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…

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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Darryl Mott

Darryl Mott

teitan

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...
I would say you are partially correct on the history but they actually had a lawsuit a few years ago that got them in court and the rights were awarded back to Hasbro as a result. There were two movies in development at the same time!

I think we will finally see a new FR book in time for the movie and a starter set as well. We also will have an action figure line and probably some minis from Wizkids. T-shirts etc. It will get blitzed. I have the Gelatinous cube on pre-order.
 

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Abstruse

Legend
I would say you are partially correct on the history but they actually had a lawsuit a few years ago that got them in court and the rights were awarded back to Hasbro as a result. There were two movies in development at the same time!

I think we will finally see a new FR book in time for the movie and a starter set as well. We also will have an action figure line and probably some minis from Wizkids. T-shirts etc. It will get blitzed. I have the Gelatinous cube on pre-order.
Yes, the lawsuit in 2014 over Solomon's deal with Warner Bros. where Hasbro sued him over claiming he still had the rights despite not releasing a theatrical film within the 5 year deadline. The third live action movie Book of Vile Darkness released in 2012 was a SyFy Original Film, did not have a theatrical release, and Sweetpea Entertainment (Solomon's company) paid rights to Hasbro at the scheduled rate for a TV and/or direct-to-DVD release and not a theatrical film. The lawsuit ended up in a settlement that gave Solomon a couple more years to get his film in production, he failed, the rights reverted to Hasbro, and they started ramping up on their own productions - both this film and so far two attempts at a TV series (that don't seem to have gone anywhere yet).
 


teitan

Legend
I prefer PF. I don't hate 5E and would run it but PF is my goto these days.
I get it, PF is actually a lot better than 3.5. I think 3.0 is better than 3.5 but its because it lacks that bloat and PF is better because they handled the bloat better. They didn't throw Prestige CLasses at the problem. I like 3.0 because it was still designed AS D&D and the RAI is very much along the lines of AD&D while 3.5 you see a morph into a different sort of D&D paradigm, the game within the game becomes emphasized. I'd like something akin to a 3.15 with skills simplified a little and the ranger tweaked up a bit. I still would probably play 5e first, or DCC.
 

evildmguy

Explorer
I get it, PF is actually a lot better than 3.5. I think 3.0 is better than 3.5 but its because it lacks that bloat and PF is better because they handled the bloat better. They didn't throw Prestige CLasses at the problem. I like 3.0 because it was still designed AS D&D and the RAI is very much along the lines of AD&D while 3.5 you see a morph into a different sort of D&D paradigm, the game within the game becomes emphasized. I'd like something akin to a 3.15 with skills simplified a little and the ranger tweaked up a bit. I still would probably play 5e first, or DCC.
I just do what I think would be fun for my players and myself. I hope others do that as well! I merely find PF1 (I didn't specify that but PF1 is what I'm using) as a base easier for me to tweak as we play to get the characters they want or see.

Sorry for the hijack of the thread but I think I can make it relate at the end.

One of the interesting things about 3E was that it actually deemphasized some magic items. Or it made spells more powerful than some items. What I mean is Bull's Strength, Bear's Endurance, and Cat's Grace were an hour per level in 3.0 but then reduced to a minute per level in 3.5. What that did in 3.0 was reduce the permanent buff items for those slots in favor of something else if you had a caster that could use those spells since after seventh level, the spells lasted the whole (waking) day. (Especially as low level spell slots weren't as useful, higher level mages could use them for these types of all day buffs.) 3.5 tweaked it and PF did more but overall it got better. Plus it gave me ideas on what I could allow (hour per level buffs in PF1) and have an idea of what it meant. What I'm waiting for is for DND to finally get rid of the last vestiges of simulation and instead have time periods for spells instead of specific time units. In other words, this buff lasts for an encounter but that buff lasts for the day. That would be easier to track and closer to the intention of the spell and also help low level casters when some Buff spells only last a round or two but the fight takes five or six rounds.

As for the movie, I just think it is doing what I am doing and making something that will appeal to current audiences. If it doesn't follow the rules, that's fine and I personally wouldn't need any rules to follow the movie. I can do that already but I know some like to have it in print. I just want the movie to be fun and do well to see more!
 

Abstruse

Legend
As for the movie, I just think it is doing what I am doing and making something that will appeal to current audiences. If it doesn't follow the rules, that's fine and I personally wouldn't need any rules to follow the movie. I can do that already but I know some like to have it in print. I just want the movie to be fun and do well to see more!
The main reason to make the rules match the film at least to a degree is for new players. A major motion picture with a studio marketing push behind it is going to bring in a lot of new players, particularly kids. They're going to want to replicate what they saw in the movie. If the rules prevent them from doing so, they're not going to blame the film for being inaccurate but blame the game for not letting them do the cool thing.

This is something that Wizards of the Coast is going to be acutely aware of, which is why I expect that anything that overtly doesn't match the rules (magic items without stats, classes having abilities they shouldn't, spells that aren't in the game, etc.) will be added in via some form of tie-in product. Particularly products meant for new players.
 

