D&D Movie/TV An Analysis of the Dungeons & Dragons: Honor Among Thieves Trailer

The official trailer for Dungeons & Dragons: Honor Among Thieves is out and I decided to dust off my film school education to give it a proper analysis not just as a TTRPG journalist but from a film criticism standpoint. Though I should note I did drop out of film school…

Logo.png

To start with, let’s talk about what a trailer is. It’s a commercial for the movie. This usually means its representative of what to expect from the film itself, but not always. As many YouTube experiments have shown, you can twist a film into pretty much anything using only two minutes of carefully selected clips like the classic Stanley Kubrick feel-good family comedy Shining. This means you can typically get an idea of what a film will be from the trailer, but you should never trust the trailer either. Scenes are often re-arranged and whole conversations created by splicing together different lines of dialogue with the intent of manufacturing drama or creating a joke. Scenes are sometimes shot solely for the trailer or end up on the cutting room floor before the film sees release. Special effects shots in particular will often change drastically from the trailer to the finished film, particularly for an effects-heavy genre film like Honor Among Thieves so far from the release date next year.

So with that in mind, let’s start talking about my thoughts on the trailer.


Initial impression is that early interviews with the creators indicated they were going for a Guardians of the Galaxy tone, and they definitely nailed that. An ensemble cast takes on a “we’re-trying-not-to-spoil-plot-details” threat of apocalyptic proportions while snarking at one another over scenes of either action or physical comedy but more frequently both at once. The film seems to be taking the plot, story, and source material seriously while allowing the comedy to come organically from the characters and situations in a way that feels grounded rather than forcing gags, winking at the audience, or going for an intentional comedic cheesiness. The performances are naturalistic rather than the over-the-top hamminess of the 2000 Dungeons & Dragons film. There are a few concerning bits here and there, but overall it looks like the sort of light adventure blockbuster typical of modern tentpole releases.

Now, I only watched the trailer once before writing that previous paragraph because I did notice a few things that bothered me and that excited me I wanted to go into more detail about, but doing so required covering the trailer with a fine-toothed comb. I wanted my initial reaction to play on its own the way most people would experience the trailer – watching it once then waiting for the next one – before I start nitpicking it to death after going frame-by-frame a hundred a forty-two times.

MacGuffin.png

A quick rundown of the plot based on the trailer: The bard Edgin and his partner-in-crime Holga stole a magical MacGuffin for someone. That someone turned out to be bad and now may unleash the greatest evil the world has ever seen (considering this is set in Faerûn which has seen multiple Gods go on rampages in events labeled “Sundering” or “Cataclysm”, this is either an exaggeration or some incredibly serious **** is about to go down). Edgin and Holga assemble a team to fix the apocalypse they accidentally assisted in starting with the help of the sorcerer Simon, the druid Doric, and the paladin Xenk. Hijinks ensue involving multiple dragons, the Red Wizards of Thay, and the Lord of Neverwinter Forge Fitzwilliam (though earlier material had his name as Forge Fletcher).

My first and biggest complaint (and the only one I mentioned on social media) is the lighting. I know it’s become standard to use flat, standardized lighting in films for ease of post-production effects work, conversions to 3D, and just because it’s easier to shoot without complex lighting setups. But it makes the film look flat almost like a TV show rather than a film that should have the budget and time to have proper lighting setups for each shot. Like I said before, this is a trailer and the film is over half a year from release so that may be fixed in post-production with a final pass at color grading.

Probably the most common criticism I’ve seen outside the TTRPG community online is the use of a slight remix of Led Zepplin’s “Whole Lotta Love”. The song doesn’t quite fit with the idea of a fantasy action-adventure…but Chris Pine’s character is a bard so the song’s theme fits the stereotype… Personally I’m not as concerned about this. It’s common to edit a trailer to a song for timing reasons and studios have opted to use the popular music rather than treat it as a temp track. It’s highly unlikely that the film’s score or soundtrack will include the song except maybe for the opening or closing credits.

