A milestone in fantasy cinema that illustrates exactly why writing about magic requires a true sorcerer’s touch (contains very mild spoilers)
There’s a scene in Dungeons & Dragons: Honour Among Thieves that says the movie knows exactly what it’s doing. Our party of roguish adventurers are drowning their sorrows in the local tavern, bickering over the best way to break into the bad guy’s vault. The barbarian (Michelle Rodriguez) grunts over her ale. “Can’t you just magic us inside?” The party’s timid sorcerer (Justice Smith) bristles at this. “Everyone thinks you can solve everything with magic, but you can’t! There’s rules!”
Director-screenwriters Jonathan Goldstein and John Francis Daley, along with co-writer Michael Gilio (as well as the writer of this previous essay Too Much Magic: The Pitfalls of Writing Fantasy), understand that nothing breaks the spell of drama more completely than characters waving a magic wand at a story problem. It’s one of several reasons why Honour Among Thieves works so well. It has a geek’s understanding of the rules of the game, but a dramatist’s flair for storytelling. In other words, the movie plays like it’s being run by a really good DM.
The movie is another milestone in the wave of big-budget on-screen fantasy that’s been rolling for the last twenty years, ever since Peter Jackson’s still-magnificent Lord of the Rings trilogy and Warner Brothers’ charming-but-very-much-less-than-magnificent Harry Potter series. These blockbuster successes, along with advances in digital special effects and the rise of the internet, helped carry the fantasy genre out of the ghettos of fandom and into mainstream culture.
Created by David Benioff and D. B. Weiss from the bestselling-but-not-terribly-well-known-at-the-time fantasy novels by George R.R. Martin, the first series of Game of Thrones arrived in 2011 and had clearly learned much from Jackson’s trilogy...
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