Tuesday, December 26, 2006

Dungeons & Dragons: Wrath of the Dragon


I'm in the middle of watching a visual feast called Dungeons & Dragons: Wrath of the Dragon. I've seen about a third of it, so this isn't a review.

It's a movie with a D&D plot. There's the ragtag band of heros -- an over-the-hill King whose swordsmanship is rusty, a woman wannabe-mage wife of the King who contracts a curse while casting a spell, an Amazon dominatrix stronger than superman, a comic-relief character who isn't powerless, and so on, the usual.

This is a sequel, so they backfill previous stories real quick -- I haven't seen the prequels.

There's an old dragon asleep under a mountain, his powers siphoned off and imprisoned in a flask somewhere. There's the bad-guy who's gone after the Dragon's powers to cure himself of a curse (of vampirism) that should have been lifted, but wasn't because the caster of the curse died before fulfilling his promise.

What's WRONG with a story like this? There's plenty of aliens and part-aliens, lots of great stuff to look at, fabulous POWERS to play with, eye-candy gallore, shoulders and tushes to die for, eyes to pant over, and real women, heroic women with big problems -- and net-net, the thing is dullsville squared.

WHY? What is it that's lacking that would make this movie just our cup of tea?

The mere presence of sword-fighting and a quest or action-task, villains blacker than black and heroes whiter than white doesn't preclude some interesting stories.

I think in a word, the answer is angst. I'm a big fan of angst. That's what a writer calls internal conflict.

These characters are living their lives entirely on an external level -- all the conflict is external.

What little internal conflict is hinted at has nothing to do with the external conflicts.

Therefore there's no apparent reason for these particular challenges to appear in those particular lives at that exact time. There's no SUSPENSE. No INTRIGUE.

Beyond that, I have major problems with the theme sets used in movies and books like this.

There's this dragon sleeping under a mountain and his powers have been stolen.

Yes, it was done to him by civilization that bankrupted itself building prisons for him and his powers because he rampaged and nearly destroyed them.

But they discover the dragon, and INSTANTLY (without deliberation, council meetings, even a flicker of a handwaving argument) decide they have to either keep him imprisoned, re-imprison him, or destroy him.

There's this villain who tells us right off he didn't DESERVE to be kept a vampire, and when the King hears he's after the Dragon's powers, he mounts a military campaign to destroy him.

Nobody ever considers the bad-guy's side of things, wonders if the bad guy is really the bad guy? Wonders if WE aren't really the bad-guys.

Not one little thought is expended trying to find another way other than destruction.

What if marriages were conducted that way? Where would we be?

What if international affairs were conducted that way? (well, they are sort of)

Why do the good guys have to KILL the bad guys? That's not satisfying to me. Real triumph is to make the bad guys INTO good guys while they're trying to make the good guys into bad guys because they don't think they're bad guys.

Maybe everybody ends up gray-guys?

Bottom line: I don't buy into the concept that destruction resolves conflict.

So for me, films and stories such as this one don't work.

Jacqueline Lichtenberg


  1. Anonymous4:49 PM EST

    I agree with you. The big reason I stay away from fantasy, except for Tolkien, is that few can do it well. Invaribly, the strength of the characters is in the magic rather in their humanity (whether human or not.) Since readers and movie-goers are all human, as far as we know, we need stories which speak to human nature. Frodo was a hobbit with a magic ring, but it was his selflessness, courage, and loyalty which got him to Mount Doom and endeared him to us on the way. And he was far from perfect. He struggled with giving into the power of the Ring, even as we struggle with giving into whatever would lure us down a path of destruction. Drugs, alcohol, whatever.

  2. Kimber an:

    Yes, indeed, a perfect example! And a spot-on thumbnail analysis of all Tolkien!

    I suppose the question becomes WHY are movies and books devoid of this dimension (which is a necessary dimension before you can begin to discover a Romance in there) so very popular?

    Jacqueline Lichtenberg

  3. Anonymous5:52 PM EST

    A story with no dimension appeals to someone who has no inner dimension of their own, such as the gangbanger who believes the definition of respect is fear. What is really wonderful is when a movie like the Lord of the Rings comes along, because it has plenty of action and magic. As the non-dimensional human watches it over and over, it begins to sink it, thus bringing dimension to their lives at last. Does that make any sense whatsoever?

    Now, why am I feeling like I'm the only student in a classroom full of teachers? Hmmm...