Dungeons & Dragons (film)
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|Dungeons & Dragons|
Theatrical release poster
|Directed by||Courtney Solomon|
|Music by||Justin Caine Burnett|
|Edited by||Caroline Ross|
|Distributed by||New Line Cinema|
|Box office||$33.8 million|
Dungeons & Dragons is a 2000 British-American action adventure fantasy film directed by Courtney Solomon, written by Carroll Cartwright and Topper Lilien, and based on the Dungeons & Dragons role-playing game. Among the more notable features of the otherwise poorly received film are cameo appearances by Richard O'Brien (in a parody of The Crystal Maze) and Tom Baker. Parts of the film were made on location at Sedlec Ossuary. In the film, it follows an empress who tries to get hold of a mythical rod that will help her fight an evil warlock and enlists two thieves for help.
Despite its poor box office performance and critical failure, a made-for-TV sequel, Wrath of the Dragon God was released in 2005. It was not a direct continuation of the storyline of the previous film, though Bruce Payne's character, Damodar, makes a return. A third film, The Book of Vile Darkness, was shot in 2011 and direct-to-DVD released in the United Kingdom on August 9, 2012.
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The Empire of Izmir has long been a divided land, ruled by the Mages, an elite group of powerful warlocks. In the capital of Sumdall, an evil mage named Profion creates a magical sceptre that can allow him to control Gold dragons, but his attempt to control an individual fails, and he is forced to kill it. As he begins to make new plans, the dragon bleeds into the nearby river, causing it to catch fire, which many inhabitants of Sumdall notice, including a pair of teenage thieves, Ridley and his best friend Snails.
Later, Profion and the Council of Mages discuss the controversial views of Empress Savina, who wants to give rights to non-mages in Izmir. When the Council threatens to confiscate from her the scepter that allows her to control Gold dragons, she decides to seek the Rod of Savrille, which has the power to control Red dragons. Profion learns of this and decides to take the Rod himself. Meanwhile, Ridley and Snails break into the Sumdall magic school to steal whatever items they can to become rich, but are discovered by a young Mage named Marina. She is distracted when the library wizard is held hostage and interrogated by Profion's assistant Damodar for information on the map to the Rod. After the wizard refuses to talk and sends the map over to Marina, Damodar kills him, and Marina travels through a portal to escape, unintentionally taking the thieves with her. After crashing into a pile of garbage, they meet a dwarf named Elwood, who ends up joining the three's escape through the sewers.
Damodar puts a price on Marina, Ridley, Snails and Elwood's heads and after letting Profion know that the group got away with the map, Profion creates a tentacled monster inside Damodar which painfully possesses him. The group hide inside of a tavern and read the map that Ridley and Marina get sucked into. Damodar and his minions attack Elwood and Snails, but they escape with the map. Ridley and Marina exit the map and all decide to work together to find the Rod. They must first find a ruby called the "Eye of the Dragon" that can open the door to a tomb containing the sceptre. The Eye is held by the thieves' guild in the city of Antius, whose leader, Xilus, reveals it to be in a maze puzzle of traps, and promises to give the group the "Eye of the Dragon" if Ridley successfully solves it, which he does. Damodar suddenly arrives to capture him and his friends. Marina is captured instead while Ridley, Snails and Elwood escape with the "Eye of the Dragon", meeting an elf named Norda who works for Empress Savina, whom she thus informs about Profion's plans upon hearing them from Ridley. In his castle, Damodar interrogates Marina and uses the tentacles in his mind to gain her knowledge.
Ridley and Snails break into Damodar's castle to rescue Marina, while Norda and Elwood stay behind. After Ridley and Snails decide to split up, Ridley finds and rescues Marina, but Snails is confronted by Damodar after he finds the map and a fight ensues between the two with Damodar gaining the upper hand. When Ridley and Marina arrive, Snails throws the map to his comrades, but at the cost of his own life as he is killed by Damodar before being thrown off the castle. Ridley, infuriated and filled with rage, attacks Damodar to avenge his friend, but he disarms him and stabs Ridley with his own sword. In the confusion, Marina grabs some magic dust and creates a magic portal to escape with Ridley. Meanwhile, during a Council meeting, Profion and Savina's factions decide to battle for control of Izmir using magic.
