Dungeons & Dragons
Reviewed by Roger M. Wilcox
Rating: 8 Beans
EGIN D&D GEEK MODE
The problem with movies based on fantasy role-playing games is that they're written for the mainstream audience, who don't know their Armor Class from their THAC0. You can't just take a game that requires weeks to learn and years to master, and expect "normal" people to pick it all up in the 2-hour running time of a movie. Thus, the scriptwriters inevitably take all the complexities they're trying to express and sweep them under the rug in favor of simple-minded good-versus-evil, political intrigue, and mushy romantic subplots.
With that in mind, I would now like to give away the entire plot of the _Dungeons & Dragons_ movie the way it was MEANT to be told: By explaining EVERYTHING in the terminology of the real Advanced Dungeons & Dragons game system. (2nd edition.)
Jeremy Irons over-acts as a lawful-evil or neutral-evil wizard of at least 12th experience level. Maybe even 18th. We don't know for sure if he's 18th level, 'cause he didn't cast a "wish" or "time stop" spell, and that would've given it away right there, because 9th-level magic-user spells like "time stop" and "wish" can only be cast by magic-users of 18th experience level or higher. Anyway, Jeremy Irons has some kind of factory where he makes magic items. He's trying to make a scepter of dragon control, which is ridiculous because as we all know the only magic item with "dragon control" in its name is a POTION of dragon control. Duh. You'd think a member of a character class whose prime requisite is Intelligence would have read the Dungeon Master's Guide by now. Needless to say, his "scepter of dragon control" doesn't work on the gold dragon he's kept in captivity. (Okay, maybe the scepter was a rod of rulership, but he was definitely trying to control a gold dragon with it. Maybe the dragon made its saving throw against rods.) The dragon breathes fire and one of Jeremy Irons' servants has to make his saving throw against breath weapons to take half damage. Jeremy Irons has to use a telekinesis spell (or his unseen servant, which he's surely cast "permanence" on by now) to release the dragon-proof gate and squish the gold dragon while it's half way through the door.
In the town below, enter Justin Whalin (of Jimmy Olson fame on _Lois and Clark_) and Marlon Wayans (of 7-up fame in the show-us-your-can contest). Jimmy Olson and 7-up Man play a couple of 3rd or 4th level thieves. Jimmy Olson hates the mages because they have all the political power in town. (You'd have all the power, too, if you could cast "fireball" at 5th level!) He decides to burglarize the magic school. Big mistake. They both get caught in the act by a beautiful young 4th-6th level female magic-user named Marina, who ensnares them in some kind of magically-created rope. Jimmy Olson says that the magically-appearing rope around him and 7-up Man is some kind of "hold person" spell, which just goes to show how ignorant of the ways of magic he is. Even an apprentice-level magic-user who can only cast 0-level cantrips knows that "hold person" prevents its victim from speaking! So, naturally, Marina replies, "I'd have to cast a feeblemind spell on myself to enjoy your company!" (She really said this. I'm not making this up.) Oh, the rollicking humor of a low-level mage!
Unfortunately, she hauls the two of them back to her master just in time to see Bruce Payne, a 9th- or higher-level fighter and henchman to Jeremy Irons, holding her wizened old schoolteacher in his 18/00 strength grip. You'd think a mage who was high enough level to train Marina would have had the foresight to have memorized a "dimension door" spell for just such an emergency. Bruce Payne is there because Jeremy Irons' familiar, an imp (you could tell it was an imp because imps have wings but quasits don't, and incidentally this is how we know that Jeremy Irons is lawful-evil or neutral-evil, because only a lawful-evil or neutral-evil magic-user can get an imp when he casts "find familiar"), has been spying on them and knows about a secret treasure map that will lead them to the Rod of Savrille, an artifact that can control red dragons. (I looked all through the 1st edition DMG's "artifacts and relics" section, and all through the 2nd edition's Book of Artifacts, and could not find any "Rod of Sevrille". It's obviously not an official AD&D artifact. Hmph!) The wizened old schoolteacher mage naturally refuses to give Bruce Payne the treasure map he's looking for, so Bruce Payne kills him. He then goes after Marina and our two bound-by-a-magic-rope heroes, who happened to be in the wrong place at the wrong time.
