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DVD Review: Dragonlance: Dragons of Autumn Twilight
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Dragonlance: Dragons of Autumn Twilight DVDDragonlance: Dragons of Autumn Twilight
Directed by Will Meugniot
Starring (voices): Kiefer Sutherland, Lucy Lawless, Michael Rosenbaum
Paramount Home Video
DVD
Release date: January 15, 2008

Dragonlance: Dragons of Autumn Twilight is a direct-to-DVD animated feature from Paramount adapted from the best-selling novel by Margaret Weis and Tracy Hickman. Because I am so deeply steeped in the world from which Autumn Twilight stems, I was excited to receive my review copy, but also apprehensive about the faithfulness of the adaptation. Luckily, the makers of Autumn Twilight animated movie nailed it.

The Autumn Twilight novel, the first of nearly 200 in the Dragonlance series, served as a direct supplement to the Advanced Dungeons & Dragons role-playing game. If you’re unfamiliar with D&D, think J.R.R. Tolkien’s Lord of the Rings, of which the role-playing game was heavily influenced. Autumn Twilight offers up all the crucial elements expected of the fantasy genre: campaign members of varied race, class, and skill — some are strangers; others are life-long companions — set out on a quest involving the battling of evil creatures, rescue attempts, and the retrieval of an item of power.

In the world of Krynn, the evil Queen of Darkness Takhisis sends her minions of goblins and armies of dragons out to conquer lands so she can achieve total domination. She also enlists her most loyal servant Lord Verminaard to find the sacred Staff which has the power to reawaken her adversaries, the Gods of Light, who’ve been gone from the world for 300 years.

In Solace, the half-Elf Tanis, who’s been away for five years seeking proof of the Gods’ return, reunites with his companions to find that their village is now overrun with goblin soldiers. At the Inn where the friends are recounting the results of their personal travels, a woman named Goldmoon — who’s carrying a staff — and her companion Riverwind are attacked after Goldmoon claims that the Gods have returned. Sensing the importance of the staff, the group jumps to the couple’s defense and thus begins a new adventure, leading Tanis and his friends right into the realm of Takhisis and her evil forces.

As far as story goes, this animated adaptation does not disappoint. In general, George Strayton‘s screenplay remains faithful to the novel, while incorporating elements from subsequent literary installments of the Dragonlance series. But I’ll be honest, if you don’t already know this D&D tale, you might have trouble keeping all the characters in order. Like with the D&D role-playing game, each character is classified by race, skill, and strength, and has a rich, detailed history. There’s a lot going on in Autumn Twilight not only in the war waging between the Gods of good and evil, but also with the companions and the people they met on their journey.

While Autumn Twilight, at first glance, may look like a typical 1980s cartoon the likes of the He-Man or Dungeons & Dragons television series, this PG-13-rated film is much more mature and has the advantage of a great voice cast, which includes Kiefer Sutherland (Lost Boys), Lucy Lawless (Xena: Warrior Princess), and Michael Rosenbaum (Lex Luthor on Smallville). Even the original score by Karl Preusser perfectly blends in throughout the film.

But even its fitting score, intricate storyline, and top-notch cast can’t detract from the one fatal flaw of the film — its melding of traditional 2D animation with CGI-animated 3D. The characters of the “Light” are rendered as old-school cartoon art, which comes across as a quaint retro style. This is the art I wholeheartedly prefer, especially for the fantasy genre, as it’s reminiscent of Heavy Metal and Bass/Rankin’s The Hobbit cartoon. The CGI art alone is not poorly rendered and I can understand why it was chosen to create the dragons and some of the backgrounds. The problem is when the two styles are merged, it is, in a word … horrible.

I really hate to say it, because otherwise I completely loved this film, but the art compositing was obviously low budget and at times just ridiculous looking, especially when a human cartoon character has to battle a lizard-like CGI Draconian. It was only about one step up from the crude mash-ups done for laughs on South Park.

On the issue of low budget, there really must have been nothing left over, because this DVD has only two bonus features, each under five minutes. And amusingly enough, they both have to do with the film’s animation, though neither explains just what the hell went wrong with the art. “Original Test Animation” shows the early stages of the film with a few clips of low-resolution line-test animations; “Initial Character Design” is just a montage of character sketches. Some interviews with the animators or a “making of” featurette would have gone a long way with me and may have even helped me to see beyond the poor converging of the two art styles.