At the same time, an elf heals Ridley along with Norda's soldiers. Later, Marina finds Ridley and tries to help him get over the death of Snails, but Ridley, still feeling remorseful of his friend's death, angrily scolds her for letting Snails die instead of saving him. After a brief argument between the two in which Marina convinces Ridley that Snails' death was not in vain, they eventually forgive each other and become love interests. Ridley later uses the "Eye of the Dragon" to enter the tomb that contains the Rod. It is held by a skeleton that comes to life and tells Ridley he is Savrille, now cursed for trying to control red dragons, and "Anyone who wields the power of the Rod shall suffer a horrible fate", but Damodar arrives to steal the Rod.
Damodar returns to Sumdall with the Rod, where the Empress and her Gold dragons are battling the Mages following Profion below, to bring it to Profion, but Ridley and his friends follow in pursuit. Profion removes the monster from Damodar and uses the Rod to summon Red dragons, which battle the Gold dragons and slowly begin to win the fight. Ridley comes across Damodar, duels him with his new magic sword and then successfully wounds the latter before finishing him off by hurling Damodar off the castle wall to his death, finally avenging Snails. He then attacks Profion, who disarms him and shoves him back. Ridley's companions arrive and fight Profion one at a time. Ridley picks up the fallen Rod, and uses it to stop the red dragons. Marina encourages Ridley to use the Rod to bring Profion down, but Ridley, realizing the Rod's power will corrupt him, refuses and destroys it. Empress Savina arrives and condemns Profion, who fights her with powerful magic, but she summons a Gold dragon which devours Profion, ending the battle and Profion's reign of terror.
Ridley later visits Snails' grave with Norda, Marina and Elwood and pays tribute to his fallen comrade. When he places the "Eye of the Dragon" on the grave, Snails' name disappears, and Norda tells Ridley not to question his abilities. Norda then uses the "Eye of the Dragon" to transport Ridley to another place in the world where his friend would await for him, along with herself, Marina and Elwood.
The earliest attempts by the major film industry at a feature-length adaptation of a Dungeons & Dragons property date to the early 1980s, as there was a strong interest in producing a film based on Advanced Dungeons & Dragons; Gary Gygax had several discussions with producers and agents about the idea, and a screenplay by James Goldman received eyeballs from major studios, but nothing came about this due to conflicts between TSR and the studios. Dungeons & Dragons player Courtney Solomon, who had personal experience with the entertainment industry as a child because his mother was a production coordinator on television series filmed in Toronto, wanted to produce a film based on the game since 1990.
Negotiations and funding
1990–1997: TSR and studio deals
In 1990, Solomon contacted staff from Dungeons & Dragons's publisher, TSR, Inc., under the guise of working on a school economics project; they informed him about studios in the past failing to produce a film based on the game due to having too little of an understanding of the RPG's X-factor. It took him 18 months to convince TSR to set up negotiations, but TSR finally agreed to it because of his upfront royalty being better than other studios the company worked with, according to vice president Ryan Dancey. Solomon obtained an option from TSR after writing a 30-page proposal showing how he would adapt the game and going through three months of "intense" broker dealing with the game publisher.
Solomon went on an 18-month-long trip across the world funding the film once a draft of the screenplay was completed, and most of the financing depended on foreign distribution rights. During the trip, he met a leading businessman in Asia named Allan Zeman, who viewed the 24-year-old as a "young, ambitious, artistic person" as well as a "convincing salesman" of a project based on an enterprise with a huge fanbase. In early 1992, Zeman and Solomon formed Sweetpea Entertainment to fund Dungeons & Dragons and sell it to other investors.
Originally, Solomon planned to have Dungeons & Dragons be a $100 million studio project with a big name in the director's chair; during development, Francis Ford Coppola, James Cameron, Renny Harlin, and Stan Winston were attached for directing the film at one point but dropped out. In addition to the script receiving positive coverage from the magazine Movieline, Premiere also announced the project in a 1995 issue when Winston was still signed on, revealing plot details such as a rogue lead, a magical dragon-controlling device, 14 creatures from the original game, and an effects-heavy final battle.
A majority of studios and directors loved the screenplay, but turned away due to a recent history of big-budget box office failures in the fantasy genre, such as Willow (1988), Krull (1983), and Dragonheart (1996), and Justin Whalin's lack of star power. Solomon and the studios he encountered constantly conflicted with TSR, which wanted a direct-to-video release instead of the big-budget theatrical film the Canadian dreamed of. Cameron considered the project just before he did Titantic (1997), but the deal didn't suffice due to TSR's failure to come up with a merchandising deal that appealed to 20th Century Fox, where Cameron worked. Potential deals with Paramount Pictures and Lightstorm Entertainment were also destroyed due to strong disagreements on how to finance the film. Solomon's amount of focus on getting the film green-lit caused the relationship with his girlfriend to break apart.
