It was revealed about a year ago that Warner Bros. had acquired the movie rights for a Dungeons & Dragons adaptation. The studio is pushing forward with development on a movie that will not only attempt to erase the memory of the 2000 Dungeons & Dragons flop, but also launch a potential franchise. Early word is that the film will be built off an existing script based in the world of Gary Gygax’s early miniature game Chainmail. While Chainmail is notable for its influences on the game Dungeons & Dragons would eventually become it seems an odd choice to base a movie off of. This seems like the studio is heading down the path towards repeating the failures of the first film. So what’s the solution to creating a successful Dungeons & Dragons film and launching a potential mega-franchise? I have some ideas.
Set It In The D&D Universe
The logical thing for a D&D film to do is to take advantage of the existing game universes. The original film suffered greatly from a case of Generic Fantasy Film-itis. The movie contained all of the requisite swords and sorcery, but there was nothing in there to distinguish it as a D&D movie. Where were the characters and settings that tabletop gamers were familiar with? A Dungeons & Dragons movie needs to be set in a world that is recognizable to players, but can also interest non-players, like, oh, I don’t know, the Forgotten Realms. The world of the Forgotten Realms is already built up with unique settings and heroes thanks to decades of modules, comics and novels set in this fantasy world. It’s basically a turnkey movie franchise. Not only are the Realms instantly associated with D&D by RPG players, but they are also familiar to gamers who have played Baldur’s Gate, Icewind Dale and Neverwinter Nights. People with some knowledge of the Realms basically make up the precious 18-49 demographic.
Copy A Game of Thrones
Well, don’t directly copy A Game of Thrones, but copy the approach that George R.R. Martin and HBO took with the books and the show. A Game of Thrones has been so successful because it built a story around people surviving in the world of Westeros while only initially hinting at the supernatural elements of that world. Once the audience was invested in a political struggle and war for power they were more willing to accept the emergence of the fantastic elements. Like A Song of Ice and Fire Dungeons & Dragons is a property filled with monsters and magic. What the first movie and all the made-for-TV sequels did was slap the audience right in the face with them. Hell, the first film introduced an evil wizard and a dragon before the title card even came up. It predictably came across on the screen as being very silly. The D&D reboot should establish more grounded characters and aspects of the world first and then slowly introduce the world of myth and magic. Don’t give the audience a protagonist who is a prophesized hero trying to stop a dragon war in the first movie because then you have nowhere to go from there.
Don’t Make a Drizzt Movie
One of the potential problems of setting the movie in the Forgotten Realms is the existence of Mrs. Do’Urden’s least favorite son Drizzt. You may have heard of him; drow, super emo, fights with scimitars. While it would be cool to see Drizzt eventually kicking ass at the multiplex I don’t think he’s the right character to headline a movie at this point. Honestly, he’s a bit of a Mary Sue. This isn’t just a Drizzt problem though. The other iconic characters that populate the Realms such as Elminster or Cadderly Bonaduce are just too powerful to make for interesting protagonists. That’s why they are NPC’s in most games. Audiences need an everyman character that they can relate too. A new character could be created just for the films or a less powerful one such as Wulfgar or Bruenor could be adapted from any of the available source material.
Avoid Referencing the Game Mechanics
We don’t need lazy writers peppering the script with little winks and nods to the RPG crowd. We all know that the movie is based off of a tabletop roleplaying game. No in-jokes about initiative or saving throws are necessary. The mechanics of Dungeons & Dragons have nothing to do with the story-telling aspect of the game that should make up this movie and they don’t belong on the screen. Another thing that needs to be avoided is any type of framing device that presents the events of the film as being played out as part of an adventure. If the movie opens with an RPG group sitting around a kitchen table and the screen fades into the fantasy world while the DM’s voiceover describes a land in turmoil I’m out. Please don’t do that. PLEASE!
No Marlon Wayans
Marlon, I love you man, but if they call you about reprising your role as Snails just say no.