Saturday, 3 January 2009

Dragonlance: Dragons of Autumn Twilight

Lowdown: Distilled swords and sorcery.
Review:
Back when I was in high school fantasy was all the rage with my reading, with swords and sorcery starring there. Of these, the Dragonlance set of books (starting with one trilogy and continuing the franchise with more and more trilogies and sequels), heavily based on the world of Advanced Dungeons & Dragons (AD&D), was the star of the show. To date, I still own the books, the board game, the special AD&D rule book, and the special fantasy world atlas designed with AD&D in mind. That said, despite the soft spot I have for Dragonlance, I now regard this former love affair as a waste of time: despite the fun they offered this ex-teenager, these books offer not much more than basic swords and sorcery.
And now, some twenty years later, they finally made a film out of the first book of the first trilogy. An animation film at that. A crap animation film at that: in fact, Dragonlance the film has "crap" written all over it. It's crap animation, for a start (especially in this day and age of slick computer animation attacking from every direction), but it's also a rather crappy story that is told in a rather crappy way.
Set in a fantasy world, Dragonlance tells us the good gods have abandoned the world as its population of humans, elves, dwarves etc became too arrogant and forgot the gods that took care of them. Into this void steps an evil goddess with her flock of dragons and dragon lords. As with all evil organizations on film, they try to get control over the world and inflict misery on its occupants.
Hope is not lost, though, as a party of unlikely Dungeons & Dragons classic type of heroes is sort of thrown into the mix and ends up sorting things out. They flee, they have themselves some fights, and eventually - through the belief in the gods of old of their leader, a half elf called Tanis who is tormented between his elven and his human aspects - they prevail.
Dragonlance the film is quite loyal to the rules of AD&D; as I watched the film I quickly got to recall the game's rules, even though I hadn't played it for more than a half life. There, however, is its downfall: by being loyal to a game of swords & sorcery it cannot offer much more than that. What it can offer is its views on the power of belief, which start OK with it saying one needs to believe in oneself but deteriorates to the Narnia level by saying that things sort themselves out if you believe in the gods. Personally, I think comparisons to Narnia do Dragonlance some ill favor, as its characters are more active and have a bigger role in shaping their own world.
Dragonlance is also fairly loyal to the book. Given the film only deals with the first book of the first trilogy, it does not offer a satisfying solution; clearly, it indicates of sequels to come. This is rather annoying, especially as it's unclear whether these sequels will ever come (given the quality of the first film as it is and given the rather quiet way in which this film was released).
Favorite scene: As our group of heroes assembles and then finds itself the target of evil authorities, they flee the pub they met in. They all use a rope to go down and run away, except for Raistlin the magic user who uses a levitation spell to go down with panache. You see, us magic users do things with style.
Overall: It's a bad film but I do have a soft spot for it. If you like the books, you may find the film a worthy reminder of days gone by the way I did. I liked it 3 stars much, but it is a 2.5 out of 5 stars film if not less.

4 comments:

Your Racist Friend said...

This is one of the worst films I've seen in a while. Half the story is missing and it shows, the mixed animation styles hurt, etc. Did they blow their entire budget on getting Kiefer Sutherland? Margaret Weis and Tracy Hickman weren't too tickled by this adaptation of their work either. I'm surprised the studio would choose to make anything at all that's this much of an abortion.

Oh well, at least those sucky Bakshi LOTR films from the 70s have an uglier, stupider cousin.

Moshe Reuveni said...

You're right about the different animation styles, forgot to mention that. I am wondering why they've waited so long with the movie if the result is this bad.
It is obvious, though, that for me the nostalgic value of the film gave it enough ground for me to actually look forward to a sequel (and to look forward to reading some fantasy books again).

Your Racist Friend said...

Have you read any of George R.R. Martin's A Song of Ice and Fire series? (A Game of Thrones, A Clash of Kings, etc). I'm working on the fourth book, and highly recomend them. None of the cheese or corniness usually abound in the genre.

Moshe Reuveni said...

Thanks for the recommendation. I'm waiting on Amazon to deliver the His Dark Materials trilogy (aka Golden Compass) down under. I'll see how that goes to determine my fantasy reading career, but given the rate I've been reading books over the last few years it will probably take me a while.