1997–1998: Joel Silver and Wizards of the Coast
Joel Silver, an executive producer most notable for action films such as the Die Hard movies, joined the Dungeon & Dragons project in April 1997, and the screenplay was finalized in June 1997. Silver came in with the vision to make it a television series instead of a film. Solomon thus tried to incorporate that plan in his project; however, TSR sold the rights of the original game property to Wizards of the Coast, and despite TSR leader Lorraine Williams telling Solomon Wizards would allow a TV series, that ultimately wasn't the case. At this point, technological advancements decreased required effects money, Solomon discovered Prague which had several medieval-era-looking places and thus lessened the need of costly studio sets, the $100 million budget appeared too risky for buyers, and TSR's set filming deadline was nearing.
With the plan changed to a $3.5 million direct-to-video film, Solomon became director and started test shooting a three-minute scene battle in Los Angeles in August 1997; Silver was so roused by it that he stayed on the project as executive producer and thus increased the project's credibility to the point where investors raised up to $30 million. This now made the production a theatrical one and also saved the producers from legal action by Wizards of the Coast, who argued it wasn't a "real" film. Zeman put the money up for the project, in addition to Solomon and his grandfather Joe Smuckler co-signing a $25,000 bank loan, to begin pre-production on February 9, 1998.
Due to filming in a Czech Republic location, Dungeons & Dragons' props and sets cost five times less than if shot in the United States. Although the final budget totaled to $35 million, the film was made with $21 million in cash during production, as there were several deferments in effects crew and actors' pay to meet its intended large scale. To maximize the quality of the film's effects with a limited budget, Solomon made equity deals between the effects houses involved so that less money was paid. At the time of its release, Dungeons & Dragons was the biggest-budget independent film ever produced.
Solomon began writing the script in 1991 based on the rules of the second edition of the basic Dungeons & Dragons game; he planned Dungeons & Dragons to be a film trilogy, his goal being to create "the Star Wars of the fantasy genres" using the original trilogy as a template for the story arcs. Two Miramax script doctors, Carroll Cartwright and Topper Lilien, were interviewed to be additional writers in April 1992, thanks to an executive's connection with Solomon.
To give the writers an idea of the quality expected in the screenplay, Solomon first required them to view 1980s fantasy films he felt showed the bad state of the genre at the time, and then adventure productions like Raiders of the Lost Ark (1981) and Ben-Hur (1959). The first draft of the film took eighteen months to complete. Solomon claimed the final product is a collection of different scenes from 16 drafts.
Although the class of characters and rules of Dungeons & Dragons are brought over to the film, Solomon decided to create a generic setting only loosely based on one of the lesser-known game settings, Mystara; he felt using specific campaign settings heavily dependent on player interpretation would confuse viewers. He also had to risk the combat actions not reflecting how players would use them; for example, "somebody could be casting one of those spells and standing there for ten minutes until the spell is ready to go," explained Solomon. Spells were occasionally altered if their original descriptions weren't "visual" enough to be present on screen; for instance, a Mind Flayer in the film controls another character by going inside him rather than controlling him from a distance. Another small creative liberty was the red dragons being more powerful than the gold dragons.
The cast of Dungeons & Dragons was a mixture of established film actors and up-and-comers in Hollywood. Most of the casting took place in London starting April 21, 1999, due to the Prague shooting location; this resulted in the inclusion of actors like the Fourth Doctor actor Tom Baker and Richard O'Brien, whom Solomon cast with knowledge of his performance as Riff Raff in The Rocky Horror Picture Show (1975), a film released the same year as the first Dungeons & Dragons game. A-list actors were mostly avoided for leads in order for the characters to look like "normal" players of a Dungeons & Dragons match.
For the part of Ridley, in particular, Solomon looked for "someone who wasn't a movie star but who could be." Whalin, a Lois & Clark: The New Adventures of Superman star who had disinterest in most fantasy films, became a part of the project due to a strong friendship between him and Solomon; he was the only one to join the project before the start of pre-production, entering in December 1997, and had to reject several other acting offers to make himself available. Thora Birch was cast for the project shortly after she finished filming American Beauty (1999) and before she became a breakthrough actress once it was released; she chose to play the positive-minded empress Savina to get herself out of the somber psyche she put herself in for her role in American Beauty. Birch, Whalin, and Kristen Wilson was cast before the start of principal photography.