But lo! There's some "magic dust" on the ground. I've never heard of "magic dust" before, outside of that Cheech-and-Chong Santa Claus sketch, but Marina nevertheless picks up a handful of dust and hurls it at Bruce Payne and his guardsmen, whereupon the dust transforms in midair into what looks sort-of like a lightning bolt, but we know it can't be a lightning bolt because the material components of a lightning bolt spell are supposed to be a glass or amber rod and a bit of wool. Then she takes another handful of the dust and uses it to make a dimension door! What? Did these scriptwriters even READ the Player's Handbook? A dimension door spell clearly has NO MATERIAL COMPONENTS! (It has no somatic components, either, which is why it would've been useful to that wizened old dead schoolteacher mage even though his arms were pinned down, the dunderhead.)
She grabs the treasure map from the top of a nearby desk (SHE knows where it was "hidden"), pulls herself and her ensnared companions through the dimension door, and they land in a trash heap alongside a drunken 5th or 6th level dwarf fighter. (Or maybe he's not a fighter, but the "dwarf" character class they used waaaaaaaay back in the old "original" edition of D&D that came out before Advanced D&D. Come on, Gygax, "dwarf" as a *character class*? Get real! But I digress.) So now, they have a dwarven fighter, two human thieves, and a female human magic user. They're an adventuring party! They can go raid a dungeon now, and get all sorts of gold pieces and experience points! But, like all good adventuring parties, they have to visit the local bar first.
Meanwhile, there's this political intrigue plot going on, involving a lawful-good Empress with a scepter of gold dragon control and a council of mages (led by the chaotic-evel Jeremy Irons, of course). I won't bore you with the political details, because they can't be expressed in terms of Armor Class or Hit Points. However, one consequence of this political struggle is that Bruce Payne's failure to bring Jeremy Irons the treasure map has made Jeremy Irons extremely irritable. He casts some spell I can't find anywhere in the Player's Handbook or the Tome of Magic, which causes a symbiotic/parasitic creature to wriggle its way into Bruce Payne's body, said creature programmed to kill Bruce Payne if he fails again. (Why doesn't Jeremy Irons just cast a "charm person" spell like every other magic-user does? Or did he use up his daily allotment of charm person spells picking up women in bars? And speaking of bars...)
At the bar, Jimmy Olson makes a successful Read Languages roll (he IS a thief after all), and ZAP, he's sucked into the treasure map. I guess it was a MAGIC treasure map. Not to be outdone, Marina likewise zaps herself into the treasure map's alternate universe. Meanwhile, 7-up Man has spotted a female elf with at least a 16 charisma, and decides to try and pick her up. Then Bruce Payne and his stormtroopers catch up with our merry bunch, and our heroes must make their escape by having the dwarven fighter yell "bar fight!" in the same manner that John Belushi yelled "food fight!" in _Animal House_. Miraculously, this ploy works.
Out in the safety of the woods, 7-up Man lays out the treasure map and summons Jimmy Olson and Marina back onto the Prime Material plane. Jimmy Olson reveals that Jeremy Irons is going to try to get the Scepter of Gold Dragon Control away from the lawful-good Empress, and so to defend her they have to get the Rod of Savrile for themselves before Jeremy Irons does, but the Rod of Savrille is locked in a cave that can only be opened by the Eye of the Dragon (a ruby worth at least 5000 gold pieces, maybe more if you roll on the gem-sale-value table in the DMG just right), but the Eye of the Dragon is squirreled away in the headquarters of the regional Thieves' Guild. 7-up Man doesn't want to risk his neck on such a reckless crusade, but Jimmy Olson quickly reminds him that, hey, it's a *five thousand gold piece ruby*, and what thief could resist that?
They find the thieves' guild by following a lavender-skinned creature with 3 eyes, which I swear I cannot find anywhere in the Monster Manual. There they learn that the Eye of the Dragon is the prize at the center of a maze full of deadly traps. No one has yet retrieved it. Jimmy Olson, being the hero, has to try and get it -- but like a pig-headed idiot, he neglects to ask Marina if he can borrow any magic items before entering the maze. Some gauntlets of dexterity, or eyes of minute seeing, or even good old-fashioned +1 leather armor, could have been eminently useful. The maze itself resembles a cross between an Indiana Jones movie and that U.S. Marine Corps recruitment commercial -- there are no twisty little passages, only a bunch of blades popping out of the floor, four swinging axes, a moving walls, some floor-triggered blowtorches, and a spiked descending ceiling controlled by an hourglass sticking out of the wall. Jimmy Olson easily makes all his find/remove traps rolls, reaches the end, and retrieves the Eye of the Dragon.
