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Movie Review: Dragonlance: Dragons of Autumn Twilight

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I started playing Dungeons & Dragons when I was in college. I found the game by accident while shopping through a hobby store, became intrigued, and picked it up. Another year and a half passed before I found a couple of guys in college to play it with. Then Larry, Mike, and I would spend Friday nights and Saturdays knocking down doors in lost castles and abandoned dungeons everywhere we found them.

Margaret Weis and Tracy Hickman put the fiction side of Dungeon & Dragons’ world of Dragonlance on the bestseller map in 1984 with the publication of Dragons of Autumn Twilight. Legend has it the novels actually sprang from a game played by the authors.

The DVD Dragonlance: Dragons of Autumn Twilight is a straight-to-DVD release that is the first of hopefully more adventures to come. Like the novel of the same name, the DVD adventure concerns itself with a group of adventurers who are out to prove that the gods haven’t left the world entirely and do still care about the elves, dwarves, humans, kender, and others that live in it.

Tanis the Half-Elf (voiced by Smallville’s Michael Rosenbaum) is the group’s leader, and he’s on his way back to Solace, the village he called home five years ago. Along the way, he meets up with his old friends Flint Fireforge (Fred Tatasciore) and Tasselhoff Burrfoot (Jason Marsden).

I watched the movie with my ten-year-old and he immediately caught onto the characters and the long friendship that existed between them. The repartee is clever and simple, and pulled my son and I right into the movie. Just a few minutes into the film, the screen was suddenly alive with sword fighting as a group of goblins tried to beat up our heroes. I have to admit, this kind of action was welcome – and it was bloodless for the sword slinging that was going on.

Given that the film only has an hour and a half to tell the nearly 400-page book’s story, the pacing is headlong. The characters are all set up in Solace as Raistlin (24’s Keifer Sutherland, who must be some kind of D&D fan to do a direct-to-DVD film), Caramon (Rino Romano of Fox Network’s The Batman), and Strum Brightblade (Marc Worden) are all introduced in short order. The friendship is apparent, as well as the various tensions that were created in the Dragonlance series. Strum doesn’t trust Raistlin; Caramon is simple-minded and protective of Raistlin; Raistlin is selfish and somewhat power-hungry; Tasselhoff is a kleptomaniac; Flint is a grouch; and Tanis is torn between his two heritages. The story swings swiftly into high gear.

In this world, when the gods left, they also took the power of the clerics away. Those of us who’ve played D&D had to wonder where any truly adventurous dungeon-crawler would be without a handy cleric to heal him after he’s stuck his head into the wrong room. Having a D&D world without the ability to get healed is, well, dangerous, to say the least.

Two strangers are also in town, and it’s a familiar plot twist that has sent many an adventurer scurrying for supplies and the shortest way out of town. Riverwind (Phil Lamarr) and Goldmoon (Lucy Lawless of Xena) are there with the mysterious blue crystal staff of healing that the villains are searching for. While arguing with a local bully, Caramon ends up throwing the man into the fireplace. Tasselhoff inadvertently uses the staff to heal the man.

Realizing the town is full of enemies and that the staff is important, Tanis marshals the others to get Riverwind and Moongold out of town. Their new objective is to find out if the gods have returned. The adventure is up and running at a breakneck gallop.

There isn’t any deep meaning or thought behind Dragonlance: Dragons of the Autumn Twilight. Wicked villains pursue our heroes at every corner, and a lot of fighting and magic wielding ensues. There’s even healing once the power of the blue crystal staff is discovered!

My son and I sat mesmerized throughout the action as the characters explored a world I knew from adventures of my own, while he’s just getting to know them. He’d just asked for (and gotten) the basic Dungeons & Dragons set, so he was totally pumped to see it in action. I was surprised to see how much he knew about the gaming system and the world after reading through the Player’s Handbook 3.5 Edition I let him borrow as well. He even knew the monsters from the Monster Handbook.

The animation is still a little cartoony for today’s audience, but I was okay with it. The live-action Dungeons & Dragons movies didn’t fare so well, and this one appears to be geared for the younger crowd. The end product is a mixture of animation and 3D computer generation that looked cool at times and jarring at others. The mix wasn’t always seamless.

However, I could tell the voice actors were having a blast. I could close my eyes and imagine them all gathered around a table rolling the dice against insurmountable odds to see if they survived to fight again or if they required a visit from the cleric. All of them had to have been players at one time or another.

Dragonlance: Dragons of the Autumn Twilight isn’t a film that’s going to leave much of a ripple in the mass of filmgoers that stream into theaters or purchase DVDs, but for those of us who are dyed-in-the-wool D&D fans, the movie hits a sweet spot. It combines the world of D&D and the story of one of the best-known novels in those worlds.

I had a lot of fun with the movie. It played the characters from the novels fairly and moved along at a fast clip throughout its entirety. The attention to gameplay rules was solid, and the dialogue was consistently informative and entertaining. The artwork was a little loose and cartoony at times, but the world and the action was well rendered.

