more eventful. Plus, we get to see where all the money went, so hang in there.