Neverwinter.png

The trailer is packed with references to Dungeons & Dragons. Within hours of release, the first “D&D Movie Trailer Easter Eggs” videos showed up on YouTube with screenshots of the film with a little arrow pointed at nothing to clickbait you into going “Wait, why is that particular torch hanging on the wall significant?”. I’ve purposely avoided all of the reference lists online except for the one from the official Dungeons & Dragons YouTube account with Chris Perkins and Todd Kenreck. While someone more familiar with Forgotten Realms lore might catch a few more references than I did, here’s a quick rundown of everything I noticed: Neverwinter, a black dragon with acid breath, a few Red Wizards of Thay, a location that’s either Undermountain or the Underdark, a tiefling wildshaping into an owlbear, an animated statue of a dragon, several different spells but in particular a very interesting shot of dimension door, a location that is definitely Underdark and possibly Menzoberranzan or Gracklstugh, a mimic, a deplacer beast, a gelatinous cube, and a very chonky red dragon breathing fire. There are others that were more unclear either due to fast cuts, possible design changes for the film, or unfinished effects, such as a group of humanoids with greyish-white skin that seem too tall (or too short if Enlarged) to be duergar and too round-eared to be drow. If you want a blow-by-blow of every single tidbit, I’m sure they’ll start popping up online from your favorite sources soon.

Enchantment.png

As is obvious from the number of references just in the trailer, this film does not shy away from the more fantastical elements of Forgotten Realms. Rather than try to hide the magic to create a more quote-unquote grounded setting, magic permeates almost every single shot in the trailer. Swords crackle with magical energy, enchanted items beyond weapons and armor hide in corners of the scree, and so many spells are thrown around I couldn’t even begin to count them all.

Speaking of armor, the costuming in the film is spot on. The armor designs look unique yet functional in a way that sets it apart from typical “ripped from history” designs we frequently see in fantasy films while still seeming like something that would protect the people wearing it. The non-armor outfits look setting-appropriate without feeling dated or out of place. Chris Pine’s leather jacket wouldn’t turn your head if you saw someone wearing it on the street, but it still blends seamlessly with other characters’ cloaks and robes. Whatever the costume designer was paid for this film, it was not enough.

DoricFlip-opt.gif

It's difficult to judge the cinematography from a trailer because modern trailers are edited at a frenetic pace that prevents the audience from seeing a lot of more subtle camera work. However, there are many shots that I thought looked amazing. Particularly the dimension door I mentioned earlier that has Sophia Lillis’s druid Doric doing a flip from one location into another is stunning and an overhead panning shot of a Red Wizard of They holding the film’s magical MacGuffin over his head that’s just the right amounts of clearly communicating information while still giving the feeling of disorientation and unease.

I’ve tried to avoid comparing this film too much to the 2000 live-action film, but one part the trailer shows off well that I think deserves mention is the fight choreography. In that there’s actual fight choreography. The most obvious is Michelle Rodriguez looking more badass than she ever has in a film (a high standard to meet with her film resume) showing the raw strength and agility of a barbarian by oh my god she picks up a guy in full plate armor three feet in the air before slamming him into the ground. The action also seems varied with Regé-Jean Page’s Xenk facing off against multiple foes at once, the group dodging several dangerous monsters in an arena, and a large battle scene between opposing armies that seems to get interrupted by a surprise dragon.

TheBand.png

While the ensemble of protagonists will be a five man band, the focus in the trailer seems to be on three of the characters in particular: the human bard Edgin Darvis (Chris Pine), the barbarian Holga Kilgor (Michelle Rodriguez), and the tiefling druid Doric (Sophia Lillis). While the paladin Xenk (Regé-Jean Page) and half-elf sorcerer Simon (Justice Smith) have some screentime, they’re more incidental compared to the others with Xenk only seen in a couple of action scenes and Simon casting a spell via a magic helm and giving a line of exposition about owlbears. Edgin gives off the sort of smarmy charm reminiscent of a slightly less egotistical version of Chris Pine’s turn as Captain Kirk from the rebooted Star Trek films. If I haven’t made it clear, Michelle Rodriguez steals the trailer for me and I cannot wait to see more of Holga’s pure badassery and deadpan snark. Despite getting a lot of screentime in the trailer, we don’t see a whole lot of Doric’s character as her biggest roles outside of the wildshape owlbear rampage is poking holes in Edgin’s patter during her recruitment scene.

