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Dragonlance: Dragons of Autumn Twilight (review)

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Based on a novel that’s based on a role-playing game that’s ripped off from The Lord of the Rings, this is about as watered-down as a sword-and-sorcery adventure can get. Have you heard the one about the wizard, the priestess, and the half-elven warrior who walk into a tavern? Well, it’s better than this sorry tale, which sees those poorly animated heroes fighting to save the pseudo-medieval world of Krynn from an evil goddess. Expect many bad jokes and frequent offing of orcs and other creatures that might be vile if they were better drawn. Don’t expect anything like a satisfying entertainment experience. Featuring the voices of Kiefer Sutherland and Lucy Lawless, who are probably grateful that you kinda can’t tell it’s them, and a couple of cobbled together bonuses about animation tests. [buy at Amazon]

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MPAA: rated PG-13 for fantasy action violence

viewed at home on a small screen

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  • Mark

    Oh no! NO NO NO. I didn’t even know a movie was being made, and now I see THIS?! The trailer is downright embarrassing.
    I enjoyed the books when I read them almost 20 years ago. A decent movie could be made with the material. This is a major disservice to the fans. Ugh.

  • Nathan

    didn’t even know there was such a thing…

    i got completely lost in two of the Dragonlance trilogies as a teenager and remember them fondly.

    too bad they couldn’t make a decent movie version, LOTR knockoff or not.

  • Mark

    obGeek: D&D wasn’t really based on “Lord of the Rings”, except perhaps for the inclusion of a few select elements like halflings and rangers. It drew far more heavily from Conan, Fafhrd and the Grey Mouser, and other swords-and-sorcery fiction than it did Tolkein’s high fantasy.

  • Ogawa

    How can you call yourself a “geek goddess?” There wasn’t a single orc in that entire movie. Personally, I’m glad they did this to Dragonlance. I prefer a childish 1980′s-esque rendering than what most screen-writers would turn it into. Maybe it’s because I had such high expectations for it and I didn’t want to disappoint myself… But at least here they kept the important details instead of throwing out the good (albeit linearly unnecessary) stuff and injecting worthless commentary on what they think is meaningful, a la Harry Potter… I simply don’t trust Hollywood with my childhood memories anymore and that’s that.

  • Ryan

    euw…the books were solid though, and really had nothing to do with the Lord of the Rings. Weis and Hickman have written a better series called the Sovereign Stone Trilogy. Let’s not attack the source material just because somebody butchered it to make an animated film.

  • MaryAnn

    Sorry, but if you don’t recognize that D&D and Dragonlance are clear attempts to cash in on the sword-and-scorcery craze of *Lord of the Rings,* then you’re not even looking.

  • JSW

    The thing is, the sword-and-sorcery craze was already going strong when Lord of the Rings was first published, and in fact LotR gained its initial popularity (in America, at least) almost entirely because of the prominence of the genre.

    Of course, it also left its own rather large mark on the genre and has been a huge influence on the direction it’s taken since then, but it was not by any means the only influence.

  • MaryAnn

    There were space opera movies before *Star Wars,* too, but that doesn’t mean that it wasn’t *Star Wars* that was responsible for the fact that tons of space opera came after it.

  • Nathan

    i think D&D evolved from medieval, miniature war-gaming and the individual role-playing aspect of it that developed owes a lot to the fiction of Robert E. Howard and Fritz Lieber as well as LOTR.

    and if i remember right, the Dragonlance Chronicles were marketed by TSR and tied into D&D gaming immediately. so Dragonlance owes its origin to LOTR/The Hobbit on two fronts: 1)it’s use of the D&D races which were inspired by LOTR (dwarves, elves, halflings/hobbits) and 2) the plot, in which an unlikely band of heroes confronts a growing, world-devouring evil. i think you could even make a case for Tanis Half-Elven basically being a version of Aragorn who is descended from an ancient race of kings themselves related to the elves.

    wow, i’m a geek.

    but anyway, to say that Dragonlance (at least that first series) isn’t a complete knockoff of LOTR is silly.

