Contributor Ed Sum takes a look at D&D Film History, from the 2000 Movie to the recently released 2023’s Honor Among Thieves, now in cinemas.
Although some fans of role playing games say DUNGEONS AND DRAGONS: HONOR AMONG THIEVES is a critical hit, there are nuances which make me think otherwise. Hot air balloons didn’t come into use until the 18th century in our timeline but in a fantasy world, I thought some inclusions were too much. Also, feudal era figures and cities should not look that clean. Another aspect I couldn’t get past is one character presenting his perfect teeth. I doubt dentistry existed back then, and every time Hugh Grant smiled, I cringed.
I’ve played the game throughout high school and into my early university years too. It’s fun being the Dungeon Master since you’re the narrator. But when you’re the player, to become a personality that’s different from my own is pure joy. Sometimes, role playing means breaking out of your comfort zone to be the individual you’re not. My favourite persona was Avon, a French Barbarian. When compared to the film, the cast are respectable enough at being someone else they’re not, but ultimately, it’s a Chris Pine (as Edgin) film and his high charisma that carries this work.
What’s presented in this reboot of the cinematic franchise honors everything that defines the game. That includes the camaraderie between players, what they do together when danger is afoot and who they want to be in the end. It’s not about pretending to be something else you’re not, to which Edgin is struggling with. The quest doesn’t always matter. In order to satisfy long time fans, all those Easter eggs offered in the film are important! Although I didn’t get to see my favorites presented on screen, namely the Beholder (thankfully, it was named) and Mind Flayer, it may appear in the next!
When the property transitioned from TSR to Wizards of the Coast, the attempts to licence the rights out for a film franchise weren’t as successful. That trilogy (circa 2000 to 2012) didn’t live up to what viewers wanted. I recently watched them again and recognised a few elements that made it into HONOR AMONG THIEVES. Some tiny instances of the first film’s (simply titled DUNGEONS & DRAGONS) handling of the characters can be felt trickling into the latest, the second (WRATH OF THE DRAGON GOD) tries to be more serious, but the adventure was lacklustre (it had the production budget of a TV movie), and the third (BOOK OF VILE DARKNESS), despite having a great title for those who know the Ravenloft expansion, released directly to DVD. I reviewed it when it first came out elsewhere and wrote: Only one moment makes this movie shine and that’s to see the band of miscreants tear a village apart. But where are the ghosts, vampires, zombies, animated skeletons and demons?
This latest endevour has a few pleasant moments of terror. We have a terrific backstory concerning Szass Tam, a powerful lich, and as for when he’ll get his glory will require another cinematic presentation to tell the tale. He’s the leader of the Red Wizards of Thay, and Sofina (Daisy Head) is his herald. Their story defines the heart of reboot.
As for the heroes, they are essentially a variation of misfit thieves who aren’t all that great in their added profession. Edgin the Bard (Chris Pine), Holga the Barbarian (Michelle Rodriguez), Simon the Mage (Justice Smith), Doric the Druid (Sophia Lillis) and Forge the Thief (Hugh Grant) are considered low-level characters. Even the stats offered on the D&D Beyond site didn’t want to assign them a rating.
The fact the latter went rogue is amusing since he was the turncoat. He’s the reason there is no HONOR AMONG THIEVES and was responsible for breaking the party up. But after Edgin and Holga escape their prison, little did they realise Forge has allied with their worst enemy! Interestingly, even this miscreant doesn’t even know he’s being played.
Meanwhile, Ed and Holga want to reunite the team and deal with the betrayal. This mashup is a bit like THE A-TEAM and SNATCH, CRACKLE. Ultimately, when the studio revealed they wanted to remake OCEAN’S ELEVEN, I wasn’t sure if I’d enjoy this reboot.
Some scenarios written for D&D concern questing for treasures. The reason the RPG was named as such is to find ancient vaults, face some greater threat to which the team has to decide if they should get involved in, and gain treasure to help them defeat it. But, not every game concerns rolling dice to determine an outcome. While the story presented here is a beginner’s module, what’s next has to concern an intermediate level danger to the realms, and when they’re advanced enough, perhaps face Szass face to face.
I assume there’ll only be three films. What’s presented in this introduction is reasonable to whet many gamers’ and general fans’ appetite. The world is alive and populated with simple obstacles for these characters of “basic” experience to face. But what I want is the hardcore. It’s not fair to have the team face a pudgy dragon. It’s still a viable threat, but what’s presented is more like a comedy from SHREK; what I desire are HOW TO TRAIN YOUR DRAGON world-level threats!
DreamWorks’s pool of talents knows how to develop their fantasy but as for the creative minds behind HONOR AMONG THIEVES–Jonathan Goldstein, John Francis Daley, Michael Gilio–all they have to their credit is in how to deliver the humour in balanced tones. The first two names worked with a larger team to craft the beloved SPIDER-MAN: HOMECOMING. To see this duo together shows they can work on their own. They’re decent at bringing characters to life but as for whether they can handle a gritty second film and have it conclude in the vein of EMPIRE STRIKES BACK, that’s going to be needed if I’m to call this reboot a true success.
DUNGEONS & DRAGONS: HONOR AMONG THIEVES is now playing in theatres and will be on disc and digital in May.