The Dungeons & Dragons Movie Is a First-Rate Comedy
The new movie Dungeons & Dragons: Honor Among Thieves brings the popular tabletop role-playing game to life with great writing and strong production values. Michael Witwer, author of Empire of Imagination: Gary Gygax and the Birth of Dungeons & Dragons, is glad that D&D fans have finally gotten the movie they deserve.
“This movie loves D&D, and you can feel it in every fiber and grain of the film,” Witwer says in Episode 540 of the Geek’s Guide to the Galaxy podcast. “I enjoyed every minute of it.”
Honor Among Thieves is first and foremost a comedy. Science fiction editor John Joseph Adams says the film does a good job of replicating the improvised absurdity of a typical D&D adventure. “The movie really does feel like a D&D campaign,” he says. “There’s a bunch of stuff that’s silly, or doesn’t make a lot of sense, but that’s how D&D is, so it kind of works.”
Ben Riggs, author of Slaying the Dragon: A Secret History of Dungeons & Dragons, was impressed at the amount of D&D lore that was included in the film. “Given all the things that this movie does, given that it explains this new fantasy world, a rather complicated plot, and also has to make D&D rules nerds happy, it does it pretty seamlessly and gracefully,” he says. “There’s never a rough patch where you’re like, ‘OK, now we’re getting 10 minutes on the backstory of this city.’”
Geek’s Guide to the Galaxy host David Barr Kirtley hopes that Honor Among Thieves will help to finally dispel the notion that Dungeons & Dragons is something niche and peculiar. “My friends and I tried to organize a D&D club at my high school, and the administration just totally wouldn’t allow it, because of the supposed nefarious influence of D&D,” he says. “So to go from that to having such a huge mainstream hit movie, with all these stars and everything, it really does feel like we won. The nerds won.”
Listen to the complete interview with Michael Witwer, John Joseph Adams, and Ben Riggs in Episode 540 of Geek’s Guide to the Galaxy (above). And check out some highlights from the discussion below.
Michael Witwer on John Francis Daley:
I knew John Francis Daley was one of the directors, and that resonated with me because Freaks and Geeks was one of my favorite shows when it was on … The entire cast is future stars, like everyone, and John Francis Daley is the main character, Sam. And on that show they play D&D a few times—that show has a lot of D&D themes. So I knew he had a background in it, whether that was him or just his character. Because I currently work on other D&D books, I study them all really carefully, and he was one of the contributors to Icewind Dale: Rime of the Frost Maiden, which was a 2020 adventure. And I remember seeing his name on the contributor list and thinking, what’s that about? So I started to realize, oh, this person’s really into this, and he’s even working with Wizards staff on their tabletop game. That’s a really good sign.
Ben Riggs on the displacer beast:
The design of the creature is just so fantastic. It’s creepy. Even though it’s a panther with a couple tentacles, at first you’re creeped out … I thought that the way they were deployed in the maze was really, really cool. You basically had a redshirt fight one of them first to kind of explain the rules of the displacer beast, so that you could then know the stakes when they’re chasing down Chris Pine. The writers thought about this—clearly. That’s not a mistake, that’s not some happy accident. They thought, how are we going to explain the rules of this monster to the audience in order to make this scene as suspenseful as possible? And they did it.
David Barr Kirtley on humor:
One of the directors said, “Ours is a movie that doesn’t take itself with great seriousness, but it’s never a spoof.” And I don’t think it’s entirely accurate to say it’s never a spoof. I think it’s sometimes a spoof. Like the part where Xenk walks straight over the rock. Come on, that’s a spoof … I loved the movie, I thought it was hilarious, but it is a comedy, and at some level I’m maybe a little bit disappointed that we haven’t gotten a good, serious Dungeons & Dragons movie. I think this will be a good stepping stone that will hopefully help make that happen, and we’ll get a serious Drizzt story or a serious Dragonlance story or something like that.
Michael Witwer on his novel Vivian Van Tassel and the Secret of Midnight Lake:
Gary Gygax used to wander around this abandoned sanitarium in Lake Geneva called the Oakwood Sanitarium. I started studying these sanitariums in Lake Geneva, and it turns out there were half a dozen of them around town, and I thought it was such an interesting backdrop to this otherwise kind of mysterious, interesting resort town in southern Wisconsin where [Gygax] lived and did a lot of his work. It occurred to me how interesting it would be if Gary didn’t imagine these fantasy creatures, but he actually saw them with his own eyes. What if people were being committed to these sanitariums because they were seeing “delusions” of creatures in the woods that were like bears with the face of owls, or perhaps a panther with tentacles coming out of its back. I thought that was an interesting place to start, and that kind of led me down a long road.