By now, though, Bruce Payne has caught up with them again, and they must once again make their escape -- only this time, Bruce Payne gets the map AND kidnaps Marina. Jimmy Olson, 7-up Man, and the dwarven fighter escape, but are quickly re-captured out in the woods by the 16+ charisma female elf that 7-up Man met at the bar. It turns out she's a 8th or 9th level ranger, and she's working for the lawful-good Empress by trying to retrieve Rod of Savrille herself. She even carries a two-way miniature mirror of mental prowess with her so she can give instant status updates to the lawful-good Empress. (She doesn't really need one, of course, because as we all know, a mirror of mental prowess can display clairvoyant views of any place, whether there's another mirror there or not. The lawful-good Empress could have just communicated with her using her own mirror of mental prowess alone.) She puts Jimmy Olson, 7-up Man, and the dwarven fighter on horseback. The dwarven fighter informs us that dwarves are scared of horses, by the way, but I don't remember reading that in the PHB or DMG, so he might have been just *personally* scared of horses and was making up that race-wide fear of horses as an excuse. Anyway, the 16+ charisma female elven ranger, being a ranger, soon discovers Bruce Payne's footprints and tracks him to an old abandoned castle. It's being guarded not only by his normal guards, but by beholders. Why a beholder would want to pull guard duty is beyond me. Beholders have 10 or more hit dice each, plus all those swell eye-beam powers. They should be making the *humans* pull guard duty for *them*! They must be under the influence of a charm monster spell or something. Despite their omnidirectional eyes, Jimmy Olson manages to distract the beholders, and he and 7-up Man sneak into the castle. They split up, with Jimmy Olson going to rescue Marina and 7-up Man going to retrieve the treasure map. Before they split up, though, Jimmy Olson utters the three fateful words that mean disaster to anyone hearing them in any movie ever made: "Hey, be careful."
7-up Man is dead within 5 minutes.
Jimmy Olson manages to free Marina and gets back just in time to see Bruce Payne finish 7-up Man off. Jimmy Olson charges at Bruce Payne, sword drawn, but Bruce Payne easily deflects Jimmy's sword blows with the forearm-protector plates of his armor. That got me to thinking. Fighters are supposed to parry with swords or other hand-held weapons, not parts of their armor. Was Bruce Payne actually a dual-class fighter/monk? No, that's ridiculous. Monks don't wear armor. Could those forearm protectors have been bracers of defense? No, that's equally ludicrous. Only magic-users wear bracers of defense, precisely because bracers of defense don't work if you're also wearing armor. My guess is, Jimmy Olson couldn't hit him because a thief can only attack once per melee round, and a melee round lasts an entire minute, so Jimmy Olson missed his first attack roll and all the subsequent swings of his sword would automatically miss because they're just eye candy for the viewers. Yeah, that's it. That's the ticket.
Jimmy Olson soon gets impaled and reduced to 0 or some small number of negative hit points. He might be all-the-way dead, but that only happens when you reach -10 hit points or lower, and it's kinda hard to tell if someone's reached -10 hit points unless you check his pulse. Marina saves his bacon by getting hold of some of the same "magic dust" she grabbed in the magic school and, once again, casting a lightning-bolt-looking spell on Bruce Payne and a dimension-door-looking spell to escape with Jimmy Olson in tow.
She re-joins the dwarven fighter and the elven ranger, who take her to the Hidden Elf Kingdom. It looks rather like the tree-top homes of the Ewoks in _Return of the Jedi_. There, they meet a wizened old elf who casts a healing or raise-dead spell on Jimmy Olson to bring him back to life. Now, I have to protest this. Only clerics and druids get to cast healing or raise dead spells, and elves can't be druids so this wizened old elf must be a cleric, right? Well, WHERE'S HIS HOLY SYMBOL?! Clerics need their holy symbol to cast just about every kind of clerical spell! What kind of a cleric doesn't carry around his holy symbol wherever he goes?! And more importantly, clerics always demand that you pay them enormous sums of gold pieces to cast even a "cure light wounds" spell on them, let alone a "raise dead" spell. He should have taken that Eye of the Dragon in *payment*!