  • Bill Dean

    Yes, the movie sucked. But do not prejudge the story that the movie is supposed to be based off of unless you read the books. The movie was a travesty and has broken the hearts of Dragonlance fans everywhere. There are a lot of people who love the Chronicles series and have a great love for the characters we know and love. Those characters were not represented in the movie. They might as well have replaced them with cardboard cutouts. Might have been better animation if they did.

  • http://www.flipsidemovies.com Rob Vaux

    In point of fact, Dungeons and Dragons started as an offshoot of historical wargaming: guys moving little soldiers around to reenact the Battle of Waterloo and whatnot. The fantasy elements sort of arose organically from that, and while they certainly drew a considerable amount of inspiration from Tolkien (as well as the Conan books, Michael Moorcock, Fritz Lieber, etc.), it was never anyone saying “hey we could make a lot of money just like those Lord of the Rings books!” The “naked grab for cash” part of the proceedings didn’t come along until after the game was well-established and its fantasy mythos had been cemented by other factors.

    As for the Dragonlance movie, I think it was hobbled by two key factors: 1) clunky animation and 2) the fact that they were trying to tell a three-hour story in 90 minutes. Had they been able to correct those problems (which smell like budget issues), the film probably would have been a lot better: not Peter Jackson better, to be sure, but certainly solid B-movie “fun little story well told” better. As a fan of the books growing up, I thought the filmmakers clearly cared a lot about the characters and the story, and were doing their best to get it onto the screen properly. But the truncated running time meant a lot of nonsensical rushing about, elements that seemed glommed on for no reason, and very crude animation that throws one out of the fantasy. They didn’t change anything from the books and most of the material worked very well on the printed page (as good pulp storytelling, mind you, not as some kind of literary masterpiece). With a little more breathing room and a little more money, the movie could have captured that much more readily than it did.

  • Nick Simpson

    So a party of adventurers get together to accomplish a quest and suddenly its a LOTR knockoff? Read a few Greek/Norse/Celtic/Egyptian etc… mythologies and this is what you’ll find. LOTR didn’t pave the way for this stuff.

    Also, Dragonlance was written long after LOTR was released so to say they were jumping on the band wagon is a little late.

  • MaryAnn

    Read a few Greek/Norse/Celtic/Egyptian etc… mythologies

    Yes, I’m sure THAT was the impetus for D&D and all the many, many epic fantasy adventures we saw after LOTR: the authors and publishers said to themselves, “Hey, look how popular all those Greek/Norse/Celtic/Egyptian myths were all those millennia ago! I want a piece of that action!”

  • misterb

    Tolkien based LOTR on Welsh, Celtic and Norse mythologies without question. After all, he was England’s primary expert on Beowulf as his “day” job. And he certainly believed that the resonance that LOTR enjoyed came about because of “hidden memories” we all have of those ancient legends.
    I’ve got to say that this thread seems a little bit like Colbert and Stewart arguing over who “made” Conan O’Brien. Do we get a fight next?

  • MaryAnn

    Tolkien based LOTR on Welsh, Celtic and Norse mythologies without question.

    Of course it is! But mass audiences don’t know that, and don’t care. And it’s certainly NOT what made it popular. I mean, not in the sense that mainstream audiences said, “Well, we’ve been waiting quite a while for a literary but accessible modern interpretation of ancient mythology.” No: they just knew that they liked it, and they never thought about the fact that it might have roots elsewhere.

  • Gilliam the Basket

    Actually very little is from ‘Welsh, Celtic’ mythology as you put it, whereas some may claim the ‘Flight of The Noldor’ is from the tale of the Tuatha Dé Danann, because it is similar (it is, and so are many similar tales from the ancient world), that is actually just a theory that attempts to take LOTR and make it into yet another aspect of Celtic culture, in short it is part of the same self-righteous ‘Celticism’ that says that the Old English were not in anyway important to England and thus are mere Anglo-Saxons (they actually called their language ‘Englisc’), barbarian Germans.

