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Dan Webster reviews "Dungeons & Dragons: Honor Among Thieves"


For much of the 20th century, movies offered those who paid to see them a sense of magic. The theaters that screened them were a place where you could escape into another world—one of imagination, whether what you were watching was steeped in humor, drama, romance or tragedy.

That magic might take the shape of Gene Kelly splash-dancing on a set passing for a rainy street, John Wayne stepping through the narrow doorway into the Wild West, Marilyn Monroe standing over a breezy city subway vent.

Then television came along and changed everything. Instead of going to the movies, people more and more started staying home to watch Red Skelton crack jokes, Donna Reed play the perfect 1950s housewife, Ed Sullivan present the Beatles, and Lucille Ball try to sell "Vitameatavegamin."

The movies responded by becoming bigger (if not particularly better), louder and full of gimmicks—technical, as in ultra-wide-screens, and thematic, as in focusing more and more on action—a practice that continues to this very day.

Think about the last time you had to stand in line to buy a movie ticket. In Spokane, that used to mean standing outside in all kinds of weather. And if you were lucky enough to get a ticket, you weren’t guaranteed to sit where you wanted. The theaters, especially in the early days of the multiplexes, tended to be small, their soda-soaked floors stickier than flypaper.

Today’s theaters are, for the most part, far better. And they have to be. Because the competition now isn’t just network television, not just videocassettes and DVDs, but the ability to stream movies on everything from your 80-inch TV to that all-in-one entertainment package: your smart phone.

But are today’s movies any better than they once were? Sure, they’ve gotten far more technically impressive—James Cameron’s Avatar movies are evidence of that—but are they narratively better?

Take Dungeons & Dragons: Honor Among Thieves. Adapted from the popular role-playing game of the 1970s, which attracted legions of fans as the years passed, the movie is basically no different from any of today’s other big-screen fantasy-based projects—a loud, larger-than-life action-adventure that blends wish-fulfillment themes of empowerment and a quest for justice with the occasional stab at humor.

Chris Pine stars as the bard Edgin Darvis. Fresh out of prison, from which he and his barbarian partner-in-crime Holga Kilgore (played by Michelle Rodriguez) had just escaped, he has multiple intentions: He wants to reconnect with his daughter Kira (played by Chloe Coleman), revenge himself on the man who betrayed him, Forge Fitzwilliam (played by Hugh Grant), and retrieve a so-called tablet of resurrection that will allow him to raise his late wife from the dead.

Yet as envisioned by the co-directors and screenwriters John Francis Daley and Jonathan Goldstein, the film follows what’s little more than a standard plot path, with Edgin and Holga recruiting the timid sorcerer Simon Aumar (played by Justice Smith), the shape-shifting tiefling druid (played by Sophia Lillis) and, eventually, the paladin Xenk Yendar (played by Regé-Jean Page of the Netflix series Bridgerton).

All end up facing, and overcoming, a series of obstacles—life lessons being learned all around—including a final showdown with both Fitzwilliam and the evil Red Wizard Sofina (played by Daisy Head).

If you’re a Dungeons & Dragons gamer, you may get something special out of what Daley and Goldstein have put on the screen. If not, you’ll have to settle for the jokes (delivered well enough by Pine and Grant) and the impressive CGI, not to mention a plot that borrows ideas from such movies as The Lord of the Rings and The Princess Bride, and a bit of Conan the Barbarian thrown in for good measure.

The sad truth, though, is that even amplified in Dolby sound, that very formula—employed here as it is in so many other contemporary theatrical releases—isn’t likely to fill up today’s movie houses. With paying customers, maybe—but less so with magic.

For Spokane Public Radio, I’m Dan Webster.


Movies 101 host Dan Webster writes about movies and more for

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