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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.

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