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March 09, 2006

Dungeons & Dragons: Wrath of the Dragon God

Fantasy's first and finest role-playing experience rolls the dice on a straight-to-video sequel that's better than the original
Dungeons & Dragons: Wrath of the Dragon God
Starring Mark Dymond, Clemency Burton-Hill, Bruce Payne, Ellie Chidzey, Steven Elder, Lucy Gaskell and Tim Stern
Directed by Gerry Lively
Written by Robert Kimmel and Brian Rudnick
Warner Home Video
Not rated
MSRP: $24.98
By Resa Nelson
Damodar (Payne), who was the evil mage Profion's henchman in the first Dungeons & Dragons movie, has suffered for centuries as a corpse creature. When he succeeds in locating the Orb of Falazure, its power restores him to human form. Full of rage, Damodar vows to wipe out the descendants of the people who cursed him. His plan is to free Falazure, a dragon god who's trapped in slumber.
The good news is, this sequel is the equivalent of a reliable workhorse—it gets the job done.
Meanwhile, Sir Berek (Dymond) is a former warrior turned accountant in the Empire of Izmer. He's bored with his job and longs to return to his days of adventure. His wife, Melora (Burton-Hill), is a mage who wants to join the Council of Mages. One day, a nearby villager seeks their help: Two men have explored a local cave and vanished. The villager leads Berek and Melora into the cave, where they soon discover the sleeping dragon Falazure. Melora turns to ancient books of hieroglyphs and learns about the dragon god and his battle with Turan, an ancient, lost civilization. Turan and its style of magic are foreign. With the help of other mages, Melora struggles to uncover the secrets of these ancient books.

By the time Berek realizes the empire is under threat, the king's guardsmen have already left on another mission. Although he's the former captain of the guard, Berek is afraid he's gone soft and doubts his own sword skills. Nevertheless, it's up to him to round up a motley crew to stop Damodar and Falazure before they destroy the Empire of Izmer. Berek recruits a barbarian (Chidzey), a cleric (Elder), an elf wizard (Gaskell) and a rogue (Stern). Together they face monsters and mazes—but can they stop bickering among themselves long enough to get the job done?

Journeying with game boys and girls
The DVD comes in a widescreen edition with 5.1 Dolby Digital. Subtitles are available in English, French and Spanish. Special features include commentary by three D&D players (including the D&D special projects manager at Wizards of the Coast), a short documentary about adapting the game to the screen and an interview with D&D creator Gary Gygax discussing how game elements are incorporated into the movie. There's also a DVD-ROM feature ("Servant of Decay Adventure Guide") and links to Web sites. The guide is a 24-page booklet of game instructions and illustrations intended to be "an early adventure in the careers of novice adventurers."

In one of the documentaries, Cindy Rice, entertainment agent at Wizards of the Coast, describes showing Dungeons & Dragons: Wrath of the Dragon God to a group of D&D fans. When the movie ended, those fans said, "That was cool! That was a D&D movie." The filmmakers may have gone to great lengths to give fans a rich experience, but what about viewers who haven't the slightest clue what D&D is all about?

The good news is, this sequel is the equivalent of a reliable workhorse—it gets the job done. The story is easy to follow, and the characters are fairly interesting considering that this is a movie based on a game. Wrath of the Dragon God was filmed in Lithuania at a real medieval site that's rich in architectural value. With a budget reported to be $15 million, the CG effects are plentiful. Viewers can count on seeing lots of monsters and magic. At times the plot feels contrived, because the characters make decisions that would happen in a game as opposed to decisions people make in real life. For that reason, watching the movie sometimes feels like peering over the shoulders of strangers who are playing a game, all the while knowing you'll never get a turn. Still, this sequel is a great improvement over the first Dungeons & Dragons movie.

I'm not a D&D fan, so the details drawn from the game went over my head. While D&D fans are likely to appreciate this movie the most, those of us who aren't in the "in" crowd can enjoy it, too. —Resa