The most important part of an ensemble cast is the chemistry between characters but it’s also one of the hardest parts to convey in a trailer since there’s not a lot of time to establish relationships or raport. The only characters that really interact with one another are Edgin, Holga, and Doric (excepting the one owlbear line from Simon). However, what little we do get to see works as Edgin and Holga feel like old friends who know one another well and Doris plays well against Elgin’s charm by being mostly unaffected by it and surgically striking at his line of self-aggrandizing bull.

DisplacerCube.png

The effects are the most difficult to judge as many of them are obviously unfinished. The acid breath from the dragon looks more like tar as finishing touches to make it more obviously acidic haven’t been added yet, and the second time the owlbear shows up for a split-second diving at the camera feels like it’s lacking fine details. Some scenes that feel like they should be crowd scenes are rather empty indicating more characters will be composited in later. However, what effects are present are solid with the CGI even at this early stage blending well into the live-action footage. The digital matte shots of Neverwinter and the Underdark already looking amazing, combining the fantastic elements in realistic way so they match the feel of the other obviously real-world location sweeping landscape shots rather than looking like a video game cutscene.

Bearowl-sm.gif

Now for the owlbear in the room: How accurate is it to the Dungeons & Dragons game? Already people are talking about the fact druids in the rules can’t wildshape into an owlbear. First off, who cares it looks friggin’ awesome. Second, does anyone really think Wizards of the Coast isn’t going to release a tie-in product capitalizing on the cross-promotion with a new Druidic Circle with exactly that ability? Besides, a film is an adaptation. Just like changes are necessary when adapting from a novel to a film, some changes will need to be made to adapt from a game to a film. The important thing is that the changes made still fit within the tone and theme of the original material. Based on what’s available in the trailer, it appears the directors took great care in translating the stat blocks into the new medium.

Overall, the trailer manages to pack a lot into just over two minutes. There are still some rough patches and the film’s plot isn’t that well defined beyond the simple premise of “Baddie has a MacGuffin, must stop Baddie or world ends”. But there’s still plenty of time before the March 2023 release for the rough edges to receive a polish and more details to emerge allowing audiences to get a better idea of what to expect.

EdginHop.gif
 

log in or register to remove this ad

Darryl Mott

Darryl Mott

Charlaquin

Goblin Queen (She/Her/Hers)
Yeah, I found the part about that character being in the film when I was checking IMDB for stuff (that's how I figured out tabaxi will be in the film somewhere, though apparently not in a major role as the character name is "Tabaxi Mother"). I'm just partially face blind so didn't recognize the actor to put two and two together. Plus...I thought that character in Forgotten Realms lore was a woman :p
You thought right, at least according to her page on the FR wiki.
 

log in or register to remove this ad



Abstruse

Legend
So one thing about the "The movie doesn't match the rules!" that has been bothering me a bit is I think not understanding how the production of this movie is different than the 2000 film.

Note: I'm adding in some of my own interpretation of events and editorializing a bit so don't take this as a set-in-stone I-have-sources-for-this retelling of the history of the film. I'm working on something that is that right now. And this is relevant to an ongoing discussion to this film.

Courtney Solomon got the film rights to Dungeons & Dragons in the 1990s negotiating with TSR. Lorraine Williams signed off on the rights without (IMO) really understanding what she was signing away. Basically, Solomon got the film rights with no end date and got the rights to everything Dungeons & Dragons. Side note: This is why Dragonlance 5th Age happened, Williams realized if Dragonlance was no longer a D&D game, it wouldn't be part of the film rights deal and she could get the rights back for the NYT Bestselling novel series she signed away apparently without realizing. So this bad deal is what got us the Dragonlance shoehorned into the SAGA rules.

