Film and TV

Will The New Dungeons & Dragons Movie Be A Critical Hit, Or A Fumble?

Looks like someone failed their initiative roll.
Looks like someone failed their initiative roll. Paramount Pictures
Paramount Pictures dropped the latest trailer for the upcoming Dungeons & Dragons: Honor Among Thieves, and ... it's definitely a trailer. How successful it'll be up against other CGI blockbusters and certain external factors (which we'll get into) remains to be seen.

Disclaimer: I have not played in a regular D&D game since around the time my oldest was born. She's 19, to give you a frame of reference.

HOWEVER. I did play extensively in my teens and 20s, cutting my teeth on the old TSR Basic Set before moving on to the decidedly more badass Advanced D&D. With my trusty Player's Handbook in my backpack, I was guaranteed many a wedgie on the playground of my junior high school.

Playing sporadically after college, mostly Oriental Adventures and — briefly — Dark Sun, I thankfully missed most of the 2nd Edition era before joining a group of Houston friends in a weekly session. We played 3rd (well, 3.5) Edition, which I mostly enjoyed, except for the inability to keep up with Wizard of the Coast's (now D&D's owner) predictable tendency to churn out dozens of new books and handbooks for players and DMs to purchase.

Hollywood has attempted this particular cinematic quest before. First, with a mostly inoffensive Saturday morning cartoon, then with a 2000 movie that currently sits at 10 percent "Fresh" on Rotten Tomatoes. Given that pedigree, it's hard to imagine anyone was exactly clamoring for another go. Whoever you weirdos are, Paramount has you covered:
Yes, that's Chris Pine as "Edgin the Bard," Michelle Rodriguez as "Holga the Barbarian," Regé-Jean Page as "Xenk the Paladin," and Justice Smith as "Simon the Sorcerer." They'll be joined by Sophia Lillis playing a Druid, which would appear to cover all the necessary character classes.

The trailer presents a much more freewheeling attitude than its predecessor, and if we're being charitable, the banter is more reminiscent of actual role-playing (or maybe that was just the sessions I was involved in). Perhaps more comforting are the iconic D&D beasties making an appearance. I spotted a displacer beast, an owlbear, a mimic, and a curiously corpulent red dragon. There was even a freaking gelatinous cube, which is probably my favorite monster designed to flesh out the "G"s in the Monster Manual.

And the Red Wizards of Thay are apparently the baddies, making this Forgotten Realms canon. You heard me.

They key for directors Jonathan Goldstein and John Francis Daley (Vacation, Game Night) is likely going to be how well this appeals to people who don't have fond memories of staying up until 4:00 in the morning  — wired on Mountain Dew and Cool Ranch Doritos — trying to figure out how to defeat Acererak. Is there broad enough appeal with the likes of Pine (Star Trek, Wonder Woman) and Rodriguez (Fast and the Furious and Resident Evil series)?

You've even got Page for the Bridgerton fans. Until they realize Lawful Good paladins don't go around shirtless, that is.

A more interesting question might be how the ongoing imbroglio with Hasbro (who owns Wizards of the Coast) will affect attendance?

Simply put (if that's possible), for a couple decades, Dungeons & Dragons has had what's called an Open Game License (OGL), meaning anyone could develop their own works using D&D's ruleset for free (i.e. without paying royalties to Wizards of the Coast).

Now, WotC are creating a new OGL that replaces the current one. The upshot being that businesses using the old OGL could go out of business, or would be forced to adhere to the the new license, which is a lot more onerous. For example: if you create original content (be it monsters or magic items or whatever) for a campaign, Hasbro wants to use it without crediting/compensating you. Or if you make money running a campaign on Twitch, YouTube, etc. Hasbro wants a piece of that action as well. 

That's why there's been talk in the RPG community of boycotting the movie. After all, thousands of people have already canceled their subscriptions to Hasbro's online game system, "D&D Beyond." Could those numbers make a difference to Honor Among Thieves' ultimate box office?

You might as well ask a "Deck of Many Things." The film's budget was a mere $45M, and its late March release date might benefit from following John Wick 4 and Scream VI, though whether audiences welcome a throwback geek flick in the age of movies set in multiverses and distant CGI planets remains to be seen.
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Peter Vonder Haar writes movie reviews for the Houston Press and the occasional book. The first three novels in the "Clarke & Clarke Mysteries" - Lucky Town, Point Blank, and Empty Sky - are out now.
Contact: Pete Vonder Haar