I can only hope that new DVDs will be forthcoming, because this one just begins to tell the story. In fact, it even gives watchers something of a cliffhanger by showing Kitiara in the middle of evil doings. If you’re a fantasy lover, this is the kind of movie you can sit down to with your kids, enjoy a big bowl of popcorn, and regale them with all the stories of when you fought dragons and the dice were with you!

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About Mel Odom

  • Cynthia Rivers

    I was able to see a free screening of Dragonlance and I thought it was GREAT. If you are a Dragonlance fan then you MUST check this movie out as soon as it arrives!

  • Will

    What is wrong with you? Did Wizards of the Coast pay you to write this “review” Did you actually watch the movie? It was horrible. No… it was beyond horrible. After watching it I actually felt like a small bit of my soul had died.

  • Mel

    Maybe you were expecting too much. I went into the movie knowing 1) it wasn’t A-list, 2) it was ONLY and hour and a half and no way could the whole novel be done justice, and 3) it was aimed at kids and the young at heart who just wanted a good time.

    And I believe I indicated that this one wasn’t for purists. I believe it was directed at people who hadn’t really sampled D&D.

    I wasn’t paid, but I had a lot of fun explaining D&D rules to my son because he’s just started playing the game.

    And maybe that small bit of your soul didn’t die. You should still have a saving throw coming!

  • Will

    Honestly I went into it with a pretty open mind. While I didn’t expect A-List, I also didn’t expect to be embarrassed by the movie. The length / cut storyline didn’t really bother me, that is part of the adaptation process. What bothered me was that the end product was unprofessional. The CG was a joke, it looked like someone took video game monsters and spliced them into the animation. Heck, the DVD menu wasn’t even authored with SCENE SELECTIONS. The oldest movies in my DVD collection all have that “feature”.

    If the movie wasn’t for the fans, I am afraid they just drove people AWAY from the franchise.

  • Tuomas

    I’m a long time fan of the game and the books but I must side with Will. (ok, maybe just the latter post) The choice of total amateurs as animators was a poor one. The movie looks like it was done 20 years ago and is just unacceptable these days. The cartoony style choice might be ok but the extremely poor and badly added cgi draconians are jarring.

    I hope the fast paced storytelling can hook the audience because visually this film stands out far too much in the wrong direction.

    Getting such names for the voices is a great boost though. Americans especially place an inordinate significance on celebrity worship so Sutherland and Lawless alone should bring lots of viewers.

  • JD

    Her names is GOLDMOON not “MOONGOLD”.
    And for the record if they were not going to do it right they should have not done it all this movie sucks and does not do justice to the novel at all, in fact if anything it only all it accomplishes is to make that much more diffuicult for anyone who really wants to make a film that could do the novels justice that much harder to make. I am truly saddened that Weis and Hickman allowed tghis film to go forward, I would not want my name associated with such an obvious sell out. True DRAGHONLANCE fans will agree .

  • Daphne

    I agree with the guy who said a small piece of his soul died. Fuck, the guy at the store said it was “bad”, but I just smiled and said, “Well, let me see this for myself”…I love the books. But this movie is about a -100 out of 10. If you watch it, you’ll have to re-read the book to make sure you weren’t imagining it was good. That thing Tracy Hickman wrote – talk about denial. Sorry buddy…

  • XJ

    I am a true Dragonlance fan as well, and really, the film was abominable. That CGI and animation looked unbelievably awkward, and the animation itself was pretty crappy.Here’s what I DIDN’T like:

    WAAY too much screen time on Tika’s bouncy bits.
    Raistlin’s gleaming eyes and staff-love the character, but WAY overdone
    I just LOATHE the American accents! Who had the genius idea of doing them anyways?

    I didn’t like ‘Kiddie-arah’
    Or ‘Cara-MON’, he’s not a darn pokemon!
    Or ‘Shih-Rahk’. ‘Shee-rrak’ sounds so much more mystical.
    Could they be more nasal?

    But the film was magical in that in drew me in and hit that special sweet spot for Dragonlance. Just hated how they butchered that magic.

  • Dan

    As a younger person who has just discovered the Dragonlance books I was delighted after reading about 10 of the books there was a film. I watch anime so cartoon style is no problem but even the animation is lame. The combat looked unnatural and clearly pandered to keep it for the kids’. already tewn minuted in I’m noticing some errors and dying inside.

    For books with a fan base where the average age has got to be above at least 30 (and I’m being generous) why they didn’t make it a real film for the fans, i.e. not a lame cartoon is beyond me.

    Still I take comfort in what I saw another fan say… Lord of the rings started of as a lame cartoon and look what happend to it. I can only hope history repeats itself

  • Mike

    This movie should’ve never seen the light of day. If I wasn’t already a fan of the novels and watched this piece of crap, knowing it was based on a book, I would be left wondering what kind of drooling retards enjoyed this shit. What surprised me the most were the reactions of the authors. Judging by their comments, they actually liked this piece of crap!