I do not drink often, but one of the occasions when I made an exception was the watch the Dungeons & Dragons movie with Fred. In retrospect, this was a very good idea. It was a terrible, terrible movie, primarily made tolerable by how much Jeremy Irons very clearly did not want to be there.
Now, I’ve seen a lot of really terrible movies, and I have to admit that the majority of the most terrible ones have been ones written to pander to me as a nerd – think Max “I’m the Smartest Cop In The World” Payne, Doom or the entire Uwe Boll oeuvre. These tend to have a common thread between them (which they share with the D&D movie) in that they tend to fall into two camps. The first are so interested in celebrating the subject of the movie that enthusiasm is used as spackle where stronger structural material might be in order. The second aren’t even interested – they just feel like they’re transcribing someone else’s interest, and the net result is something that by some miracle of suck manages to be both bloodless and putrescent.
Superhero movies have been pulling themselves out of this nosedive, and to my eyes it’s pretty clear this has been a result of a decision that these movies should not just rest on their subject material, and should in fact be good movies that happen to be superhero movies. This is not something that’s a function of any one element – writing, direction and performances have all played a part in this change – but there is an ineffable and critical change that happens when you decide the license is not enough (and, as a corollary, a sickening thud when you decide that it is).
All of which comes back to D&D. Like super heroes and video games, D&D has a long history of sucking pretty bad (if you remember the cartoon fondly, do yourself the favor of never watching it again), but like those other properties, the problems are not rooted in the material. There is nothing that keeps there from being a good D&D movie or cartoon, it’s just a function of making sure it’s good first, and D&D second.
If you doubt this, look to comic books. This is a really interesting time for D&D comics because of two things, both coming out of IDW. First, they’ve released collections of the old Dungeons & Dragons and Forgotten Realms comics. Second, they’ve released a new series of D&D comics, and the first collection is magnificent.
Now, I read the old comics back in the day, and I enjoyed them a lot, but in retrospect I feel safe describing them as inside baseball. They were fun, but they were mostly fun because I was already a D&D guy. I doubt they’d have moved my needle if they’d been “Generic Fantasy Comics”. In contrast, the new books (penned by the tremendously talented John Rogers) are a lot of fun in their own right. Zippy dialog, great art – all the things that would make it fun even if it weren’t called D&D.
That gives me hope. It’s a concrete illustration of what can be done with this thing I love (totally separate from these games I love). Why is this important? Well, it’s business. This could probably merit its own post, but you’d be better served listening to the latest episode of That’s How We Roll – it’s an interview with Peter Adkinson, and you will learn more about the business of D&D from that podcast than you will from anything else I can think of.