Dungeons & Dragons (2000) (part 9 of 10)
In Sumdall, war is beginning. Profion and the mages loyal to him are cooped up in a tower, looking at the Empress and her loyal retinue as she calls her dragons to attack them. Gold dragons sweep through the city in a series of CGI shots. It’s not remotely convincing, but it is pretty.
Profion and his wizard army throw lots of fireballs, all of which miss, but mysteriously fail to hit any of the hundreds of spiraling towers that make up the city. He then throws up a magic barrier of antifreeze to keep out the dragons’ attacks.
For those readers looking to make their own epic adventure movie, an important thing to remember is that big climactic battle scenes work best if there’s a story to them. It should be clear to the audience that the heroes are attacking an enemy installation, or defending against a siege, or trying to hold an important piece of ground, etc.
I’m not entirely clear on what’s happening in this battle scene. Profion and the Empress are fighting, obviously, but if she just wants to kill him she could just have the dragons knock the tower down, especially since she seems to have about fifty of them on hand.
Some of the dragonfire is getting through the ice wall, but Profion, speaking with a mouthful of gravel, rallies his men for a counterattack. The mages are all milling around like confused rest home patients, so it falls to the armored soldiers to use giant crossbows (or are they small ballistas?) to actually hit one of the dragons, causing it to spiral elegantly downwards and impale itself on one of the city’s many spires.
This causes the already cloudy sky to darken, meaning that the balance of nature is already getting thrown off. The Empress blankly laments her role in the carnage, and uses the Rod to summon one of the dragons to her. Profion continues snarling and being awesome.
Ridley exits the cave, Cenobite sex toy in hand, shouting “I found the Rod!” However, his companions have predictably been captured by Damodar and his men. Ridley makes an endearing attempt to seethe with anger, which I’ve now worked out is supposed to be part of the Rod corrupting its owner. (I realized this on the sixth viewing, by the way.)
Damodar says “Feels good, doesn’t it?” as if the movie needed more subtext, and taunts Ridley about Snails’ death. He makes the standard “give me the magic thing and you go free offer”, and while doing so, one of his pointy claws scratches Marina’s throat, drawing blood. Ridley surrenders the Rod.
Pop quiz time. Having obtained the artifact, does Damodar A) keep his word and let the others go, or B) say “I lied” and try to kill everyone? You can use your notes.
Sure enough, Damodar instructs his men to kill everyone slowly, which prompts Norda to knife both of her captors in the crotch. This starts off the film’s biggest and clumsiest non-dragon-related fight scene. There’s a lot of movement and people jumping and throwing each other around, and Ridley’s magic sword flashes with lens flares and other cheap effects as he fights the Crimson dudes. It’s all shot in the broadest daylight so we can see how cheap and chintzy everyone’s costumes are and how nobody’s armor has any tarnish on it. It’s like what would happen if there were a medieval fantasy version of Mighty Morphin’ Power Rangers, except that actually exists.
In the poorly edited confusion, Damodar opens up a teleport (so is he a mage as well?) and walks out of the scene. Ridley leaps through after him just as the door seals up, opening onto Profion’s tower where the battle for Fritz Lang’s Sumdall continues to rage. Profion turns to Damodar, looking downright vulnerable.
The subtlety disappears when Damodar pulls the Rod from out behind his back, turning to childlike glee. Damodar, his expression stone-cold badass throughout, reminds Profion of their little deal. Profion is distracted by his new toy, so he has to be more explicit:
In a twist that actually did surprise me, Profion keeps his word. He zaps Damodar with a bolt of blue magic, which causes him to go through the tentacle-symbiont implant scene in reverse. And that’s it for Mr. Brain-Sucking-Leech Thing. I’d expect something like that to have a bigger role in the plot, but maybe that’s just me.
Ridley leaps in just in time to see Profion and Damodar heading up to “the roof of Sumdall.” (Apparently they’ve only got the one.) He pursues them while the mages continue lobbing fireballs at the dragons; a reaction shot of the Empress reveals that she’s now riding one of them, only they couldn’t afford to put her and the dragon in the same shot so it’s more of an implication.
