It looks like a long-percolating Dungeons & Dragons movie finally has a targeted release date. According to Variety, Paramount has determined that July 23, 2021, is when the archetypal tabletop RPG will again grace the big screen.
There have been rumors and hints over the years as to what form this film will take, most intriguingly that it could be set in The Forgotten Realms, perhaps the most iconic of the D&D campaign worlds. But what do we want from such a movie? What is the modern audience expecting, when the last such D&D-affiliated movie was, to be kind, a piece of orc dung, and when likes of Game of Thrones – a series that’s crushed expectations for the genre – has raised the bar? Here are five things we want from a D&D movie, particularly if it’s indeed in The Forgotten Realms.
(1) Use the existing intellectual property. There’s a reason that D&D-related book series The Legend of Drizz’t have sold enough to be approaching 30 books in the series. There’s a reason that Baldur’s Gate and Icewind Dale video games, which came out in the ’90s and early 2000s, keep getting remade and revamped. There are very fun and cool characters, and even if used in the background, could add amazing local color to a setting, rather than Hollywood making it up from whole cloth. The slightly insane, well-meaning ranger Minsc (and his hamster Boo, of course) would be amazing as an Easter egg appearance or even in a supporting role.
(2) Limited use of dragons. Yes, we know it’s in the name of the property. If you want to go that route, we’d rather focus on the “dungeons” part. The fact is, dragons should be special, not the default quest creature. We’d rather see beholders, those creatures of many eye stalks, each with a different devastating effect. Whether a beholder with personality, such as Xanathar, or just as a mid-movie bump in the road, beholders could be deliciously terrifying with modern movie effects. Other fun and new creatures for the big screen could include a mimic (a monster that looks like a treasure chest), an owl-bear (just what it sounds like), or ettercaps (evil spider-men, no radioactive bite required).
(3) Don’t screw up magic. Magic in a fantasy setting works best when exceedingly rare or if portrayed as something quite wondrous. Making magic commonplace is a sure way to make a movie dull. D&D rules generally portray magic spells as something requiring discipline and dedication to master, and a movie that hopefully has an aspiring mage of some kind in it should hew to these principles.
(4) All the same, don’t dwell in minutiae. In a 90-minute action flick, I don’t want to hear the words “encumbrance,” “initiative,” or “armor class” spoken aloud. And I don’t want to hear dice rolling behind the scenes. The movie needs to serve the content, not the gaming system. I suppose someone calling out a “critical failure” could be funny… Similarly, we shouldn’t get bogged down in explaining the world – just drop the audience in, and let them understand in context. The way you do in the best fantasy games.
(5) Fighting = important, but problem-solving shouldn’t get short shrift. If you really want to honor the source material, long-time role-players know that fights are fun, sort of the dessert, but the meal is getting past the traps, figuring out how to infiltrate the palace, or even negotiating with your party over a sticky moral quandary. Granted, in a box office venture, you need to tweak the ideal RPG “fight vs. figure out” ratio to whatever is more visually pleasing. But it’s the stuff in between the battles that give the battles meaning, and that rule should make the transition to a movie.
In 3.5 years, I guess we’ll have a better idea of how the D&D movie shakes out – whether it belongs in the same breath as GoT or LOTR or even Bright. We’re cautiously optimistic that, if not a “critical hit,” we’ll at least get something more palatable than what’s come before.
Images: Wizards of the Coast