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For the last few months I have been attending a Dungeons and Dragons campaign organised by a friend (with such exciting hobbies I wonder why I am still single.) As a fan of role playing video games I dig the strategic combat were you select spells/abilities and roll a dice, but I must confess that I suck when it comes to acting out my character's dialogue and actions. Seeking inspiration on how to play my gnome sorcerer I thought I would check out one of the many Dungeons and Dragons books that are available, but I then remembered how lazy I am when it comes to reading novels.
During my quest for DnD stories I stumbled upon the direct to DVD animated movie Dragonlance: Dragons of Autumn Twilight based on a popular eighties fantasy novel. Result! I may struggle to get through hefty tomes, but as an anime fan when it comes to watching cartoons I am the man. The movie is based on a Dungeons and Dragons session played out by the authors Margaret Weis and Tracy Hickman which is rather impressive. I doubt anyone would want to serialise the game I am currently playing. Let's just say that a story involving a warrior who smokes during combat, a sorcerer who gathers exploding nuts and a duellist who abandons her party for a fling with a seedy musketeer is hardly what I would class as good literature.
I had high hopes for this movie as the people behind the project have impressive resumes. Director Will Meugniot for example worked on a number of cartoons I enjoyed as a kid including X-Men, G.I Joe and The Real Ghostbusters. He was even involved with Jem, one of the few girlie cartoons I would class as mildly entertaining (gasp what an outrageous, truly truly outrageous, remark to make.) The cast included some big names amongst accomplished voice actors including Michael Rosenbaum (Lex Luther in Smallville), Kiefer Sutherland (the badass Jack Bauer from 24) and New Zealand Amazon goddess Lucy Lawless (who you may know better as Xena Warrior Princess.)
An action packed start to the proceedings sees the ranger Tanis and his good buddy Flint Fireforge, a dwarf with an aversion to water, locked in mortal combat with a band of goblins. Things are not going well for our heroes until the halfling thief known as Tasslehoff (not to be confused with the drunken actor who drives talking cars) intervenes. The tide of battle sways resulting in Tanis and co emerging victorious. Like a group of football hooligans, after a good punch up, the party decides to celebrate their victory by having a drink at the local tavern. There they reunite with their travelling companions the heroic Sturm Brightblade and the Majere brothers Caramon and Raistlin.
It appears that the group are not the only patrons of the pub who are having goblin trouble. Whilst enjoying their drink they meet up with the blonde cleric Goldmoon and her protector/love interest Riverwind. During their booze up they learn that the duo are being harassed by green skins who want to get their filthy hands on Goldmoon's staff which is imbued with mystical healing powers. As the stave's magical properties could be linked to Tanis' ongoing investigation into the return of the Old Gods both groups end up joining forces, although relations are strained as Riverwind distrusts Tanis' half elf/human heritage (looks like even fantasy worlds have racial discrimination.)
From this point on I cannot go into too much detail without giving away major spoilers, but as the adventure continues we learn that the goblins are lackeys for a roided up wizard named Verminaard. The source of Verminaard's power comes from a dark goddess who wants the holy staff destroyed so it's only a matter of time before both groups cross swords. It all culminates in a final battle with the good guys trying to rescue kidnapped villagers from Verminaard's army of goblins and dragonkin. They have to pull out a deus ex machina to resolve the final conflict, which I didn't care for, but I suppose it ultimately tied in with the story's theme of Tanis questioning his faith.
Overall I enjoyed Dragonlance: Dragons of Autumn Twilight, although I suspect I fall into the audience of casual fantasy fans Wizard of the Coast want to attract with this film. There are elements of the story which I liked, but some weak parts will probably put off people who aren't into cartoons or those who find fantasy tales cheesy. Ironically enough fans of the book may also join the naysayers in regards to the quality of the film as I understand that a lot of sacrifices had to be made to squeeze an epic yarn into a ninety minute motion picture. Personally I am not too fussed as it is generally accepted that books always outshine their film adaptations, but I may feel differently were I a die hard fan of the source material.
Visually speaking what we get here is a mixed bag. Some of the artwork was good, but a lot of it reeked of a straight to DVD title with a limited budget. My biggest complaint would have to be the Asian studio's insistence to mix traditional 2D drawings with 3D computer generated characters. The majority of the film was drawn by hand, but the enemy dragons were all put together on a computer which I didn't care for. The action sequences featuring the dragonkin didn't mesh well as it felt like the heroes were swiping at thin air where computer generated monsters would later be super imposed in post production. If they had to have CGI I would have preferred a more subtle approach of using it to spice up spell effects or spruce up the backgrounds.
Like a number of animated movies I have seen recently Dragonlance passed the time during a boring Sunday afternoon, but it's not something I feel deserves a place in my DVD collection. Given the high calibre of voice actors they recruited for the project I suspect Wizard of the Coast was hoping to turn the book series into a franchise of cartoon films. Given the lukewarm reception viewers have had to it who knows if the idea will ever see fruition. Watching the movie did however succeed in making me want to read the more extensive books as the story feels rushed with only minimal character development given to Tanis and Raistlin (the evil wizard voiced by Sutherland.) Should you buy it? Only if you roll a fifteen or higher on a D20.