    If you look on Wikipedia’s article on Elves, you will see that their true origins (in the ‘Light Elves’ of Germanic Mythology known in Norse as ‘Ljósálfar’ and who were called simply) are only given a line compared to a somewhat farcical and opinion laden piece on how they derive not from the English and thus Germanic ‘Elf’ but from the Sidh or Tuatha De Dannan’ of Celtic mythology. Shucks folks, I thought they would be from a creature actually called an ‘elf’ from Tolkien’s favourite mythology, but hey at least now all those loser RPGers with Elves called ‘Branwen Sidhial’ or ‘Nerial Pendragon’ can feel safe in the knowledge that even Tolkien ‘knew’ them to be Celtic.

    If anything LOTR is based mainly on Germanic (including Norse), with some Finnish, and possibly Greek (in a minor way) mythology and his own imagination, not Irish, Welsh, Japanese, Romanian or French folk-ballads. It is really that simple.

  • Zetetic

    All this warbling about the origins of D&D and Dragonlance… It is utterly ridiculous to claim that D&D was ripped off from Tolkien, as the reviewer does.

    D&D was in some ways affected by Tolkien’s legendarium, but that is hardly the whole story. You may refresh your memory here:
    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Dungeons_and_dragons#Sources_and_influences

    If I had to name one single influence on D&D, I would say Jack Vance. The spell system mechanics are 100% Vancian. The works of Fritz Leiber would be my second choice.

    It is rather feeble to mock a game (D&D) that is responsible for the existence of at least 99% of RPGs that exist today (including the massive MMORPG industry). They must have gotten something right to prove so enduring and inspirational.

    Tolkien is great, but that doesn’t mean that subsequent works inspired by him have to be of poor quality or “watered down”. The Chronicles of Thomas Covenant, for example, are as derivative of LotR as it is possible to be, yet they are still important works in their own right. Likewise, Dragonlance was something started for fun that grew into a huge empire. The two main trilogies (the first ones, including the novel that this terrible animation is based on) are good light reading, if not terribly important. And they were certainly more original than the much admired Eragon series…

  • MaryAnn

    It is rather feeble to mock a game

    I didn’t mock the game. I like the game. I mocked the movie.

    (D&D) that is responsible for the existence of at least 99% of RPGs that exist today (including the massive MMORPG industry). They must have gotten something right to prove so enduring and inspirational.

    And that has what to do with this movie?

    Tolkien is great, but that doesn’t mean that subsequent works inspired by him have to be of poor quality or “watered down”.

    Where did I say that this was the case?

    And they were certainly more original than the much admired Eragon series…

    Did I compare this movie to anything *Eragon*? Cripes, disagree with me if you want, but disagree with what I wrote, not what you’d like to think I wrote. Have you even *seen* this damn movie?

  • Zetetic

    “I didn’t mock the game. I like the game. I mocked the movie.”[/quote]

    No question that the movie deserves mocking, but you said: “Based on a novel that’s based on a role-playing game that’s ripped off from The Lord of the Rings, this is about as watered-down as a sword-and-sorcery adventure can get.”

    Which is both incorrect and hardly complimentary to D&D and Dragonlance, no? Unless you meant “ripped off” as praise, which is usage I am not familiar with.

    “Did I compare this movie to anything *Eragon*? Cripes, disagree with me if you want, but disagree with what I wrote, not what you’d like to think I wrote.”

    I did not at any point say or imply that you compared the movie to Eragon (though I think I got some of the blog responses confused, sorry If I mixed up responses). I merely cited examples of highly derivative fiction, not in order to defend the Dragonlance movie, which I agree is rubbish, but to make a point about derivative works (i.e., they need not be bad).

    There is also a difference between ripping something off shamelessly and deriving a new work from it. As far as LOTR goes, you have good efforts (Covenant, Dragonlance) as well as not so good (Eragon, Riftwar) and downright atrocious (Shannara). Btw, a lot of this post is not intended as counterpoint, but offered in the spirit of discussion…

  • T

    I respect the views of the reviewer and she is well versed on the subject. I am curious as to whether or not she actually read the Dragonlance books. I did not read the LOTR books, but I did read the Chronicles Trilogy. While the struggle between good and evil is paramount in both story lines, it seems to me that Weis and Hickman expanded on this theme and added not only a deep theological aspect to that struggle, but broadened that struggle by adding the need for balance between the two. What they ended up with was a massively dynamic story line that did have obvious influences included in it, but was still original in its own right.

