Friday, April 4, 2014

Dungeons and Dragons


Rehearsals have resumed on my new kabuki musical version of The Last Seduction and we are all working very hard. I find I have to take more and more of that special K cereal additive to keep up my energy and strength for the big ballet moments. Fortunately, Corey Haim's friend 'Thugga', a large black man with three gold teeth, has been making home deliveries of additional supplies to Chateau Maine and I'm ready to go after mixing it in my morning coffee.

Some of the crew has been saying I look a little peaked and under the weather so I've gotten out the Lesterne brand blush and eye shadow in order to keep my ever youthful appearance from fading. I must always look at my best as any great star should. I think it's just worry over Margo Channing's competing kabuki musical project, Stephen King's Christine (she has the title role). The producers tell me that the marketplace can bear two similar productions, as long as someone of my star caliber is involved and to plan on opening the show in the spring.

After today's rehearsal of the aerial ballet, I arrived home bone weary and barely had the strength to drag myself into the home theater. I could not lift any of my DVD containers so thumbed the remote through the cable channels until I happened upon Courtney Solomon's film, Dungeons and Dragons from last year. I have some familiarity with the title. When the role playing game first gained popularity in the 1970s, there was a workshop of a musical version of The Temple of Elemental Evil in which I played a demoness. The show folded after a single performance when the green slime effect took out the first three rows of the orchestra. I was not concerned as I had no tap solo.

For those without access to an adolescent male, Dungeons and Dragons is based on a role playing game set in a fantasy world, similar to Tolkien's Middle Earth, in which players assume the character of an adventurer. They may choose to be a fighter or a magic-user or a thief or a number of other things and the group must think and work together to complete a task or quest, usually involving exploration of a cave or fortress filled with fearsome monsters and deadly traps. True devotees play for hours on end and keep track of the action with miniatures and refer to multiple weighty tomes full of arcane rules on how various characters can or cannot behave and what sort of damage weapons can do.

Director Courtney Solomon, labored for ten years to bring a screen version of the game to life. For his setting, he has created the fantastical kingdom of Izmir. Izmir is ruled by a young empress (Thora Birch, doing her best to be more of an automaton than Natalie Portman in The Phantom Menace if that's possible) and the aristocracy is composed of those who have the ability to use magic. Leader of the mages is Profion ( a hideously overacting Jeremy Irons) who is attempting to wrest power from the empress and bestow it on himself. In order to do so, he needs a magical scepter which controls red dragons so as to counter the empress' scepter which controls gold ones. Through a lot of highly complicated and slightly ridiculous plot machinations, a group of adventurers led by two thieves (Justin Whalin and Marlon Wayans) end up chasing the lost scepter while in turn being chased by Profion's evil henchman Damodar (Bruce Payne). Eventually, of course, the scepter is found and there is a climactic showdown between opposing dragon armies before evil is punished, good rewarded, and everything ends in a completely incomprehensible finale.

The film, which is probably best described as a labor of love, is wretched. Some of the nods to the rules of the game are clever but they'll pass right over the heads of anyone who is not an aficionado. The plot is completely predictable. The dialog is trite and sounds nothing like human speech. The response of the actors to the silly lines is either stoic woodenness or over the top theatrics. Neither do anything to enliven the proceedings.

In the over the top category, the worst offender is Marlon Wayans. He plays his character as a bug eyed Stepin Fetchit clone that would have embarrassed audiences in the 1930s. I shuddered every time he appeared on screen. A close second is Jeremy Irons. Mr. Irons is usually a gifted screen actor who can do more with an arched eyebrow than most with pages of soliloquy. I can only guess that the inexperienced director kept yelling 'bigger, bigger' at him from off camera as he rolls his eyes and gnashes his teeth in histrionic abandon as if playing to the back row located in the next county. Most of the rest of the cast is dull and not likely to have strong careers outside of this film. For instance, Justin Whalin, the hero figure, has two expressions - bemusement and constipation.

The film has a total of eighteen individuals with producer credits and the whole affair reeks of too many cooks helping with Mr. Solomon's broth. I don't know what sort of film he intended to make originally but the result is a mish-mash of sequences lifted from better films, poor storytelling and bad directorial choices.

A fantasy film of this type lives on its ability to create a real make believe world, something the recent Lord of the Rings does most splendidly. Here, everything is obviously a matte painting, a digital effect, or a poorly dressed soundstage. The dragons, when they arrive, are cheesy and unconvincing, and a lot of them look like they are cheap rotoscope copies to fill the shot. The dragon in Dragonslayer from twenty years ago was a much scarier and nastier beast.

Glowing scepters. Living skeleton. Gratuitous beholder. Trick rug. Nasty brain tentacles. Elf healing. Tavern fight. Gratuitous dragon in a box.

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