Dungeons & Dragons has been sitting on the table of projects due for a reboot these past few years, more than a decade after the iconic tabletop role-playing game was adapted into an infamously cheesy fantasy/adventure in 2000 starring Jeremy Irons and Thora Birch, among others. Warner Bros. Pictures acquired the Dungeon & Dragons film rights in 2013 and currently has a finished script draft that was put together by David Leslie Johnson: the Orphan and Wrath of the Titans screenwriter who co-penned the studio's forthcoming The Conjuring 2 and is actively working on WB/DC's Aquaman screenplay too.
Johnson's previous body of work - which largely encompasses mainstream fantasy/adventure and horror movies - might offer a hint of what to expect from his Dungeons & Dragons script, as far as the tone and storytelling approach is concerned. Dungeons & Dragons producer Roy Lee (The LEGO Movie, The Ring) has now name-dropped Raiders of the Lost Ark as being an example of the type of rollicking adventure blockbuster that those who are developing Dungeons & Dragons are interested in emulating.
Lee also compared the planned Dungeons & Dragons movie to a more recent box office hit, Guardians of the Galaxy, while at the same time explaining how that approach will differentiate the project from similar fantasy genre fare like Lord of the Rings, during his interview with Collider at DICE 2016:
“This new Dungeons & Dragons will be a Guardians of the Galaxy-tone movie in a Tolkien-like universe. Because when you think of all the Hobbit movies and The Lord of the Rings, they have an earnestness to them, and to see something fun, a Raiders romp inside that world, I feel is something the audience has not seen before.”
Dungeons & Dragons is an ensemble game where individual players create characters drawn from a set of fantasy genre archetypes, so it's a no-brainer for the new live-action movie adaptation to also be an ensemble adventure like Guardians of the Galaxy, Lord of the Rings, and/or The Hobbit (or even the 2000 film version of Dungeons & Dragons, for that matter). Lee's comments suggest the new D&D film will have a tongue in cheek sense of humor that is more similar to that from Guardians than the Peter Jackson J.R.R. Tolkien adaptations - the latter of which have comedy aplenty, but not really of the self-reflexive variety - or the over the top campiness found in the previously-released live-action D&D film.
In other words, Dungeons & Dragons sounds closer to Johnson's Wrath of the Titans script more than anything else; whether that's a good or bad thing depends on how much you enjoyed the Clash of the Titans sequel, basically. It also sounds like the D&D movie will be emulating Marvel Studios' comic book adaptations in more ways than one too, as Lee told Collider that (like Marvel Studios' films) Dungeons and Dragons will strive to be a faithful adaptation of its source material, in addition to having a Marvel movie-like playful tone.
"Everyone who’s involved with it now, especially the writer of the first draft is a fan from the very beginning starting with Chainmail, which turned into Dungeons & Dragons, so you’ll see things that are very faithful to the source material as well as new elements are being incorporated with help from Wizards of the Coast, who are giving a lot of input on the script.”
In addition, as is the case for most (all?) genre movies with franchise potential made today, Lee is already talking up the possibility that Dungeons & Dragons can kickoff a shared cinematic universe that includes sequels and spinoffs alike:
“I think it will really be moving forward quickly, and I don’t anticipate it not getting greenlit this year, mostly because Warner Bros. has DC now, and LEGO, and the Harry Potter universe that’s being cultivated as their franchises. I believe they see Dungeons & Dragons as something that could be cultivated as a multi-universe movie where there will be spinoffs from the first movie being in Forgotten Realms and subsequent movies being in different worlds.”
While Lee is hopeful about Dungeons & Dragons's chances of getting a green-light in 2016, that will almost certainly be affected by the box office performance of Legendary's Warcraft video game movie adaptation this June - as will the fate of other developing projects based on fantasy genre games, be they of the video game, tabletop game and/or card game variety (see also the Magic: The Gathering movie that's in the works). All of these fantasy game-based projects have the potential to stand apart from one another with their different mythologies and tones alike, but also face the same challenges; namely:
- 1) How to adapt an IP that's meant to unfold as a playable long-form story into the non-interactive medium that is a film with a three-act narrative structure (see also: the challenges of making a good video game movie adaptation).
- 2) How to adapt these IPs in a way that will make them accessible to the mainstream filmgoing audience without becoming just a generic fantasy adventure in the process (see ongoing concerns about the Warcraft movie having that very problem).
With that in mind, Lee is right about WB being focused on creating more franchises and "shared universes" at the moment, given that the studio is now actively expanding the DC Extended Universe, J.K. Rowling's Wizarding World, and the LEGO Movie universe alike. For related reasons, you should expect to hear more about the Dungeons & Dragons film reboot and its own shared universe potential over the year ahead.
We'll bring you more information on Dungeons & Dragons as it becomes available.