This Consequence chat about adaptations of Dungeons & Dragons has been lightly edited.
Wren Graves (Features Editor): Welcome to a Consequence Geek Chat! Liz, roll for initiative.
Liz Shannon Miller (Senior Entertainment Editor): 12!
Wren: 13 was lucky this time! I’ll take the floor.
Dungeons & Dragons is one of the most influential pieces of media of all time, reinventing tabletop gaming and launching a new era of RPGs. That success has led to many attempts to translate the game for film — almost all of which failed their Intelligence check. So my first question, Liz, is why is such a rich world so hard to adapt?
Liz: It’s a big question with a relatively easy answer on the surface: Unlike other properties which might be adapted for the screen, D&D is by design an open world, which gamers populate with characters of their own invention. This makes it a lot of fun for people who want to create wild new personas for themselves, but this means that there aren’t any iconic characters to hook a story onto — and fundamentally, while the world in which a story takes place is important, it’s not as essential as clear characters with established dynamics.
The reason Shakespeare’s Hamlet is an iconic piece of drama is because of Hamlet and his mommy/daddy issues, not because of the glamorous location that is 1300s Denmark. And to continue that point, it’s the characters of Hamlet that then prove easy to translate to different worlds themselves, from modern-day New York to the Pride Lands.
D&D doesn’t have that advantage, but the thing is, it opens up a different advantage for a filmmaker: The opportunity to take the established universe and, just like a newbie gamer at their first Saturday afternoon session, create their own characters to populate it. And what’s fascinating about D&D’s legacy on screen is how badly all of those efforts have gone. Wren, what did you think of 2000’s Dungeons & Dragons, the movie?