She orders the dragons to fire back, causing some pretty explosions in the tower but no major structural damage. In fact, looking at this footage again, there are plenty of dragons in the sky, but only a few are actually attacking the tower. The rest are milling around with no apparent targets. I realize that the script requires that Profion not be utterly defeated before he can put his mighty Rod to good use, but if the best the Empress can do now is a stalemate, I wonder how bad she’ll fare when the enemy forces consist of more than just a dozen confused old men.
Profion chants some magic words, creating a big special effects shockwave in the distance. The Rod, it seems, doesn’t just control red dragons, but can actually make them appear. As a swarm of dragons flies in from nowhere (really a neat shot), Irons cackles out “My destiny! Commmme to me!” in a way that makes you realize why they call it “chewing the scenery.”
You may notice an irritating shape in the back of that image. Ridley has been watching all this, sure enough, his pupils dilating with fear. He barks out “Damodar!”, and Damodar turns to him, now holding a big fake-looking sword of his very own. A duel begins, one enhanced by some gloriously gaudy special effects; both swords give off lightning sparks as they clash, and Damodar’s kinda glows red while Ridley’s kinda glows blue. Yep, it’s a light saber duel. At least they’re not using piezoelectric crystals.
Meanwhile, in a scene that is also completely unlike anything in a popular series of space operas, the Empress finds herself in a dogfight as she’s pursued by one of the red dragons. She uses the old “lead him into one of the enemies” trick, and the dragon chasing her crashes into another one, and they fall into a church. We see in this scene that they actually did CGI a little princess and harness onto one of the dragons, but this compels me to ask, where did she get the harness? She wasn’t planning on riding the dragons at the start.
This is another one of those points I probably shouldn’t dwell on, isn’t it?
The swordfight continues, and Ridley tries to taunt Damodar, continuing to prove that the filmmakers had no idea how very lacking in dramatic presence this guy is. I don’t wanna be cruel, I’m sure Justin Whalin has his niche somewhere, but he is no more a badass action hero than I am.
Still, he somehow manages to get Damodar mad, and he attacks more recklessly. After a few blows Ridley does an acrobatic leap and stabs Damodar in the back, killing him. That’s kind of an appropriate victory for a D&D thief, and the choreography is pretty good, but—well, look.
Ridley throws Damodar off the tower. A shame, the guy was beginning to grow on me. For better or worse, he’s the only one who was roped into the sequel.
Oh, yeah, there’s a sequel. Don’t worry, apart from Damodar being in it the two films apparently have nothing in common. I’ve heard that it’s… well, not good, but apparently more fun and more in the D&D spirit.
The expensive, nice looking aerial battle rages, still an apparent stalemate with dragons clawing at each other and Profion trash talking from the tower. He’s so wrapped up shouting things like “Let the blood rain from the sky!” that he doesn’t notice Ridley moving in to tackle him.
Profion gets knocked down, but Ridley drops his sword and moves away to pick it back up. Back on his feet, Profion decides to threaten Ridley in the strangest manner possible.
It’s kind of poetic, but by the same token I have no idea what the Hell it means. The combat banter in this film is just bizarre.
Profion conjures up a staff from nowhere so that we can have a proper fight scene, and it glows green whenever Ridley hits it. I guess this symbolizes that the staff is protected from Ridley’s magic sword, or that the sword is weak against it. So, Profion can conjure up magic items at will now, I guess. Makes that whole quest to find the Rod or force Savina to hand over her scepter seem kinda pointless, doesn’t it?
The fight goes badly for our hero, who is quickly knocked to the ground. Profion decides that he doesn’t need something as pointless as a weapon anymore, and throws the staff away. Apparently Profion has decided to kill Ridley with acting!, as he moves in to gloat over him, spewing out the old “time to die” line that never leads to anything good (unless you’re Chuck Norris, of course).