In Defence Of: Dungeons and Dragons – The Movie

By Peter Wilkinson

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The internet is a wonderful and scary place, filled with pundits, critics and commentators who examine the minutiae of everything so we don’t have to. The pop-culture subconscious they generate can form our opinion for us, sometimes with very little input from ourselves. But are all those ‘bad’ films and TV shows really as bad as the internet would have us believe? Are they not at least worth another quick look, before we cast them aside as irredeemable? We decided to bravely step through the office space/time portal for a last quick look at some of the most maligned…

Every now and again a film comes along that will haunt you. It will stay with you longer than you imagine is possible, like the strangely alluring aftertaste of a wildly ill-advised and suspect kebab. For me, Dungeons and Dragons is that movie, that wonderful and horrifying guilty pleasure that you just don’t want to ever discuss in polite conversation.

Dungeons & DragonsIt is, undeniably a truly awful film, from beginning to end. There. I said it. It has appalling CGI, with dragons that have been better represented in a Chewits advert. The dialogue is truly dire, clumsily crowbarring in references to the source material here and there in the most jarring fashion. The acting is universally bad, with particular emphasis on Jeremy Irons in the role of the main villain, Profion. Emphasis, ironically, is something he seems to have completely lost control of here as he fervently chews the scenery like a lawnmower chews grass.

So what, if any, are this atrocious films redeeming features? What is it about this execrable mess of a movie that could be said to be good?

Dungeons & DragonsThe problem is that every one of the many, many problems with this movie that have ever been brought up by its many critics are all incontrovertibly true; but those same weaknesses are in many cases also the films strengths.  Jeremy Irons for example, chewing away at his scenery, is so clearly having a ball that it’s hard not to chuckle along with him. Then there is the genius move of casting Richard O’Brien, so obviously here because of his work on the Crystal Maze, and delivering an extremely familiar, yet eternally pleasing, performance. We even have a Tom Baker cameo, as an extraordinarily aged Elf, somehow managing to deliver a particularly awful line with a perfectly professional manner, something his co-star in the same scene spectacularly fails to do as they repeat his words back to him.

It is truly hilarious throughout, but it’s not as simple as ‘so bad it’s good.’ It must be remembered that D&D was first and foremost a roleplaying game, and like so much in the myriad worlds and styles of role play it is so often taken far too seriously. As someone who occasionally dabbled with D&D in his youth I always remember it as fun, even slightly camp high fantasy, played by friends who shared a sense of humour and spent every game they played in fits of laughter. Nowadays playing MMOs on roleplaying servers is a very different experience, and I speak from the bitter experience of someone who was once harangued out of an area for being an Elf character in a non-Elven location. For some, it is a very serious business, but for this film it is not.

The film itself knows how bad it is, and deliberately plays up to it. It’s a game, and it’s supposed to be fun. Characters are bad caricatures of stereotypical roles on purpose, to play up the genre as a whole, and we can see why as they repeatedly break the fourth wall with no real concern for convention, gurning away into the camera. The actors are enjoying their roles, just as players of the game should do. It doesn’t need to be highbrow, or serious. It’s just a game.

Maybe that’s why this film continues to haunt me. Or maybe it’s because I took my wife to the cinema to see it on Valentine’s day, 2001. She will certainly never let me forget it.

Read: In Defence Of:
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Star Wars: The Phantom Menace


bright red eyesPete Wilkinson is a wanderer in many worlds, one minute holding back the Shadow in Middle-Earth, and Piloting Starships the next. But not in Middle-Earth, of course. That would be silly.