Dungeons & Dragons: The Book of Vile Darkness (2012) review

Dungeons & Dragons: The Book of Vile Darkness (2012) review

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The Dirty Doz... er, the Fancy Five?
The Dirty Doz… er, the Fancy Five?

Twitter Plot Summary: We’re back in the D&D universe, this time following an honourable knight made to do dishonourable things to save his father.

Seven years after the much improved Dungeons & Dragons sequel, we received this belated direct to DVD effort. Surprisingly, this actually feels like a much better film than the previous two as there’s a decent story running through the middle of it. Jack Derges is Grayson, a Knight with a very distinct sense of honour, and no doubt cast for his passing resemblance to the box office draw that is James Marsden. Or perhaps even his more passing resemblance to current Captain Kirk, Chris Pine. Either way, it’s clear he was hired for his looks and not much else besides.

Grayson joins forces with a small band of mercenaries (heavy on the tribal tattoos and makeup), each with the now expected power set that you would get to pick for your party in the D&D role-playing game. There are warriors, thieves, mages, and so on. His reasons for joining this crew are part of his desperate bid to rescue his father from a man who goes by the rather amusing name of Shathrax the Mind Flayer. I’ve always wanted to know what one of those did… that group of ne’er do wells spend much of their time seeking the Book of Vile Darkness for their master, and pillaging gold and other treasures as and where they can.

Meanwhile, there is an element of love story thrown in for good measure. Akordia (Eleanor Gecks, who clearly signed up on a “I’ll let you see my bum but that’s all” contract clause), is the leader of that little group but falls for the young human. It doesn’t really add much in the grand scheme of things, but at least it pads out the story to feature length – as does the extended five minutes of narrated exposition at the film’s opening.

We really wanna see those fingers!
We really wanna see those fingers!

It’s amazing what a decade of advances in special effects can do, too. If you compare this with the original Dungeons & Dragons movie, while this is a much, much cheaper affair the effects are on the whole far better and nicer to watch. The animation on the dragon in particular is impressive as it clambers sideways across the wall of its cave on its way to attacking the mercenaries who are after his stash of gold and trinkets. Suffice to say, this dragon could do with learning a thing or two from Smaug. Elsewhere the effects are often just as impressive. The CGI demon child who eats negative energy proves to have an interesting design and as close to a photo-real look as a twisted demon girl can have.

It seems odd to say it, but The Book of Vile Darkness is probably the best of the D&D series so far. Bearing in mind the films that preceded it, this is perhaps not the best way to describe it, but for once the combination of the fantasy world, the story and the special effects have combined to form something that, whilst not brilliant, is certainly an acceptable way of spending 90 minutes of your time. It just goes to show that, by not focusing almost exclusively on dungeons and/or dragons (even if they are in there to some extent) and show a bit of respect to the source material, you can make something that doesn’t require Jeremy Irons to act like he’s in a pantomime in order to be entertaining. A valuable lesson for all of us.

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