Dungeons and Dragons appears in an aspect ratio of approximately 1.85:1 on this Blu-ray Disc. This was a surprisingly ugly presentation.
The biggest concerns came from the grainy look of the film. The copious use of smoke effects led to a lot of this, but I still thought the Blu-ray resolved those elements in a poor manner. This left the movie with a dense, grainy appearance that affected all other aspects of the visuals, especially sharpness; some of the murkier scenes became so soft that they looked like they came from eighth generation dupes. The graininess also meant that colors could be murky and messy, and shadows were dense.
Even without the grain, the image rarely prospered. Fine detail was an issue; parts of the movie offered decent sharpness, but they never became especially well-defined or concise. Though the movie boasted a vibrant palette, the colors usually seemed okay at best, and they could be somewhat messy; look at the muddy red lighting when Ridley gets to the middle of the maze, for instance. Most of the colors were fine, but they lacked much vivacity.
Blacks were about the same. Those tones appeared decent to good, but they didnít present great depth. Shadows were usually acceptable but also not especially smooth or concise. At least source flaws were absent, and I saw no artifacts related to the digital process. Maybe the Blu-ray accurately reproduced the original film, but I would find that hard to imagine; it just looked too messy for this to be an accurate representation of a fairly recent movie from a big studio.
The presentation rebounded with the excellent DTS-HD MA 5.1 soundtrack of Dungeons & Dragons. I thought the soundfield started a little slowly, but once it caught fire, it became an active and engaging presence. The front spectrum displayed great activity throughout the film. Even during more subdued sequences, the forward channels offered a nice blend of ambient sounds that seemed well-located and convincing.
The action scenes, all of which appeared broad and encompassing, nicely complemented these aspects. All five speakers received a fine workout throughout much of the film, as the surrounds added a solid layer of reinforcement to the mix.
The rears also contributed quite a lot of unique information when necessary. The various fight scenes worked quite well, but two sequences stood out in my mind. First, when Ridley romps through the maze, the sounds of swinging blades and jets of flame nicely filled the room; these became tremendously active segments. Even better was the entire climactic battle during which dragons flew about the screen. They also flitted about the room, as the mix put the flap of wings all around the soundfield. It was a fine effect that brought life to the film.
Audio quality seemed to be positive. Dialogue sounded natural and distinct, with no signs of edginess or problems related to intelligibility. Music appeared clear and bright, and the score displayed good dynamic range. The music didnít really stand out during the movie, but it seemed quite well-reproduced with no apparent concerns. Effects also were clean and accurate, and they showed nicely qualities. I heard no distortion and usually found solid bass response.
At times I felt the low end could have been stronger - the dragon footsteps heard at the filmís start should have provided greater oomph - but as a whole, the track offered nice depth. Ultimately, I thought that D&D featured a very strong soundtrack that nicely complemented the movie.
How did the picture and sound of this Blu-Ray compare with those of the original DVD? Unfortunately, I was unable to directly compare the two, but I canít imagine that the Blu-ray does much to outdo the DVD, especially in terms of visuals. I suspect the Blu-ray looks better than the DVD, but given its many weaknesses, it seems unlikely that itís a great improvement. Thereís just too much messiness and too little detail in this Blu-ray for it to be a big step up in quality.
Most of the DVDís extras repeat here. We start with two separate audio commentaries, the first of which comes from director Courtney Solomon, actor Justin Whalin, and D&D co-creator Dave Arneson. Solomon and Whalin were recorded together for their screen-specific remarks, while statements from Arneson have been edited in along the way. Arneson occasionally drops a tidbit about the structure of the game, and he provides a few comments about what he saw during a visit to the set, but for the vast majority of this track, itís Solomon and Whalinís baby.
And thatís surprisingly fine with me. When I first started the commentary, I feared that it would be a tough listen. The two men seemed excessively loose, and I thought the entire track would offer little more than their giggling inanities.
However, the piece actually offers a lot of solid information, and though Solomonís laugh - a hissing ďsss-sss-sss-sssĒ affair - could get on my nerves, the chemistry between the two meant that the track featured few dull moments. We hear about a nice variety of subjects, from changes made to the original script to mishaps on the set to general production issues. Whalin provides a good point of view; we donít often hear the actorís perspective about effects-intensive flicks, so his remarks give us a lot of compelling information. All in all, this was a fun and lively track that I enjoyed much more than I expected.
For the second commentary, we hear from director Courtney Solomon, D&D co-creator Dave Arneson and cinematographer Doug Milsome. This track uses the same format heard in the first one, whereby Solomon and Milsome were taped together; Arneson was recorded separately and his statements were edited into the piece. Arneson got into a few more details about the game, and he added some other notes about his experiences with the film, but again, his portion of the commentary was fairly minimal.
