I’ve been asked on several occasions what my thoughts are on the D&D movies. My answer goes something like this: “There have been a few movies about D&D, but there have been no D&D movies.” That is to say that I have yet to see any evidence that a movie can capture the same excitement and thrill one gets from playing the game. It’s not unlike video games in that regard, although I must admit that a few video game based movies have done quite well such as Lara Croft, Silent Hill, and Prince of Persia.
However, converting an open-ended tabletop roleplaying game dependent on random dice rolls is a far cry from adapting a console video game which already has several cinematic scenes and polished plot lines built into it. And that is where I think the big problems lies: D&D is way too subjective and open ended for Hollywood. It is exactly the thing that makes D&D an awesome game that also makes it extremely difficult to adapt into a single flowing script. Shoehorning D&D into a movie is like trying to put a Great White Shark into a small aquarium, you can do it but, a) it’s just wrong and b) it’s not going to have a very long life. Yet, despite three agonizing kicks at the can in 2000, 2005, and 2012, it has recently (August 2015) been released that a new film is in the works from Warner Brothers and Hasbro Films and has an expected release date of sometime in 2017.
Now I want to go on the record, again, as saying that I think this is a bad idea. There are only a very few ways to get this movie right and thousands of ways to get it wrong. But, for the sake of argument and discussion, allow me to indulge in what I think a new D&D movie needs to be successful and what it needs to avoid lest it fall into the pit of unending ridicule.
What it Needs:
- It needs genuine, heartfelt characters with decent backstories and dynamic emotions. One of my biggest problems with the first films is that every character is a stereotype and is almost “cartoon” like. In a lot of situations, I would have rather seen Bugs Bunny in a Viking outfit.
- It needs a storyline that is more about the journey than the ending. I know that sounds simple and belongs in story writing 101, but I’m astounded by how often it gets forgotten by movie makers. People aren’t going to give a flying fig for the big dragon fight at the end if they have no attachment to the characters. Well, they might cheer for the dragon…
- It needs a basic and almost primal moral to drive the theme. For example, Star Wars had spirituality vs. technology; Lord of The Rings had nature vs. industry; and Harry Potter had free will vs. conformity. (Incidentally, those last two franchises were also Warner Brothers properties, so there may be some hope!)
- It needs a director that is going to take the job not only seriously but as a personal mission to make the movie awesome. I get the feeling that some of the previous directors may have been a little embarrassed to be working on a geeky Dungeons and Dragons movie, or thought that the geeks would never notice the terrible movie if they just put enough CGI dragons into it.
- The filmmakers need to consult with the writers and the artists that helped make D&D into a cultural phenomenon in the first place. The script writers need to bounce their ideas off of proven authors such as Greenwood, Salvatore, Weis, and Hickman. Also, the director and the art department would do well to hire some of the more well-known D&D artists such as Elmore, Easley, and Lockwood to consult and guide their visions.
- And lastly, this movie needs some epic music. Not necessarily something soaring like John Williams (Star Wars) or Alan Silvestri (Back To The Future), but something more rhythmic and primal like Hans Zimmer (The Lion King) or James Newton Howard (The Dark Knight).
What it Doesn’t Need:
- It doesn’t need to follow any specific adventure, campaign, or world event that has appeared in the game. Inside jokes are fine, and even cameos of famous characters or locations, but don’t try to jam the Spell Plague or The Tomb of Horrors into the story just for the sake of making it more like D&D.
- It doesn’t need a big superstar or award winning talent to sell it. Instead, I would go with young actors with good track records who are still trying to make names for themselves and would be willing to give it their all.
- It doesn’t need to be a showcase for the classes and the races. While I’m sure that we’ll see “The Ranger” and “The Dwarf” and “The Wizard” characters, the filmmakers need to focus a lot more on getting the story right and a lot less on, “How do we get a Dragonborn into this show?”
- It doesn’t need to be a CGI extravaganza. Honestly though, going light on the CGI these days is a very relative term. What I mean is I’d rather see more traditional effects like miniatures, models, animatronics, and makeup than a George Lucas fest. I’m thinking along the lines of Pan’s Labyrinth (2006).
- And lastly, it doesn’t need the good people at Hasbro meddling with it. I’m talking about the marketing guys and girls who want to sell toys, books, games, t-shirts, and make bucket loads of cash on the side. Sometimes these folks can ruin a movie or side-track it because they don’t find it “sellable”.
Overall, I’d like to think that a high quality D&D movie is possible and I’m sure that the right people are out there somewhere. But after so many let downs and complete screw-ups, I’m not going to get my hopes up anytime soon. Still, I wish them all the best.
What are your thoughts on the new D&D movie? Please leave a comment below!