DragonLance: Dragons of Autumn Twilight is the first film adaptation from the popular role-playing game Dragonlance, which is derived from the pop-culture gem Dungeons and Dragons. Dragons of Autumn Twilight was the first novel in the Chronicles Trilogy, first written and published back in 1984 by Margaret Weis and Tracy Hickman. Several attempts have been made over the last 20+ years to get the Dragonlance series on the big (or little) screen, but nothing has been possible until now.
Dragons of Autumn Twilight is an interesting movie. From what I can tell from online research, the film is a pretty faithful adaptation of the novel. Several years after the Dragons and Gods have fought, the Dragons (with their henchmen, known as Draconians) have been alerted to the presence of the “Blue Crystal Staff,” which has the power to heal, being wielded by the white-haired barbarian Goldmoon (Lucy “Xena” Lawless) and her sidekick/love interest Riverwind (MADtv’s Phil LaMaar). To protect Goldmoon and the Staff, half-elf/half-god Tanis (“Smallville” star Michael Rosenbaum) and his lover Kitiara’s two twin brothers, wizard Raistlin (Keifer Sutherland) and swordsman Caramon (Rino Romano, who voices Bruce Wayne on the WB’s “The Batman”), and others form an alliance and begin running from the Seekers.
Director Will Meugniot,* working with a screenplay adapted by George Strayton, is charged with bringing the world that young children and adults have been reading about for 24 years to life. To do so, he uses 2D animation a la “He-Man” from the early 80’s for the human animation, and outdated mid-90’s 3D (think of the Nintendo64 game Turok) for the dragons and Seekers. The two look fine when separate and the film is actually quite good at creating a nostalgic feel. But when the two styles are put together during fight sequences, it’s a pretty confusing mish-mash and is difficult to watch. There’s one sequence halfway through the film where the Seekers are disguised as monks** and when they reveal themselves a fight breaks out. Watching a 2D sword go through a 3D creature looks pretty silly if you ask me. This tactic, though original, takes the viewer out of the moment.
Overall, the film is mostly enjoyable. There’s enough violence to soothe fans of the story, a surprising amount of sarcastic humor that plays for some needed laughs, and watching the sometimes shoddy animation creates a chuckle or two at the expense of the filmmakers. It’s hard not to see the parallels between this and the Lord of the Rings trilogy—in fact, some of the score and dialogue sound directly ripped from LotR—and even though it’s not nearly as enjoyable, fans of the series will see this as a worthy start to a supposed trilogy.***
The DVD itself is pretty disappointing, though. You would think that the first film in a series lasting 24 years would have some interesting features, but this DVD only contains the minimal bare bones features, including an animation test and character concept art.**** I had to go the film’s website to read about the interesting journey that this film had to take from page to screen, which included a period in 1996 where the Jim Henson Company was rumored to be interested in making the adaptation with large puppets. How come the director and creators of the series didn’t feel it necessary to make an extra effort for the long-awaited DVD release? There’s no commentary and there’s no documentaries about how or why they chose to mix 2D and 3D animation. I imagine fans will be disappointed by the lack of effort that went in to the DVD release, because even as a movie critic with no emotional attachment to the story I found this lack of additional content as an insult.
Movie Grade: C+
DVD Grade: D
* Meugniot’s most awesome credit on IMDb is directing 11 episodes of “Captain Planet.”
** It’s pretty easy to see that these monks are evil because they are animated in 3D.
*** The other entries in the Chronicle Trilogy are Dragons of Winter Night and Dragons of Spring Dawning. The production companies associated with Autumn Twilight fully intend to complete this trilogy within the next 18-24 months.
**** The concept art is just drawings of the characters as they appear in the film. There’s no distinction made between how the drawings in the books were adapted or changed to create the film’s characters.