Anyway, fast forward a bit and Wizards of the Coast bought TSR and Hasbro bought Wizards of the Coast and they wanted to leverage their film rights to the popular D&D properties. Only to find out that Williams signed away all those rights. This ended up with a lawsuit where Wizards and Hasbro tried to get the rights back by pointing out an open-ended film rights in perpetuity deal was kinda BS. The lawsuit was settled with a new deal: Solomon kept the rights but added a "use it or lose it" clause that his company had to release a new film every five years or the rights would revert. It also limited the scope to D&D only and none of the campaign settings.

(Note: This is where I do the most speculation and personal interpretation.) Another part of the deal was Solomon could only use scripts approved by the rights holder, which was now Wizards of the Coast. Who could then just, you know, not approve any scripts for five years and get the rights back. Except Williams had signed off on a script. It was several drafts old, but it was a script that was approved by the rights holder.

So he managed to get a deal with New Line Cinema (who had just put all their eggs in the Lord of the Rings basket and wanted to use a D&D film to test the waters for a fantasy film revival). However, another part of the mess that the rights settlement had become was Solomon had to direct. Solomon had never intended to direct (there's a story out there where Solomon set up a meeting with James Cameron to direct the film and Lorraine Williams managed to offend him so bad Solomon claims he had to physically restrain Cameron).

So the 2000 film had a director who didn't want to direct who had never directed before with a script that had to be reverted back to a version several drafts old and rushed into production quickly to meet deadlines both for the rights and from the studio.

Yeah, in hindsight, this film had zero chance of being any good.

And Wizards of the Coast was aware of that. I mean you'd think with a big theatrical feature film coming out and WotC at the time releasing multiple books a month that they would have done some cross-promotion. Release a sourcebook with all the characters in the film statted and setting information for the film's unique world and the new magic items and whatnot. What did we get instead? An article in Dragon Magazine.

What does this have to do with the current film? Well...the production company is eOne, which is owned by Hasbro. Which means that Wizards of the Coast has been in the loop on production from the very start this time around and it's all in-house with Hasbro (well, plus distribution from Paramount). They're so keyed into what's going on with production that Rime of the Frostmaiden added a location to the adventure because it was in the script for the film to establish it's canon status well in advance of the film's release.

So my speculation is that we're going to get at least one if not several products released in late February/early March that directly ties into the film. At the very least, a sourcebook with information about the characters including new subclasses, spells, magic items, etc. to match the movie. Considering 2024 is going to be the big "5.5" relaunch of the core rules, I also wouldn't be surprised if there's a new Starter Set based on the film as well that will work as a preview the changes. It wouldn't be too hard since they're already in development on the new rules and they're supposed to be completely backward-compatible.

If the film reaches the mainstream audiences they'll need to in order to be a financial success, that will also mean a huge jump in demand for introductory products for new players. Putting out a film-themed Starter Set with a new druid subclass that allows Doric to within the rules wildshape into an owlbear (along with anything else they've done for the film that doesn't match the rules) is highly likely.

In fact, I'll go a step further. Wizards knew there would be a bunch of press about the film thanks to SDCC this weekend. Next week, Dragons of Stormwreck Isle Starter Set comes out. The one that has adult versions of the characters from the 1980s D&D cartoon. SDCC footage that hasn't been made public yet reportedly features what looks like a rival adventuring party that are adult versions of the 1980s D&D cartoon characters. Hmmmm...
 

Amros

Explorer
[...] makes me wonder at what level are the PCs portrayed?
Well, I think the spell shown at 0:04 is 'Globe of Invulnerability', a 6th-level spell (is the only anti-magic sphere I can think of in the sorcerer spell list, if we don't take into account that a Divine Soul can take 'Antimagic Field', but that is way too high IMO). So we are talking PCs of at least 11th level.
 