Mark Leahy, a producer who was involved in the writing for a year and a half working on revisions of Solomon, Cartwright and Lilien's original script that were mostly rejected, was the one who conceived the cast being as ethnically diverse as possible; as he explained, "I thought this film had (and has) a chance to really be something special, and knowing that I hated the thought of a bunch of kids watching a great story in another world-where there are only white people." Leahy originally wrote the elf Liana (later named Norda) to be a black elf, but after contention from his peers, he changed her race to Asian; she was a black elf in the final cut. Leahy wrote what would become Snails as an African-American half-orc in his versions, although this was considered poor taste by his colleagues. He also wrote all members of the mage empire to be Asians.
Wilson, after reading the script, wanted to play Norda specifically due to the character's enigma; as she elaborated, "her position within the royal court world....the power that she has, certainly psychologically ..and she's a mystic...and then she's this incredible warrior. And she doesn't really let on too much.. but you can look in her eyes.. and you can see that she's not somebody to be trifled with." In fact, she was so committed to being cast as the elf that when calling the casting director, Wilson demanded to meet Solomon in person and tell him, "I'm Norda." The meeting happened, with Solomon and the other producers agreeing with Wilson. The director claimed to have cast Wilson as Norda for the same reasons she liked the character: "She's serious and mysterious and very, very cool [...] But when you look at her she doesn't look like some sort of prosthetic elf, she looks like she's another race. When you see her in the film, she's got these wild eyes, this wild exotic look, and she looks like a Dark Elf, which is great, because it's what she's supposed to be."
Lee Arenberg and Irons joined during filming, with Irons the last actor to get on board; he did so through the connection of Silver, who previously worked with him on Die Hard with a Vengeance (1995). He initially rejected the opportunity as he was overseeing the renovation of a Ballydehob castle he purchased named Kilcoe. However, Silver then sent a package to Irons made for him by Solomon, which included the script and sketches of the look of the film; this plus his desire to try out a commercial fantasy production and Solomon's decade-long tenacity to get the screenplay produced made Irons get on board during filming on July 14, 1999.
The trickiest characters to cast were Elwood and Savina. As Solomon explained the dwarf, "The way I saw the D&D; dwarf was not like a hobbit, they're sort of in-between a human and a hobbit. They're smaller than an elf, too, so it was hard finding somebody with the height requirements, but also somebody who's going to be bulky like a dwarf as well." Arenberg was chosen to portray Elwood, although before he was cast American Job (1996) star Charlie Smith was a contender for the role. The producers originally look for an actor under five feet, but Arenberg went in the audition room and told them, "I have a few more inches but a foot more talent than the other short people." When looking for the empress Savina, according to Solomon, "that was one of the toughest characters to cast because I was looking to find somebody that young to play the role, because that's what that character called for, but I also needed somebody with a depth to her and understanding that's beyond her years."
I was horrified, frightened and terrified, obviously, but after going through these different directors, and seeing these different visions, I felt like I had been so close to it for so long that I finally had to do it.— Solomon on the feeling he had of having to direct the film on his own when shooting started.
Shooting of Dungeons & Dragons took place from May 28 to the middle of August 1999 in Prague, with a two-week rehearsal period that included eight days of a cast read-through at Solomon's apartment just before. 2,000 extras were provided by Prague's casting agency Sagitarius, with each battle consisting of around 35 stuntmen and five of the leads at most. While working on Dungeons & Dragons, Snails actor Marlon Wayans was also filming Requiem for a Dream (2000), meaning he had to go back and forth from Prague to New York and deadlines for fight scenes involving the character became very strict.
While real places were leased for sets, work of the film was also done at Barrandov Studios. Dungeon & Dragons was the first feature-length film to use the Sedlec Ossuary, which serves as the interior for Profion's lair, as a location; the church was decorated by František Rint with 40,000 skeletons of people who died as the result of the Black Death. Because the Czech Republic government considered it a special location due to the skulls bringing positive energy, they normally banned video companies it felt brought "bad connotations" to the skulls, mostly for music videos by metal groups. The Magic Council meetings were filmed at the city's State Opera house, and Irons described them as the most difficult to shoot due to the amount of blue screen work and dialogue involved. Other sites used for sets included Kacina Castle, Rabi Castle, Svaty Mikulas church, Lipnice Castle, the Alkazar Quarry, St. Nicholas' Cathedral, the Doksany Crypt, the Strahov Library and the Dejvice Sewers.