Solomon and Milsome dominate the piece, and their discussion display a more technical bent than the chat heard during the first commentary. Quite a few remarks about lighting challenges abound, and other issues in a similar vein predominate the track. It was a more subdued conversation when compared to the Solomon/Whalin one; thereís a chemistry between Solomon and Milsome, but itís not nearly as strong. Actually, this commentary could get a bit annoying, as the two often talked over each other in a manned that occasionally made it tough to hear what either said. Ultimately, this was a decent track but not a terribly good one; a fair amount of material is repeated from the first commentary, and the presentation wasnít as much fun.
Next we find two featurettes. As its title states, Let the Games Begin: A Profile and History of Adventure Gaming takes a short look at the creation and evolution of D&D. We hear from movie participants Courtney Solomon and Justin Whalin as well as Mark Ordesky of Fine Line Features. In addition, there are interview clips with folks from Wizards of the Coast, the company that distributes D&D; we discover remarks from CEO Peter Adkison, game designer Jonathan Tweet, and Vice President Ryan Dancey.
While I didnít think the 15-minute and 29-second program provided a terrific history of the game, it still was an entertaining piece. Solomon and Adkison dominated the show as the various participants discussed the story of the gameís beginnings and its growth, and they also give us details about how itís played.
Much of the fun to be found here came from their personal tales of D&D addiction, such as how Ordeskyís choice of college was influenced by his love of the game. It seemed odd that we didnít hear from either of D&Dís creators, though; we briefly see shots of Gary Gygax from a convention, but Dave Arneson is nowhere to be found. Since he appeared elsewhere on the DVD, it was strange that he didnít more clearly discuss the gameís early years. Nonetheless, ďLet the Games BeginĒ was a fairly interesting and entertaining program.
The other featurette is simply called The Making of D&D, and its focus seems similarly self-evident. This 20-minute, 39-second show takes a brief glance at the creation of the film, with a very strong emphasis on the technical side of the equation. Other than actor Whalin, no performers appear in the documentary, and even his participation was modest.
For the most part, the program stuck with various aspects of the filmís special effects and production design. Solomon and others such as creature creator Tully Summers, production designer Bryce Perrin, and visual effects supervisor Charles Darby give us a decent look at the technical side of the equation.
Itís not all dry data, however. At the start, Solomon provides a nice overview of how he became involved in the project and the long road it took to make it to the screen. In addition, we see a lot of good footage from the set; I enjoy that kind of ďbehind the scenesĒ material and the shots here were quite interesting. Ultimately, this was a fairly average but still watchable program.
Next we get a collection of Deleted Scenes. The disc includes 11 edited snippets in all for a total of 19 minutes and 18 seconds worth of footage. None of these were terribly fascinating, though they added some decent character moments for smaller roles like Elwood and Snails. There are also a couple of pieces that would have made the movie were it not for budgetary problems; D&D was made for a mere $35 million, which is absolutely nothing for this sort of effects-heavy flick. Because of the relatively small budget, compromises had to be made. Director Solomon liked some of these segments but he didnít have the money to complete them.
That means that we find unfinished shots for some of these pieces; animatics or no elements show up where CGI should have appeared. In a bizarre way, this makes the scenes more interesting. Itís like two for the price of one; we see some unused material plus we get to view part of the production process.
The deleted scenes can be watched with or without commentary from Solomon. As was the case with his two feature tracks, he remains a chatty fellow, and he does all that I ask of a director who discusses edited footage: he tells us why the clips didnít make the film. Actually, he goes above and beyond that mission and he adds a fair amount of useful information during his chat. Itís definitely worth your while to check out the scenes a second time with Solomonís commentary activated.
Another section of the disc offers Special Effects Deconstruction. At last, youíll have the chance to use the ďangleĒ button on your remote! This program provides four different scenes and lets you view them during different stages of effects completion. There is a basic stage, an intermediate period, and the final film.
Each of the four segments runs between 30 seconds and two minutes, 10 seconds for a total of 13 minutes of viewing if you watch all three stages of each snippet. These were fairly interesting, though I must admit stage one was always the most fun; itís more entertaining to see what the actors had to work with, a period that is best represented during the most basic stage.
As a fantasy adventure, Dungeons & Dragons doesnít flop, but itís not a very good film. It offers a couple of decent sequences but as a whole, itís fairly clumsy and silly. The Blu-ray provides strong audio and supplements, but picture quality varies from good to messy. This ends up as an erratic release for a forgettable flick.
Note that D&D only appears as part of a ďtwo-movie collectionĒ along with 2005ís Wrath of the Dragon God. Given the setís low price, that doesnít seem to be a bad thing; whether or not one likes both films, at least the package is priced to sell. Also, both movies come on separate discs, so theyíre not packed onto one platter.