Well, I think the spell shown at 0:04 is 'Globe of Invulnerability', a 6th-level spell (is the only anti-magic sphere I can think of in the sorcerer spell list, if we don't take into account that a Divine Soul can take 'Antimagic Field', but that is way too high IMO). So we are talking PCs of at least 11th level.
The spell at 0:04 is just a boring old 1st-level shield spell. It's done as a reaction and is actually shaped like a shield. Whatever that attack is, it's not a fireball, as it doesn't expand into a ball, so it's some physical attack that the +5 AC would defend against.
 

Amros

Explorer
The spell at 0:04 is just a boring old 1st-level shield spell. It's done as a reaction and is actually shaped like a shield. Whatever that attack is, it's not a fireball, as it doesn't expand into a ball, so it's some physical attack that the +5 AC would defend against.
Maybe you are right. But I think 'Shield' is depicted at 0:46, and they are different.
 

MarkB

Legend
The spell at 0:04 is just a boring old 1st-level shield spell. It's done as a reaction and is actually shaped like a shield. Whatever that attack is, it's not a fireball, as it doesn't expand into a ball, so it's some physical attack that the +5 AC would defend against.
Probably firebolt.
Maybe you are right. But I think 'Shield' is depicted at 0:46, and they are different.
There seem to be a couple of spells within moments at that timestamp. The barriers cast by the red wizards seem to be blocking movement rather than attacks. The one just after that, which looks like it's halting the arrows, seems to continue into the next couple of shots (they share that expanding-globe ripple effect) and appears to be slowing time in those shots, so maybe either a haste or time stop effect.
 

Yeah, I found the part about that character being in the film when I was checking IMDB for stuff (that's how I figured out tabaxi will be in the film somewhere, though apparently not in a major role as the character name is "Tabaxi Mother"). I'm just partially face blind so didn't recognize the actor to put two and two together. Plus...I thought that character in Forgotten Realms lore was a woman :p
Could be a relative.
 

I let players and npcs wildshape/polymorph into owlbears and other monstrositys with low intelligence and that don't have magical or fantastic powers. Wyvern? Ankheg? Grick? Bullett? Why not nothing deal breaking there. And they are the natural creatures for the world.
I've let more than one player Wildshape into a Werewolf and just used the closest Wolf or Bear stats they qualify for at their level. Just the visual is changed. Because who doesn't love Werewolves?
 

I‘ve got a theory regarding the Druid shifting into an owlbear. WotC is currently shifting the rules and in 2024 a new trio of corebooks will be released. The movie is clearly a signal to the TTRPG fans that owlbears will no longer be monstrosities, but instead will be beasts. It‘s just another way to announce that rules change.

Okay, if this doesn‘t turn out to be a whacky theory, you read it here first :D
 


Abstruse

Legend
I‘ve got a theory regarding the Druid shifting into an owlbear. WotC is currently shifting the rules and in 2024 a new trio of corebooks will be released. The movie is clearly a signal to the TTRPG fans that owlbears will no longer be monstrosities, but instead will be beasts. It‘s just another way to announce that rules change.

Okay, if this doesn‘t turn out to be a whacky theory, you read it here first :D
You're not the only one with that thought. This is the end of that huge long history post I made earlier this morning where I speculated the same thing and went a bit further with it :p
So my speculation is that we're going to get at least one if not several products released in late February/early March that directly ties into the film. At the very least, a sourcebook with information about the characters including new subclasses, spells, magic items, etc. to match the movie. Considering 2024 is going to be the big "5.5" relaunch of the core rules, I also wouldn't be surprised if there's a new Starter Set based on the film as well that will work as a preview the changes. It wouldn't be too hard since they're already in development on the new rules and they're supposed to be completely backward-compatible.

If the film reaches the mainstream audiences they'll need to in order to be a financial success, that will also mean a huge jump in demand for introductory products for new players. Putting out a film-themed Starter Set with a new druid subclass that allows Doric to within the rules wildshape into an owlbear (along with anything else they've done for the film that doesn't match the rules) is highly likely.