    But like I said before, I didn’t read LOTR so if I’m wrong this seems like a good place to find out…

  • mark

    If I had to name one single influence on D&D, I would say Jack Vance. The spell system mechanics are 100% Vancian. The works of Fritz Leiber would be my second choice.

    I’d strongly dispute that; the “fire and forget” spell mechanic of D&D is pretty clearly inspired by the way some magicians work in Vance’s Dying Earth books, but D&D is otherwise almost wholly unlike any of Vance’s fantasy works (which are in of themselves not much like Tolkien, either).

    Fritz Leiber — in particular the Lankhmar books — were clearly a much stronger influence on D&D than Vance; I’d say that Howard’s Conan books are even stronger still.

    While Gygax lifted some ideas from LOTR — I’d say the idea of a group of protagonists of mixed races, glowing magic swords, and the ubiquitous orcs are the big ones — D&D really captured none of the tone or sweep of LOTR. The Fellowship were questing to save the world, and the events they were caught up in were pivotal, epic, and earthshaking. D&D characters were by and large cast as minor players, at least as Gygax originally built the game; they would plunder tombs and perhaps save villages, but ultimately the world around them proceeded with indifference to their fates — much like the early adventures of Conan, or the exploits of Fafhrd and the Grey Mouser. Similarly, those elements extracted from LOTR were considerably toned-down and muted; contrast LOTR elves — powerful immortals, often with immense powers in the spirit world, incorruptible and, in a way, perfect, in a tall, Teutonic kind of way — with the elves of D&D, who were slight of frame, a bit stealthier and more perceptive than humans, and a bit more adept with magic, but still relatively mundane.

    D&D itself certainly capitalized on the popularity of fantasy that was fostered by LOTR, but it really wasn’t ripping off Tolkien; rather it was drawing from a larger culture of fantastic fiction, including Howard, Leiber, Moorcock, Burroughs, Tolkein, White, Dunsanay, Vance, deCamp, and others — many of whom were inspired by each other and by generations of myth and folklore before them.

    As for Dragonlance … well, it was a story designed to sell products first, and then a series of novels second. By that time the tropes of heroic fantasy had become so entrenched that their exact parentage was uncertain; there weren’t really “LOTR ripoffs” so much as there was just “generic fantasy”.

    And it sounds like a terrible movie.

  • MaryAnn

    I am curious as to whether or not she actually read the Dragonlance books.

    I have not.

  • amanohyo

    Wrestling is major badass, but Caramel is a major doofus. They like to travel through time, eat Marmalade stew, and hang out with Hasselhoff. There’s also some Sith guy that has a crush on Gitaroo and kills people by pointing at them and the aforementioned half-elf, priestess, knight, and Worf.

    I might have left out a couple things, but that’s all six books in a nutshell. Like some of the earlier posters, I was a big fan in the eighth grade before I knew any better.

  • NecroMantis

    its really simple.
    Lord of the Rings influences a lot of people because it was the big thing. people hear about big things. is it really that wonderful? no. is it good? definately. its absolutely true for D&D as well. D&D is like LOTR but not in the way all of the posters here make it sound. there are plenty of other books that didnt/dont share the success of LOTR that are just as good or better.
    same with D&D .. the arent the big thing though . so no matter what the influence is it just gets pinned to the BIG THING anyway.
    on a side note. i think the major reason LOTR did so well is because jackson did a great job on keeping the story as close as possible to the books… which NEVER EVER happens. it seems that they are intent on destroying our (the fans) favorite stories.

    and in that respect this movie isnt that bad. sure its bad. but if you read the books when i did
    (teens) you probably watched the 80′s D&D cartoons
    its like they took two pieces of my past and brought them together. but the missing storyline really damaged the movie (i could imagine) for those not having read the series.
    i was expecting worse.
    fans of the books. it could have been worse.
    they could have made it into a romantic comedy.
    when tanis being the male role.
    and goldmoon being his love interest
    riverwind being the jerk who didnt deserve the girl
    and tassleholf and flint being the obvious comic relief.
    that wouldnt have surprized me.
    i mean did you guys see Aeon Flux…. *barfs*

  • Gary Luke

    lol, funny how you completely didn’t get a single character’s name right

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