The adaptability of Dungeons & Dragons (D&D or dnd, colloquially) has brought it well into the 21st century and even into its diametric opposite: a scripted, finite creative work. This isn’t the first time the tabletop role playing game has been adapted into a feature film format, but it’s certainly the highest profile with an ensemble cast including Chris Pine and Hugh Grant. It’s only fitting that its release should open the festival where strange things go on to become the gold standard, South by Southwest.
The festival announced on January 11 that Dungeons & Dragons: Honor Among Thieves has clinched the prestigious spot previously occupied by the wacky but heartfelt 2022 standout Everything Everywhere All At Once (now making rounds on social media again thanks to wins and moving speeches at the Golden Globes). This highly anticipated world premiere has what the A24 film did not before its meteoric success: a staunch fan base nearly 50 years in the making.
For the suddenly-decreasing population of uninitiated onlookers — thanks to TV shows like Stranger Things, Freaks and Geeks, and Community, and actual-play streams like Critical Role and Dimension 20 — Dungeons & Dragons is essentially structured make-believe. A staggering collection of official rulebooks applies a dice-based system of logic and possibilities that players navigate verbally. Say one player is a Legolas-like elf ranger; she may decide to jump over a chasm, rolling a 20-sided die to dictate how successful she is as the narrative pushes on.
“A charming thief and a band of unlikely adventurers embark on an epic quest to retrieve a lost relic, but things go dangerously awry when they run afoul of the wrong people,” describes a press release. “The movie brings the rich world and playful spirit of the legendary roleplaying game to the big screen in a hilarious and action-packed adventure.”
Because these hyper-dramatic fantasy games tend to be played by friends in marathon sessions at home, the resulting narratives often take on a campy, scrappy tone that a trailer for the new film immediately reflects. It is borderline nonsensical that a group of underprepared, randomly assembled heroes would need to save the day via a buckshot plot (it’s unclear so far what actually happens in this film besides watching fun tropes play out), and that describes the overwhelming majority of real D&D campaigns.
The rest of the cast is not quite as mainstream as Pine and Grant, but they’re getting close. The appropriately motley crew includes San Antonian Michelle Rodriguez, who played a supporting role with Pine in the Fast & Furious franchise; Bridgerton heartthrob Regé-Jean Page; Jurassic World park technician Justice Smith; It protagonist Sophia Lillis; Guilt star Daisy Head; and athletic Avatar actress Chloe Coleman, only 14 years old.
Conspicuously missing from the official list of directors (Game Night’s Jonathan Goldstein, John Francis Daley) is actor and Dungeons & Dragons writer Joe Manganiello (True Blood, Magic Mike), known for his especially committed devotion to the tabletop game. Manganiello is the highest-profile Hollywood D&D player aside from Stephen Colbert, who has only recently dipped his toes back into a childhood obsession. Reports in October excitedly anchored the film to Manganiello as a co-director with Kyle Newman, but the initial script seems to have been scrapped.
Beyond the effects of cast, crew, and plot, Dungeons & Dragons: Honor Among Thieves represents something oddly universal to players, yet almost completely unique in film: What would happen if anyone in the theater wrote the script?
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