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Deadline is reporting that Chris Pine will star in the next Dungeons & Dragons movie. Unsurprisingly, I have an opinion on this.
Chris Pine is a good choice. The fact that he’s even in the mix means they’re willing to spend some money. Money talks, so that could be a good sign (though not necessarily). The prior D&D movies ranged from “sucks” to “low, B-level but tolerable if you’re already a fan.” I wouldn’t say any of them are good movies. This is, at least in part, the result of spending too little, but the source material certainly isn’t the problem. There have been too many movies (e.g., Lord of the Rings) and TV shows (e.g., Game of Thrones), some award-winning, that could easily have been considered “D&D movies” to think that the source material has a significant, inherent disadvantage.
In other words, it could be good, but . . .
I don’t know why everyone else doesn’t like them, but I can tell you one thing that annoys me, and it doesn’t bode well for any future movies. All three of the prior movies overtly made D&D mechanics part of the dialogue.
“I’ve prepared only two teleport spells today and have already used one of them.”
Yes, we know. You’re subject to Vancian magic. Don’t beat us over the head with it.
“Cool your barbarian’s Rage.”
But she gets only three a day! She needs to make the most of it!
“I need a frost sword.”
“Heroic or paragon?”
Can you imagine people having this conversation even in a world of magic?
Dialogue like this stood out to me and annoyed the hell out of me. However, if you don’t have dialogue like this, in what way is the movie a “D&D movie”?
Campaign Setting Material
First, it’s got to be about the storylines and characters. In other words, it’s got to be about the campaign settings. Despite having the second one on DVD, it’s been a while since I saw any of those movies, but I don’t remember mentions of Elminster, Anauroch, or anything that was proprietary to a D&D setting. Perhaps they were mentioned in passing and I forgot, but making them the center of story would be critical to making this a “Dungeons & Dragons movie.” Unfortunately, it wouldn’t be enough.
Second, it’s got to have the right monsters. At this point, dragons are trite, which is problematic because it absolutely has to have an intelligent dragon in it. Fortunately, D&D offers a hell of a lot more than dragons. How about mind flayers? No, wait. Those really belong to Lovecraft. Orcs? Tolkien. Goblins? <yawn> What about beholders?
Do you see the problem? If you choose an iconic monster from D&D, either other writers have beaten you to the punch, a prior D&D movie has ridiculed it, or it was “borrowed” from elsewhere, opening it to criticism (both fair and unfair). You can certainly find some untouched creatures that are proprietary to D&D — the third movie did that — but will slaadi play well in Peoria? I doubt it. Any D&D movie will have to rehabilitate whatever monsters they choose to incorporate. Xanathar, to name just one, could certainly work for me as the BBEG for a trilogy, but as the test audiences in Blade told us, most people prefer a human villain. Note well that, for this movie to be a success, it must appeal to more than its sycophantic base; non-D&D players must be interested, so “most people” have to be the focus. But I’ll leave those details to the professional filmmakers who’ll have the benefit of market research.
Plus, We Suck: We Really Aren’t Sycophantic
You always want to grab the largest audience but must start with your base. To win the hearts of as much of your base as possible, you have to throw each of the subcultures a bone. The problem with that is that far too many of us are edition warriors. If you throw 4th edition lovers a bone, it will downright offend others. It doesn’t matter how much you give them; giving any love to 4th edition will be seen as a deal-breaker to some. There’s just far too much nerd rage. Lord of the Rings doesn’t have “versions,” so if you make a good LotR movie, the material itself won’t alienate many potential viewers. I don’t know how to avoid that with D&D.
Between a fractured base and a horrible history, I’m afraid that any D&D movie will devolve into low, B-movie status, and not necessarily “so bad it’s good.” And before you say, “What do you know about it, Rob? Are you an expert?” No, but I’ve seen every effort they’ve made to date. They were all below average. I also remember having a Twitter conversation with someone (@Bartoneus, I think) while we were both watching the premiere of the third movie. He gave up on the movie about 10 minutes in, and he wasn’t alone. History suggests I’m right. By all means, prove me wrong. Clear these hurdles and make a good movie for once.
I’m still glad they’re going to try. My fingers are crossed.
Dungeons & Dragons is a trademark of Wizards of the Coast, LLC, who neither contributed to nor endorsed the contents of this post. (Okay, jackasses?)