Solomon tried to make Dungeons & Dragons unlike other big-budget films that focused the most on effects and not on plot, and was especially careful to make the battle scenes with the dragons not too "cheesy." Producer Kia Jam described Solomon's method of directing and producing as different from how other major studios would create fantasy productions: "they never seem to get it right because I think they replace a true fantasy feel with exorbitant amounts of money in order to achieve it superficially. The feeling has to come from a central source and here that's Corey." One major deviation from other fantasy films was the otherworldliness of the setting, whereas similar products would take place or be heavily inspired by the Middle Ages.
At the same time, the director still went for a strong "wow factor" with the film, where "you have to be able to say 'wow' at least ten times in the first 30 minutes." The two toughest scenes for the cast and crew to film were the maze scene and the concluding battle. The battle is eleven minutes long, required more than 280 shots, and was filmed on a 360-degree panoramic blue screen stage due to it involving more than 150 computer-generated dragons; it was tough for the actors as they had to fight while imagining dragons were around them, and it was tough for the director because the actors could not interact with the dragons that would be imposed in post-production later.
Despite playing a dwarf, Arenberg was a 5'8" actor, which meant he had to stoop his head, squat while still, move with his legs apart, and have extensive costuming in order to look short. He described his role as the hardest he'd ever done, primarily due to having to perform actions scenes while wearing a red beard that "itched like crazy" and "about 50 pounds of clothing complete with padding." When directing Wayans' improvisational method of acting, Solomon offered him the ability to perform three ad-libs in exchange for properly saying three lines in the script. O'Brien also improvised lines, such as "oh, what a romantic notion" in a scene after Ridley goes through the Thieve's Maze; the line was scripted as "honor is for fools, my friend," but the actor dismissed it as "cliched swords-and-sworcery kind of dialog."
Apart from Wayans, who played the game during his high school years, and Arenberg who was a casual player, none of the leads were familiar with the original game; Jeremy Irons learned a bit about it from his sons who were fans, and Whalin prepared for his role by watching Dungeons & Dragons games in person, but then "realized that it seemed to be mostly about arguing" and "just put my trust in the script." While not a player, Wilson's knowledge of the game came from groups of her high school peers playing it: "I remembered stories that I heard about kids committing suicide, and all this other nutty stuff. But I didn't really know anything about it. I knew that it was a fantasy game ..a roleplaying game and THAT interested me." When working on the battle sequences, Solomon and the actors had a strong emphasis on making sure they followed the rules of the original game.
Solomon and the producers intended Dungeons & Dragons to be a "fun" film that would appeal to younger audiences and fans of the game, which explains the over-the-top performances by actors such as Irons; however, the director also tried to push the PG-13 rating with the violence in the battle sequences. In trying to make the fight scenes have as much realism as possible, Solomon and the choreographers not only used blood and gore, but also had the actors use real swords. Due to the long amount of time a fight scene would be choreographed and filmed, several "repeat blades" of swords were built and used; a total of six repeat blades were made for Damodar's sword, two of them broken during shooting.
Most of the principal actors did the stunts themselves, with choreographer Graeme Crowther recalling only "two or three" times a double was required; in fact, when shooting the Thief's Maze sequence on the film's last day of principal photography, Whalin intentionally wanted the first 300-pound steel axe as close as possible to him in the frame, which Solomon agreed. Instances where Whalin was doubled by Theo Kypri consist mostly of acrobatic shots. The actors' fighting styles varied from Ridley's "quick and dirty" yet "smooth" movements to Elwood's hardcore methods to Norda's artsy "fluid," art-like maneuvering, which Wilson attributed to her background in dancing. Whalin's experience in taekwondo also aided in his fighting skills.