But I digress. The elven "cleric" has also informed us that dragons, in this campaign setting, create the energy that allows magic spells to be cast. It's kind of like the Force in _Star Wars_ in that regard. If a lot of dragons were to die, there would be no more magic to power their planet, and this would not be environmentally friendly to the elves. The Rod of Savrille would allow them to control red dragons, potentially leading to an all-out dragon war where hundreds or thousands of dragons would die. So what does he do? He allows them to continue on their quest for the Rod of Savrille. He even gives Jimmy Olson a +4 or +5 defender longsword to help him out. (They said "it will protect you", so that means it's gotta be a defender sword, right?) Before they leave, though, Marina and Jimmy Olson get in a big old argument that ends with them passionately kissing one another, with Jeremy Irons' imp familiar watching them go at it. I guess this passes for a romantic subplot of sorts, albeit one with a voyeuristic imp in it.
The next morning, our party follows the map to the cave-with-the-Rod-of-Savrille in it. Jimmy enters the cave easily, but the rest of the party bounces off an invisible forcefield. Marina comments, "It must be a wall of force of some kind. I've never heard of magic like this!" Oh, come ON, Marina! Sure you have! The "wall of force" spell is right there at the bottom of the 5th level Wizard spell list in the PHB. Not knowing about "wall of force" is like not knowing about "magic missile" or "fireball" -- EVERY magic-user knows about those spells! Weren't you paying attention that day in magic school? How'd you get to be high enough level to cast lightning bolt and dimension door without having heard of wall of force?! Pah.
Jimmy goes in carrying a continual light lantern, and soon reaches the front door to the main vault. The Eye of the Dragon fits easily into its socket, and the door opens, revealing a room filled with wondrous treasure. Why, I'll bet half the items in that room were magic items. I'm sure that was a +1 or +2 shield in the corner, and that helm of teleportation was sure hard to miss. But what does Jimmy Olson think of pilfering? Gold pieces. A lousy handful of gold pieces. Fortunately, he has a moment of conscience and decides not to steal anything other than the Rod of Savrille. I say "fortunately" because, as we know from the 1st edition Player's Handbook, gold pieces weigh a whopping 1/10 of a pound each. A single handful of gold pieces might weigh down a weakling like Jimmy Olson so much that he could barely move. (Now if it had been platinum pieces, I might understand. But only gold pieces? Forget 'em.)
The Rod of Savrille, as it turns out, is guarded by Savrille himself, who is so old he's turned into a lich. He tells us that some day, a "worthy" person will come along and break the Rod's spell, whereupon Savrille will be free from his prison of guardianship. Sort of like how, in Disney's _Aladdin_, only one who was "worthy" could enter the cave with the magic lamp in it. Ooh, gee, foreshadowing. Anyhow, Jimmy Olson departs the cave, Rod of Savrille in tow, and stumbles right in to Bruce Payne, who's captured Marina, the elf, AND the dwarf this time. Melee ensues.
Bruce Payne's guards, of course, are rather low-level characters, and they just don't have the THAC0s and to-hit bonuses that our heroes do. Especially since Jimmy Olson now has that +4 or +5 defender. Our heroes, though far outnumbered, easily dispatch the guards; but meanwhile, Bruce Payne escapes through a teleport portal with the Rod of Savrille. Suicidally, Jimmy Olson follows him through the portal to Jeremy Irons' fortress, where an all-out war against the lawful-good Empress's gold dragon army has erupted.
Jeremy Irons and his mage minions launch a volley of magic missile spells at the incoming gold dragons (they'd never use fireball spells, 'cause they'd know that gold dragons are immune to fire), but magic missiles all miss. Magic missile spells are never supposed to miss, of course, but don't forget that adult and older gold dragons have magic resistance. They load their ballistas and take a couple of shots at the dragons with them. Ballista targets, of course, are AC 10 if exposed to sight (see 1st Edition DMG, siege warfare section), so both ballistae easily hit and two dragons are brought down. But many more gold dragons are coming. Several fire bolts spew forth from the gold dragons' mouths straight toward the mages, but Jeremy Irons protects himself and the other mages by quickly casting a wall of ice spell around them, which absorbs all the fire damage. At about this time, Bruce Payne steps through the teleport portal and presents the Rod of Savrille to Jeremy Irons, who can't stop drooling over it and gives one of the biggest over-acting performances of his career. But Jimmy Olson is hot on Bruce Payne's tail. Jimmy lost to Bruce the last time they fought, but that was before Jimmy got that shiny new +4 or +5 defender. (And for all we know, the escapades he's gone through over the course of the movie thus far might have even given Jimmy Olson enough experience points to gain a level by now!) Melee ensues.