Zarithar

Adventurer
Looks amazing to me... and I don't know if this has been answered definitively anywhere, but is Michelle Rodriguez' character a half orc? I kind of hope so.
 

Abstruse

Legend
Looks amazing to me... and I don't know if this has been answered definitively anywhere, but is Michelle Rodriguez' character a half orc? I kind of hope so.
I thought half-elf, someone earlier in the thread (or another thread) thought dwarf, you and at least one other person I've seen thought half orc. But it appears as though Michelle Rodriguez's ears are just naturally a bit pointy. If she's anything other than human (though from one of the barbarian tribes in Faerun), it hasn't been confirmed anywhere and they've still got a lot of SFX work to finish for putting her as prominently in the trailer as they did.
 

I thought half-elf, someone earlier in the thread (or another thread) thought dwarf, you and at least one other person I've seen thought half orc. But it appears as though Michelle Rodriguez's ears are just naturally a bit pointy. If she's anything other than human (though from one of the barbarian tribes in Faerun), it hasn't been confirmed anywhere and they've still got a lot of SFX work to finish for putting her as prominently in the trailer as they did.

I find the Gold Dwarf guess the most likely.
 

wicked cool

Adventurer
watched a youtube video last night of the cast. never would have thought that michelle would have played as a youngster. Its a fun video just to watch hugh grant
 


billd91

Hobbit on Quest (he/him)
People were damn insistent during the playtest that, for the sake of internal consistency, wild shape must use the monster manual stats for whatever you shapeshifted into. Because of that, I think WotC decided to be very restrictive with the qualifications for wild shape eligibility, to avoid unintended interactions with any later-printed monsters.
If there was a major demand to pull stats from the Monster Manual, it wouldn't surprise me if that was a reaction to Pathfinder's method of wild shaping, which is largely based on the PC's physical stats regardless of the animal transformed into. It's pretty tightly controlled and you never have to worry about the animal's stats being unbalancing, but it does kind of suck for a relatively weak druid to turn into a gorilla (or any other creature reputed to be strong) only to be a wee bit stronger than before they transformed.

That said, the early rounds of D&D Next's druid class's wildshaping ability did suck. It was far too restrictive. Both the PF and final 5e versions are better even if they produce somewhat different results.
 

Charlaquin

Goblin Queen (She/Her/Hers)
If there was a major demand to pull stats from the Monster Manual, it wouldn't surprise me if that was a reaction to Pathfinder's method of wild shaping, which is largely based on the PC's physical stats regardless of the animal transformed into. It's pretty tightly controlled and you never have to worry about the animal's stats being unbalancing, but it does kind of suck for a relatively weak druid to turn into a gorilla (or any other creature reputed to be strong) only to be a wee bit stronger than before they transformed.
I think it was more likely a response to 4e’s version of wild shaping, but yeah, same idea.
That said, the early rounds of D&D Next's druid class's wildshaping ability did suck. It was far too restrictive. Both the PF and final 5e versions are better even if they produce somewhat different results.
I don’t really remember what the early playtest wild shape was like, but I don’t remember being bothered by it. Though, I don’t think anyone in my playtest group played a druid. I’ll have to look at my old files again.
 



Levistus's_Leviathan

Autistic DM (he/him)
He’s doing a really bad job at not spoiling the fact that his character is some kind of monster in disguise too.
Yeah. I'm guessing he's a metallic dragon, but he might be one of the Red Wizards with Disguise Self or something like that.

My guess is that they didn't give him a good enough warning on what specifically not to say. The rest of the cast seemed to know what to shy away from, but he seemed a bit oblivious.
 

pukunui

Legend
Yeah. I'm guessing he's a metallic dragon, but he might be one of the Red Wizards with Disguise Self or something like that.

My guess is that they didn't give him a good enough warning on what specifically not to say. The rest of the cast seemed to know what to shy away from, but he seemed a bit oblivious.
Seeming a bit oblivious is his schtick.
 

Abstruse

Legend
Also, Hugh Grant hasn't exactly been in a lot of genre films. It's a bit hard to spoil a romantic comedy. "So when the two main characters get together in the end-- Oh drat, I wasn't supposed to let that out!" As far as I'm aware, this is his first big franchise genre film or series (I'm pretty sure he's the only actor in all of the United Kingdom who managed to escape Harry Potter, Lord of the Rings/The Hobbit, and Game of Thrones) and the closest he came was being the final punchline in a Doctor Who comedy sketch for Red Nose Day back in the 90s. Meanwhile the rest have been involved in that sort of film - Star Trek, Wonder Woman, It, Fast and Furious, even Bridgerton you'd have to watch spoilers doing promotion since it's a soap opera style Regency serial. Plus literally every question I've seen asked of Hugh Grant is details about his role which so far we don't even know the character's last name for sure (most of the recent press has Forge Fitzwilliam but the original press releases said Forge Fletcher). And even then there's been leaks. So I think it's less he doesn't know and more he's not used to doing press for this sort of film and the rest of the cast have his back to keep him from accidentally breaking NDA.
 



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