Friday, 12 December 2008
Dungeons and Dragons On Screen
For whatever reason, there's been some talk of a D&D film on internet land. Why on earth people are even willing to discuss the prospect is beyond me; the abysmal offering last time around (Jeremy Irons, hang your head in SHAME) should be enough to forever render that topic verboten. Apart from that I rather agree with Jim that film means narrative, and since roleplaying games and storytelling are antithetical there's no hope of such ventures every working. Well, no, I don't quite agree with that; let's put it: Roleplaying games and pre-determined narrative are antithetical. I think there's a place for looking back at a gaming session or campaign and retroactively viewing it as a kind of combined storytelling effort. But it has to be retroactive - injecting story into the midst of play is a bad idea, and certainly trying to crowbar a gaming session into the form of a film would be a recipe for disaster.
Frankly I shall find it hardly surprising if there is never a good D&D movie, for three excellent reasons: 1. Fantasy films are pretty much always dreadful; 2. So are D&D spinoffs, like the Drizzt and Dragonlance series of books; 3. So are films about games of any description. (Well, the first is always true at least for traditional fantasy, that is, setting aside stuff like Pan's Labyrinth). About the only fantasy series I can think of that has been worth watching was The Lord of the Rings, but even that, in hindsight, was a lot of style over substance and a bit of a missed opportunity. I've never read a D&D novel that has been anything better than "passing the time" quality. And regarding films set in games: Jumanji, need I say more?
Another excellent reason: The very idea that a D&D film could possibly work as a concept is mistaken, because it is starting from the wrong set of assumptions. Namely, it is taking as its launch pad the concept of a "D&D movie", rather than a desire to tell a story. Telling good stories is what good films do. Trying to cinematise an idea or concept isn't. (This is why films that are concepts more than they are stories - Charlie's Angels, for example - are such dreadful bollocks.)
I am hoping that this fact will enable two highly anticipated projects that are in the pipeline to buck the trend. The first is the Guillermo Del Toro Hobbit films. The second is the pilot for George R. R. Martin's Song of Ice and Fire on HBO. The signs suggest that both of these could work, but I'm cynical enough to expect the worst. The advantage they both have going for them is that a) they're based on good stories, not concepts or brands; b) they are based on great novels, not games; and c) they have nothing whatsoever to do with D&D. Here's hoping.