Given that Dungeons & Dragons was filmed in Prague, some of the special effects work also took place there, with computer-generated work done in Britain and Germany. The special effects team consisted of George Gibbs, Martin Astles, and Matthew O'Toole of Bob Keen's company Image Effects. Given that the city's local sites were extremely cheap, with Solomon hyperbolizing that "sometimes our daily budget was like 15 US dollars," that made room for a high effects budget of $13 million. However, the effects team had some difficulties. Most of the conception process involved members coming up with various concepts but never agreeing to final designs, meaning compromises had to be determined under deadlines during filming; Astles suggested more time could've been saved if the crew simply borrowed from Dungeons & Dragons books instead of trying to "cleverly expand" the game's universe.
According to Gibbs, the workflow was made even more burdensome by the "communist" nature of the Czech Republic's film industry, especially for a big-scale fantasy film. The country's recently passed importing laws prevented the makeup people from using the glue specifically designed for the elf ears, meaning the elf actors had to wear more incompatible adhesives. There were also scheduling delays due to properties such as weapons and castle walls made by the Czech crew being poorly manufactured and having to be redone.
Human-crafted special effects included the steel axes in the maze scene, the Corridor of Eyes made all out of stones, and the poly-glass crystals on the balustrade walls of the Magic school, the most challenging one being to reproduce the crystals into breakaway glass. For creating the quicksand carpet, a water tank that made up two meters of the floor was used; it was filled with 6,000 liters of Quaker Oats (the only thickening substance available that did not sink to the ground) on a platform lifted up and down by a scissor lift. There were issues the effects crew did not foresee with the use of the porridge, such as it bubbling away into the air as a reaction to a preservative used to keep it from being moldy. With the carpet scene requiring three takes, Wayans described it as "probably the worst thing I've ever had to do in a movie. I grew up in the projects eating oatmeal, and I didn't want to ever eat it again, anyway. Now I really want to stay away from it."
The computer effects were done by Station X and Blankety Blank. Station X's founder, Grant Boucher, had experience in writing for Star Wars: The Roleplaying Game and offered free advice to the production crew of the film despite not officially considered part of the production. When filming began, Boucher predicted a total of around 200 shots with digital effects and 75 dragons in the film's climax. After filming finished, Solomon claimed the number of shots with digital effects to be 550 and computer-generated settings and characters to be 15, with more than 150 dragons in the climatic showdown. Allen Crawford, a Station X animator, declared four months of computer effects work was spent on the movie's first minute. There were also concepts originally planned to be practical effects but were computer-generated in the final edit; this included the gyroscope that holds the scepter, which was initially a machine-controlled device where all attempts for the motors to control it properly failed, and Dexter the pocket dragon which was planned to be an animatronic dragon.
For the dragons, the animators focused the most on their flying and diving cycles, using hawks and eagles as references, as well as their skin, where reptiles such as crocodiles were observed in producing the textures. While the dragons were computer-generated, the fire they blew was done using practical effects, and to be digitally incorporated, the flame throwers were filmed outside during the night time and blown into a steel set hanging on its side.
Justin Burnett was hired as Dungeons & Dungeons' composer, beginning with scoring the test sequence Solomon filmed to convince Silver to become executive producer; the director ordered Burnett to create a John Williams-esque score, specifically in the style of Raiders of the Lost Ark, which was a change of the rock orchestral rock style he used when composing for German television series. It was the composer's third full-length film and his first to use live symphonic orchestra arrangements, with samples for percussion and a few ethnically-tinged instruments; with a "mock-up" score written in a digital sequencer, it was then performed by the Perth Symphony Orchestra in seven recording sessions engineered by Mal Luker. Themes in the score include those for Savina, Profion, Damodar, Ridley and Marina's relationship, Ridley and Snails' friendship, and a "payoff" theme for Ridley inspired by Williams' one for Indiana Jones.
Promotion and release
Production, release and plot information about the film, as well as original game creator Dave Arneson's time on set, were all discussed at the August 1999 Gen Con seminar "History of Roleplaying Games," hosted by Boucher and Arneson. Role-playing supplements of the film were also announced in development at the same convention. The film's official website went online in September 1999. Another unofficial website of information about the project, Dndmovie.com, run by Donald C. Whetsell, went online in November 1999, garnering more than 1.5 million hits by August 2000 and "unusual levels of press and consumer interest," claimed a New Line Cinema press release. On February 10, 2000, DnDmovie posted two photographs: a screenshot of the meeting between the mages, and a behind-the-scenes photo of Robert Miano waiting on a chair to act in a scene. On May 19, 2000, it revealed a teaser poster.
When principal photography finished, the release date was planned at the earliest to be August 2000, which would coincide with the publication of the third edition of the game, or Halloween 2000 at the latest if post-production went on longer than expected.
On August 14, 2000, New Line Cinema, a distributor with prior success in genre films and game adaptations like Mortal Kombat (1995), bought the American distribution rights of Dungeons & Dragons, as well as option rights for a prequel and sequel and television syndication rights, for $5 million. New Line set the domestic release date sometime near the end of the year; the producers originally wanted the release to be in the spring or summer of 2001 to open up more time for setting up licensing and tie-in deals, but none of Warner Bros' divisions agreed to it. Ain't It Cool News writer Harry suggests New Line made the deal to excite the fantasy film fanbase into a much larger production of the genre, The Lord of the Rings: The Fellowship of the Ring (2001).
Critical reaction to the film was largely negative. The film has a score of 10% on Rotten Tomatoes based on 91 reviews, the consensus stating: "Critics say this movie has a cheap look and is badly directed. Despite the presence of talented actors, the performances are really bad, and additionally, some people are offended at Marlon Wayans' character, calling it a racist throwback to black stereotypes." The film has a score of 14 on Metacritic based on 25 reviews. Audiences surveyed by CinemaScore gave the film a grade "C+" on scale of A to F. Geoff Pevere of the Toronto Star called the film "A wheezy quest story steeped in hobbity gibberish and second-hand Star Wars costumery, featuring a cast so uniformly uncharismatic you may pine for the methody depths of Kerwin Mathews (apart, of course, from the reversely charismatic Irons), the movie has the cheap software look of something found on the Space channel at 4 a.m.". Steve Biodrowski of mania.com comments: "Let's just say that if it weren't for Lost Souls (also a New Line release, coincidentally), this would be a strong contender for the Worst Film of the Year." In February 2010, the readers of Empire voted Dungeons & Dragons the 39th worst film of all time.
Solomon blamed the quality of the film on its investors and license-holders' interference, as well as his own inexperience in filmmaking. He states that he had only intended to produce the film, but was forced to direct by his investors after nearly a decade of complications dealing with TSR and Wizards of the Coast. He also claims that he was forced to use an older script despite having written an updated version that fit the Dungeons and Dragons license better.
The film opened at #5 at the North American box office making US$7,237,422 in its opening weekend. The film would go on to gross $15,220,685 in the domestic box office, short of the film's $45 million budget, and with an international gross of $18,586,724, coming up with a worldwide total of $33,807,409.
Awards and nominations
|Stinkers Bad Movie Awards||Worst Picture||Courtney Solomon||Nominated|
|Thomas M. Hammel||Nominated|
|Worst Sense of Direction||Courtney Solomon||Nominated|
|Worst Supporting Actor||Jeremy Irons||Nominated|
|Worst Supporting Actress||Thora Birch||Nominated|
|Worst On-Screen Group||The entire cast||Nominated|
|Most Intrusive Musical Score||Justin Caine Burnett||Nominated|
|Least "Special" Special Effects||Nominated|
|Most Unfunny Comic Relief||Marlon Wayans as Snails||Nominated|
|Young Artist Awards||Best Supporting Young Actress||Thora Birch||Nominated|
|Saturn Awards||Cinescape Genre Face of the Future Award||Nominated|
Starting in 2015, a new Dungeons & Dragons film began development at Warner Bros. Pictures with the film reportedly starring Ansel Elgort and Rob Letterman directing. In December 2017, after varying degrees of progression the film was moved to Paramount Pictures, Sweetpea Entertainment, and Allspark Pictures, scheduled for release date of July 23, 2021. That same year, Joe Manganiello, an avid fan of the role-playing game, took it upon himself to revitalize the progression of a film adaptation. The actor revealed that he had been negotiating the rights to make the film, while Manganiello and John Cassel were hired to co-write the script for the project.
By February 2018, the project had reentered development as a co-production with Brian Goldner and Stephen Davis producing from Paramount Pictures, and Allspark Pictures. Negotiations began with Chris McKay to serve as director. David Leslie Johnson-McGoldrick had completed a draft of the script. In March 2019, it was revealed that Michael Gillio had completed a rewrite of Johnson-McGoldrick's work with studio executives expressing excitement for the film. The studio is in negotiations with various talent, as the casting process begins.
In July 2019, John Francis Daley and Jonathan Goldstein entered early negotiations to direct the film. By January 2020, the filmmaking duo announced that they had co-written a new draft of the script.
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