It appears that once again, the topic of a D&D film lifts its ugly face from the murk. I blame Scott Rouse’s posting of a staggeringly bad music video on EN World (though I first saw it on the Roolipelaaja blog).
There have thus far been three movies and an animated series based directly on D&D licences. The animated series divides opinion, but all three films – Dungeons & Dragons, Dungeons & Dragons 2: Wrath of the Dragon God, and Dragonlance: Dragons of Autumn Twilight – suck. Indeed, the first D&D and the Dragonlance flick are so hideous as to make it on my personal Top Ten Worst Movies of All Time list, nestled snugly between Uwe Boll titles and third installments of Marvel film franchises.
Now, JimLotFP and noisms argue on their blogs that there cannot ever be a good D&D film because of various reasons of narrative structure, and because they’re trying to film a concept instead of a story.
While noisms is on to something there, I’m going to suggest that a) there can, in fact, be a good D&D film, and b) the only reason there hasn’t been one is that the ones thus far have been made by raging incompetents and/or on budgets that make the first season of Xena look extravagant. I mean, the first D&D film was made by Courtney Solomon, who couldn’t direct his way out of a wet paper bag. The second one was a Sci-Fi Channel production with a budget of $12,000,000, which, in the moviemaking business, is practically nothing. Still not an entirely bad movie, though. The Dragonlance film, then, had its animation outsourced to India to a bunch of people who evidently had no idea what they were doing, and presumably for cost reasons. The only positive thing about the end result is that we’re unlikely to ever see Dragonlance: Dragons of Winter Night.
However, there have been good fantasy films. The Lord of the Rings trilogy is awesome, and went on to win Peter Jackson’s weight in Oscars. Conan the Barbarian is an exquisite piece of filmmaking and features one of the finest soundtracks ever. Willow is great. Excalibur is great. Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon is great. Sure, for every Pan’s Labyrinth, there are three Deathstalkers, but then, isn’t that the standard ratio for film industry in general? Most films suck.
The topic of game movies is a bit stranger, but there we have Uwe Boll skewing the statistics. Also, I like Mortal Kombat. Once upon a time, though, people were convinced that good comic book movies were an impossibility in modern Hollywood.
The long and short of it, though, is… it’s not that you can’t make a good D&D movie. It’s that the guys who tried couldn’t.
The how of it is a more complicated issue. I don’t think a Drizzt movie is a good idea. For a start, someone completely missing the point would accuse it of racism. It’s fully possible no studio would touch it. Indeed, it’s fully possible that no studio has already touched it.
I can’t say I know the answer to how a good D&D movie should be done. However, I know that you don’t get good movies when the people making them are talentless hacks. Personally, I’d probably approach the issue by giving Luc Besson a sufficient budget and a lot of Planescape supplements. Terry Gilliam’s Spelljammer would also be awesome, as would Christopher Nolan’s adaptations of Paul S. Kemp novels.
The problem with the “bunch of guys go to a dungeon” core story is that it’s not much of a plotline. In a game, it’s exciting because you don’t know how the dice will land. You’re in the action, not just a spectator. In a movie, fight + trap + fight + fight + trap + bossfight = bad. Unless it’s 300, pretty much the only movie I know that would’ve been better with even less plot and character development.
However, we have no shortage of people willing to give it a shot, and indeed, the D&D 4E movie is slated for 2011. We shall see.