In fact, I'll go a step further. Wizards knew there would be a bunch of press about the film thanks to SDCC this weekend. Next week, Dragons of Stormwreck Isle Starter Set comes out. The one that has adult versions of the characters from the 1980s D&D cartoon. SDCC footage that hasn't been made public yet reportedly features what looks like a rival adventuring party that are adult versions of the 1980s D&D cartoon characters. Hmmmm...
 

doctorbadwolf

Heretic of The Seventh Circle
It's what happens when WotC write an extremely clunky rule to begin with, instead of just giving us: "Here are the stats for wildshape at each level, reskin it however you want."
They have to have a pretty broad range of capability, way beyond the recent summon XYZ spells, anyway, so I’m not sure it’s be a huge boon to simplicity.
 

pukunui

Legend
I‘ve got a theory regarding the Druid shifting into an owlbear. WotC is currently shifting the rules and in 2024 a new trio of corebooks will be released. The movie is clearly a signal to the TTRPG fans that owlbears will no longer be monstrosities, but instead will be beasts. It‘s just another way to announce that rules change.

Okay, if this doesn‘t turn out to be a whacky theory, you read it here first :D
Yeah, I think it would be a lot easier to change the owlbear to a beast than come up with a whole new subclass that allows druids to shift into monstrosities. Either that, or (and this would be my preference) they change the way wild shape works so that you get specific forms and you can call them whatever you like. So a Large bruiser type form could be a regular bear or an owlbear or an allosaurus or whatever.
 


Bolongo

Herr Doktor
They have to have a pretty broad range of capability, way beyond the recent summon XYZ spells, anyway, so I’m not sure it’s be a huge boon to simplicity.
I don't really understand any part of that argument.
"have to": Why does it have to do anything?
"broad range of capability": What, like the current rule where you can turn into... uhh, slightly different-looking bags of hit points with boring attacks? ;)
 

doctorbadwolf

Heretic of The Seventh Circle
I don't really understand any part of that argument.
"have to": Why does it have to do anything?
Because some things will satisfy Druid players and others won’t.
"broad range of capability": What, like the current rule where you can turn into... uhh, slightly different-looking bags of hit points with boring attacks? ;)
You’re kidding.

Flight, burrow, climb, swim, speeds.
Pact Tactics.
Flyby.
Keen senses (use the trait as described, folks, don’t treat it as a universal thing).
Knock down save on every hit.
Poison.

Just off the top of my head.

You’d need to have all those as options, as well as different options to focus on utility, offense, or defense, and variable size.

If not, you’re just nerfing the variability of the feature.
 

Bolongo

Herr Doktor
Flight, burrow, climb, swim, speeds.
Pact Tactics.
Flyby.
Keen senses (use the trait as described, folks, don’t treat it as a universal thing).
Knock down save on every hit.
Poison.

Just off the top of my head.

You’d need to have all those as options, as well as different options to focus on utility, offense, or defense, and variable size.

If not, you’re just nerfing the variability of the feature.
All of that is much easier to build into a class feature, taking up at most a page of rules (a list of options and a "pick X of these" rule), rather than forcing players to comb through several monster manuals hoping to find what they're looking for. Also, you wouldn't have to be at the mercy of what a creature designer happened to come up with - the current rule leads to a lot of weird randomness in what you can do at different levels.
 

doctorbadwolf

Heretic of The Seventh Circle
All of that is much easier to build into a class feature, taking up at most a page of rules (a list of options and a "pick X of these" rule), rather than forcing players to comb through several monster manuals hoping to find what they're looking for. Also, you wouldn't have to be at the mercy of what a creature designer happened to come up with - the current rule leads to a lot of weird randomness in what you can do at different levels.
That “randomness” is a strength. It is a good thing. The game is better for having such little bits of “messy” design.

Not only that, it is much easier and simpler to leaf through the MM (or the bestiary in the PHB) and pick a panther or whatever, than to build a form each time as if designing a whole character every time you want to turn into a meaningfully different critter.
 

Visit Our Sponsor

Latest threads

Dungeon Delver's Guide

An Advertisement

Advertisement4

Top