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Dragonlance: Dragons Of Autumn Twilight (2008)

by on 2011/05/04

I was very into role-playing from my later childhood on. From the longing in my grade school, excluded from others’ games, through my teens when I oversaw groups of friends . . . their sense of heroic fantasy scratched an itch thus far unknown.

Though I favoured Games Workshop’s Fighting Fantasy, I cut my teeth on TSR’s Dungeons & Dragons. I much preferred the former for simplicity and speed, but it didn’t have a world to match the allure of its mechanics, a world like Dragonlance.

Though I didn’t play the original modules, I did read many of Margaret Weis and Tracy Hickman’s books, right from the start. I envied a friend’s graphic novels, played another’s computer game, wrote fan fiction on a bulletin board service, and knew a user whose alias was “Raistlin”. It was the best of Lord of the Rings combined with the guilty pleasures of pulp.

So it may be understandable I was mixed in my emotions at learning of an animated release, a direct-to-video (DTV) version of the series’ original tale, Dragons of Autumn Twilight. I felt some joy in a dream come true, but dreaded a misfire or failure.

Promoted as a triumph of combined animation styles, it seemed like the perfect way to revisit a cherished time in my life, balanced with meeting our focus for the month. Happily I found the disc in a discount bargain bin but unfortunately — even at a single digit price — it failed to meet my lowest and humblest hopes.

Initially the story concerns old friends whose reunion is interrupted by a military invasion. The group consists of a dwarf, half-elf, and kender, as well as wizard-and-warrior twins, both human. They become involved in safeguarding the passage of a healer, who might possess the means to stop a war.

We may never know how it all turns out because I’ll lay fair odds a sequel doesn’t happen, not after this wretched and disappointing debacle. In fact, I’d be surprised to learn that any cast or crew include it in their portfolio.

Here comes my single (qualified) compliment. Dragonlance boasts an undeservedly impressive list of actors: Phil LaMarr, Lucy Lawless, Jason Marsden, Rino Romano, Michael Rosenbaum, Kiefer Sutherland, Fred Tatasciore, and Michelle Trachtenberg. I can only imagine this solid assemblage accounts for the lion’s share of the budget and, as a result, the rest of the production is a sorry anemic failure.

The source material is hacked apart and poorly truncated. The dialogue is weak, and often phoned in. Irregular violence and superfluously jiggling breasts set a strange tone in a whole sufficiently juvenile to insult a child. Continuity elements don’t match from shot to shot, more obvious than in works I’ve seen of late.

Its greatest failings, however, are the slipshod animation and the incompetence which renders it even worse.

The visuals appear to have been strictly divided between three people, each of whom had a particular interest: one in a traditional hand-drawn style, a second in computer generated imagery (CGI), and a third in photographing clouds and flame.

Mind you, when I say “interest” I certainly don’t mean “talent”. Whatever the style, they’re equally poorly done. The traditional approach would have been substandard several decades ago; Rocket Robin Hood has nothing to fear. The CGI creatures, dragons and draconians, move awkwardly and in too-perfect synch. Finally, the photographic backgrounds and isolated overlays recall South Park’s parodic use of stock footage effects.

I’ve seen some bad animation. This travesty is worse, both in its parts and in their combination.

I hinted at rendering earlier. The issue is a technical one, but causes obvious visual concern. A DVD has a fixed storage capacity. The longer the duration of the movie it contains, the more it must be compressed to fit inside that space. Severe or careless compression results in noticeable glitches, audio-visual anomalies called artifacts.

Putting aside the qualm that a DTV release should look acceptable in its intended medium, at ninety minutes, Dragonlance is nowhere near long enough to require extreme compression. It has neither the length nor fidelity of Lawrence of Arabia, and yet it is rife with artifacts: jagged edges along “straight” lines, halos around the CGI models as if cut out or composited, edge enhancement over-cranked to the point of blurriness, and interlacing poor enough to look kinescopic, as with pictures that have been shot off an old tube screen.

My greatest regret is less the money and time spent than the thought wasted on this review. Nothing so poor deserves 800 words. Like Blade Trinity, this title has tainted the memories of something special. I’m deeply embarrassed at the prospect anyone would see it and connect it with a world I once enjoyed.

Dragonlance is a deeply flawed mess, one better left forgotten.

* *

Rated PG13

90 minutes

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