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When DUNGEONS & DRAGONS ($25) was released theatrically, the critics tore into it like a pack of hungry lions on an antelope. The problem with many of the reviews is that the critics seem to be holding this type of film up to the same standards that they would for a motion picture of the caliber of Kenneth Branagh’s HAMLET. For the record, DUNGEONS & DRAGONS is mindless popcorn entertainment that succeeds quite well at being just that. In my opinion, DUNGEONS & DRAGONS is the perfect movie for a rainy Saturday afternoon, when you want nothing more than to switch off you brain and be entertained.

DUNGEONS & DRAGONS is based upon the enormously popular role-playing games, but the straightforward plot is easy enough for the uninitiated to follow. In a mystical realm of magic and dragons, we find the evil Mage Profion (Jeremy Irons) trying to usurp the power of the rightful ruler- Empress Savina (Thora Birch). Profion's plan involves taking away the Empress' scepter, which gives her control of the golden dragons, which are the most powerful force in the kingdom. Although the council of Mages has given her an ultimatum to turn over the scepter to them, she refuses to relinquish her power to the one group that opposes her plan to grant equal rights to the kingdom's commoners. This power play for the scepter sets in motion a search for the mythical Rod of Savri, which supposedly has the power to control the kingdoms red dragons. Although Profion has his enforcer Damodar (Bruce Payne) searching for the rod, the responsibility for saving the Empress and the kingdom falls to some unlikely individuals. Our heroes turn out to be two thieves named Ridley (Justin Whalin) and Snails (Marlon Wayans). While attempting to rob the Mage School, the two thieves are caught by an apprentice Mage named Marina (Zoe McLellan) who literally drags them along when she flees from Damodar and his forces who come looking for the Rod of Savri.

DUNGEONS & DRAGONS features an attractive production design and some very cool CGI special effects. The cast is enthusiastic and none of them pretend that they are doing Shakespeare. I thoroughly enjoyed Jeremy Irons' performance because he seemed to be having enormous much fun, while shamelessly overacting during every villainous moment that he is on the screen. Those on restricted diets should be forewarned- Irons serves up nothing but unadulterated ham. The cast of DUNGEONS & DRAGONS also features Kristen Wilson, Richard O'Brien, Lee Arenberg and Tom Baker.

DUNGEONS & DRAGONS arrives on DVD as part of New Line Home Video's Platinum Series. The wide screen transfer frames DUNGEONS & DRAGONS at 1.85:1 and the presentation is enhanced for 16:9 playback. As with just about any other New Line Platinum release- this DVD is absolutely gorgeous. The image is just about perfect- incredibly sharp, wonderfully detailed and not a blemish to be seen anywhere. Some mild film grain shows up in a few places and it is just about the only visual flaw. Colors are so vibrant that they sometimes threaten to bleed beyond their boundaries, however the excellent transfer precludes that from ever happening. Additionally, flesh tones appear exceedingly appealing. Blacks are pure, plus the image boasts incredibly smooth contrast, in addition to plentiful shadow detail and tremendous depth. Digital compression artifacts are hidden by the magic of first rate authoring.

Brace yourself, in addition to superb image quality; DUNGEONS & DRAGONS also features a killer Dolby Digital 5.1 channel soundtrack. Anyone who likes a great sound mix is going to find him or herself transported to the realm of DUNGEONS & DRAGONS while listening to this track. The mix is completely involving and completely enveloping. Aggressive mixing keeps all of the discrete channels alive during almost every moment of the film. Sound effects swirl all around the viewer, all the while, convincingly panning from left to right and from front to back. Split channel surround junkies will get a healthy fix from this soundtrack. Dialogue is natural sounding and completely intelligible, although there are those who will complain that there is nothing worth hearing. The bass channel is rock solid, lending credibility to the numerous sound effects and enhancing the music. Justin Caine Burnett's score is beautifully recorded and cleanly integrated into the sound mix. An English Dolby Surround soundtrack is also encoded onto the DVD, as are English subtitles.

Animation and sound are used to enhance the interactive menus. Through the menu system, one has access to the standard scene selection and set up features, as well as some nice supplemental material. Topping the list of supplements are two running audio commentaries- the first features director Courtney Solomon, actor Justin Whalin and Dungeons & Dragons co-creator Dave Arneson, while the second includes both Solomon and Arneson again, with the addition of director of photography Doug Milsome. While both tracks have their merits, the first has more entertainment value, thus appealing to casual listeners.

The DVD also includes two featurettes, the first, Let the Games Begin runs fifteen minutes and covers the origins of the game, as well as how it and the gaming community has evolved over the decades. The second featurette runs twenty minutes and is entitled The Making of Dungeons & Dragons. As you might have guessed from the title, this featurette takes one behind-the-scenes on the film and includes interviews, as well as a look at the film's production design and computer generated special effects work. Another cool feature on the DVD is the Special Effects Deconstruction, which literally takes apart four special effects sequences and shows them at various stages of completion. The Special Effects Deconstruction utilizes the multiple angle feature, so one has the ability to switch back and forth between the various stages of the effects development. Eleven deleted scene are present on the DVD and these can be viewed with or without director's commentary. A theatrical trailer closes out the video supplements. DUNGEONS & DRAGONS is also DVD-ROM enabled, allowing one with a properly configured PC to access a Dungeons & Dragons game, a game demo for Baldur's Gate II, web links and the theatrical web site.

DUNGEONS & DRAGONS isn't great cinema, nor does it pretend to be- it's pleasantly diverting popcorn entertainment that just happens to look and sound fantastic on DVD. If you want to switch your brain off, while giving your home theater system a workout, DUNGEONS & DRAGONS is the perfect DVD.


Dungeons & Dragons - New Line Platinum...


DVD reviews are Copyright 2001 THE CINEMA LASER and may not be copied or reprinted without the written consent of the publisher.
THE CINEMA LASER is written, edited and published by Derek M. Germano.



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