Otherwise, Dragonlance: Dragons of Autumn Twilight does fantasy right. If Paramount decides to do a sequel — and I certainly hope that they do — I’m all for keeping it soley in 2D. If not, they need devote more money to ensure that the two animation styles are seamlessly combined, which could really rise this franchise to the top.

7 Comments »

  1. […] DVD Review: Dragonlance: Dragons of Autumn Twilight […]

    Pingback by Movies and Film — January 24, 2008 @ 3:00 pm

  2. Hi,

    Interesting review, since exactly like you I was apprehensive about the movie, and especially the fact that it was animated (on further thought though – yeah – Takhisis would have been a lot tougher to portray in live-action). And like you I heaved a huge sigh of relief and delight at the finished product.

    The only place we disagree, though, is about the 2 types of animation and being a long-time Heavy Metal and D&D fan, I can see your point about the 2D (which I thought was very well done and true to the characters of Raistlin & Tanis, especially) – but when the other animation of the Draconians, kicked in – it actually drew a gasp of shock from me – it was SO magnificent!
    And yes, it did make the other 2D animation look strange and unreal by comparison – which is why (if they are true to the original artwork as a template) I would love to see Dragons of Winter Night upgraded to fully CG.

    My congratulations to Weiss etc. for the great choice of Kiefer Sutherland to do Raist’s voice – PERFECT.

    Thanks for a great review.

    Cyndi

    Comment by Cyndi — February 12, 2008 @ 5:01 pm

  3. Hello

    I found this movie quite well done as I have been in to the sister product of Dragonlance Dungeons & Dragons for several years. Many years ago I listened to the same story on cassette and have had a long lasting fascination with these characters mostly with Tanis Half-Elven.
    I feel the character of Tasslehoff was done more as a mean Character than the mischievious Kender that the books portrayed – not that he didn’t say those things it was just the tone used. I also feel that Riverwind was portrayed as more of an agressive character than the proud shy Que-shu we all know and adore.
    Suffice it to say I loved the movie and I hope there will be more to come…keep up the good work guys and gals.

    Kelley

    Comment by Kelley — February 12, 2008 @ 5:31 pm

  4. Okay… are you sure you read the book? The movie starts out with a faithful adaptation of the book, but then somehow just completely goes off-track towards the end. Absoloutley no mention of Eben the traitor, or Berem the Everman. Since when did Fizban fall through a crack in the earth? The animation was terrible. The animation was like a mix between the old Beasties cartoon and Reboot. I loved the books, I tried to love the movie, but it was terribly done. I hope they rethink their budget next time, not to mention outsourcing the animation.

    Comment by Jeremy — February 13, 2008 @ 12:19 pm

  5. @Cindi
    Thanks! I didn’t think the CG was bad, just a bit weird when merged with the traditional animation. I really wish it was all 2D, I love that style.

    @Kelley
    I agree with your assessments of Tas and Riverwind, but I still enjoyed how they were in the movie too. I think I’d really enjoy hearing audiobook, thanks for bringing it to my attention.

    @Jeremy
    Yes, I’m quite sure I read the book. What about what I wrote lead you to believe that I didn’t? I realized they left characters out and I do know that the traitor storyline was omitted, but that often happens with adaptations. Not everything gets included. The ending doesn’t go completely off track, it just incorporates details from other books in the series. I thought the scene with Fizban and Tas falling was similar to the book, is that what you were referring to?I do think the movie came off as low-budget at times, especially with the merging of the two animation styles, but otherwise, I really enjoyed it.

    Comment by Empress Eve — February 13, 2008 @ 2:03 pm

  6. That is true. But with an animation it seems like what would be the point in leaving out plot pieces? For instance, the Everman was the driving point behind the entire trilogy, how could they leave that out if they do intend to continue the story? The animation was absoloutley pitiful, I wish they could have afforded a better budget for it.

    Comment by Jeremy — February 23, 2008 @ 11:20 pm

  7. It did follow the book pretty good, about as much as you’d expect a movie could.

    Some of the voice acting was retched, (ie: the “monks”) and when the draconians appeared I actually cringed at how bad it looked. One or the other (cartoon or cg), but never both. It just makes it look cheap.

    I also think it had a bit of a rushed feel to it. And as Jeremy above says, some important parts are missing, which makes me wonder if they planned the 2-4 parts at all.

    Comment by Mike — November 29, 2008 @ 7:45 pm

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