While Jimmy Olson is distracted, Jeremy Irons cackles with glee and uses the Rod of Savrille to summon a hoard of red dragons to his defense. There's a lot of dragon-to-dragon combat. Several claw/claw/bite routines occur in mid-air over the city. The lawful-good Empress is stupid enough to ride around on one of the flying gold dragons' backs. Finally, Jimmy Olson beats Bruce Payne as any self-respecting thief would: by getting behind him and back-stabbing for 2x or 3x damage. Now he can use that +4 or +5 defender of his to stop Jeremy Irons once and for all. But Jeremy Irons is not defenseless. He quickly pulls a staff of power out of the astral plane and shows Jimmy Olson that, yes, even though magic-users' to-hit chances don't improve with level as quickly as thieves' do, a magic-user with *enough* experience levels can hold his own quite well in melee combat.
Suddenly, the rest of the party shows up, and just as suddenly, Jeremy Irons puts them all down with a variety of spells. I think the spell he used on the elven ranger was a REAL hold-person spell, not that magic-rope spell that Jimmy Olson SAID was a hold-person spell near the beginning of the movie. But in the scuffle, Jimmy Olson gets hold of the Rod of Savrille, starts to use it to control the red dragons, gets an evil look of sorts on his face, and then sees that it's "wrong" to use an artifact rod of red dragon control and, thus, learns the True Meaning of Christmas. He smashes the ruby at the center of the Rod with the tip of his sword and, POOF, the Rod of Savrille artifact is un-made. (I don't remember "smash with the tip of your sword" being on the 1st edition DMG's list of how an artifact can be un-made. I do remember you can un-make some artifacts by throwing them into the sun, others by having them stepped on by Talos the triple iron golem, and still others by having them stepped on by the foot of a humble ant. But never "smash with the tip of your sword." That'd be way too easy. Even if your sword IS a +4 or +5 defender.) Then the lawful-good Empress shows up and commands a gold dragon to eat Jeremy Irons. Why Jeremy Irons just stands there and doesn't cast cone of cold or lightning bolt on that dragon the moment he sees it, I don't know. Do you have any idea how many d6 a lightning bolt would do if cast by a magic-user of Jeremy Irons' supposed level? Or how many d4+1 a cone of cold would do? More hit points than a gold dragon has, that's for sure!
Now, lawful- or neutral-evil is vanquished, and lawful-good reigns supreme. (Except in Jimmy Olson's case, of course, because he's a thief, and thieves can't be lawful-good.) The next day, when Jimmy Olson is about to be knighted, he makes a grave marker for the dear, departed 7-up Man, and places the Eye of the Dragon on his gravestone. They do not rush out and get a cleric who can cast "raise dead", for some reason. Heck, you only need to be a 10th level cleric to get "raise dead". That elven cleric surely would have been high enough level to cast it. But, they don't seek him out. I guess it's a show of "worthiness" or some such. And by Jimmy Olson thus proving himself "worthy," the Eye of the Dragon begins to glow, and now all 4 characters remaining in the party get to touch the Eye of the Dragon and turn into little streaks of light. And live happily ever after. Or something. They didn't explain it very well.
And I CERTAINLY don't remember any artifact or spell-like power that turns people into streaks of light. (At least, not one that turns them into streaks of light in a beneficial way.) In the end, I felt gypped. The characters should at LEAST have worn little badges with their experience levels written on them. To say nothing of their alignments, their hit points, their strength and dexterity, etc.. How are we supposed to know them as people, how are we supposed to care about them as something more than a face on the silver screen, if we don't even know how many hit points they have? Sheesh!
END D&D GEEK MODE
Other reviews for this movie: