Was 2000’s “Dungeons & Dragons” Really That Bad? (Yes, But There’s More To It)

Following the success of franchises like Harry Potter and Lord of the Rings, the 2000s was a decade that saw a surge in popularity for high fantasy.  Prior to this, it was a genre that always struggled to be taken seriously.  And with 2000’s Dungeons & Dragons getting absolutely demolished and ridiculed by fans, critics, and box office alike, it’s easy to see why.

Looking back, it’s honestly difficult to reconcile the fact that D&D was released only a year prior to Lord of the Rings: The Fellowship of the Ring, both of which were distributed by New Line Cinema.  Both films could not feel more different, and look like they were made decades apart.

So with the new Dungeons & Dragons:  Honor Among Thieves coming out, we wanted to take a look back 23 years at the last cinematic adaptation of this popular RPG.  Was it truly as bad as its reputation?  And more importantly, what sort of behind the scenes drama led to it being such an infamously terrible movie?

Wrong in All the Right Ways
Let’s not mince words here, every single minute decision regarding this movie was absolutely wrong.  The dialogue is terrible and sounds like a first draft, the acting is either ridiculously over the top or completely flat and wooden with zero in between, and the visual effects look like bad Playstation 1 graphics.  Even the fight choreography looks incredibly amateur in how simplistic it looked.

D&D 3
The dragons would have looked decent had this been a CGI animated movie from 1995…

Not to mention, Marlon Wayans’ performance garnered a lot of controversy for perpetuating negative black stereotypes. He’s clearly meant to be a comic relief character, but nothing he does is funny, and he just comes off as annoying.

It’s the type of film that if you saw it as a kid in the early 2000’s, you probably liked it because the incredibly simplistic everything spoke to you personally.  But rewatching it as an adult is just painful.  And it’s nothing against any of the actors in this movie because people like Justin Whalen, Thora Birch, Marlon Wayans, and Jeremy Irons (who we’ll talk about more soon) have all done much better work in other movies.

D&D 4
They even managed to get people like Tom Baker in small roles. So the cast was very much not the issue.

An actor places a great deal of trust in their director, and that’s very much what the issue was here.  Director Courtney Solomon himself admitted that he was very much out of his element and took the blame for many of the film’s faults.  He was incredibly inexperienced, having never directed a movie before and was reluctantly forced into the role (more on that later).

In a film where everything is terrible, there is honestly one positive thing to say about D&D, and that’s the amazingly over the top performance of Jeremy Irons.  Every single line delivery is done to the nth degree, and he seems to be the only one who realizes how stupid a movie he’s in.

Every other actor feels like they’re taking the role too seriously and doing the best they can with the subpar material they have.  It’s as if they’re all trying to do Shakespeare, but Irons is the only one who realizes that this is bargain bin material and just has fun with it.  And it’s hard not to get some level of enjoyment out of that as you’re laughing at the movie itself.

D&D 2
Jeremy Irons is just having a blast, and Ian McDiarmid definitely took a page from this book in his goofy but fun portrayal of Palpatine in Star Wars Episode III: Revenge of the Sith.

Long Term Passion Project
The behind the scenes story of 2000’s D&D is a truly fascinating one.  When Courtney Solomon was only 19, he formed a production company for the sole purpose of acquiring the rights to Dungeons & Dragons so that he could make a theatrical movie based on it.  It then took him a decade to raise funds and get the film into production.

Initially, Solomon was only ever meant to be a screenwriter and producer of the film, but after several notable directors passed, he had to direct the film himself, despite having no experience.

And when you take this fact into consideration, along with the fact that this was a $35 million independent film passion project (that was originally supposed to cost $100 million), suddenly a lot of things start to make sense, and the movie doesn’t seem so bad, all things considered.  To put things into perspective, D&D cost $20 million less than Meet the Parents, which was also released in 2000, and was a comedy with zero visual effects or large action scenes/set pieces.

D&D 5
Even its theatrical successor, Honor Among Thieves has a budget 5 times higher.

Obviously, if you compare this film to the likes of Lord of the Rings, it’s always going to pale in comparison.  But if you look at D&D as the world’s most expensive independent fan made film that managed to get the likes of Jeremy Irons to star in it, it doesn’t seem all that bad.

Had it been released directly to YouTube sometime around 2006-2010, people still would have pointed out its many faults, but they would have praised it as “decent for what it is”.

What did you think of 2000’s Dungeons & Dragons?  Is it at least entertaining on a “so bad it’s good” level?  Let us know in the comments!

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