On the other hand, the directors did not want “any meta like Jumanji” to adapt the famous role-playing game. They explain why in Première.
Dungeons and Dragons: Thieves’ Honor, released in the spring in cinemas, will be broadcast for the first time on television this evening. See you on Canal + at 9:10 p.m.
In our April issue (#539, with François Civil on the cover), we interviewed its creators. We are sharing this interview again, which tells the genesis of this adaptation carried by Chris Pine, Michelle Rodriguez and Hugh Grant, on the occasion of this television program.
Dungeons & Dragons: how the directors got this improbable cameo
As it approaches its 50th anniversary, Dungeons & Dragons has never been more popular. The venerable ancestor of role-playing games attempts a heroic return to cinema in the form of a blockbuster designed like a Marvel. The two directors, John Francis Daley and Jonathan Goldstein, and producer Jeremy Latchman tell us the genesis of Dungeons & Dragons: Thieves’ Honor.
By Sylvestre Picard
It all started in a hostel. This is the starting point for many Dungeons & Dragons gaming sessions: the adventurers are in a tavern, and they are offered a dangerous mission (generally, exploring
the monsters’ lair not far away, massacre everything and leave with the loot). Except that here, we’re talking about the real world.
John Francis Daley was in a bar in Los Angeles when he was offered to direct the new film adaptation of Dungeons & Dragons, with his partner Jonathan Goldstein. “We had just released the film The Flash and that had whetted our appetite: we always wanted to make a big event film, says Daley. And then I went to see a baseball game at a bar with my wife. There, I come across a CAA agent (the most powerful Hollywood talent agency). We start talking and he says to me: “So you’re looking for a movie to make?” Me : “Yeah, I guess…” He called Paramount directly, offering my name and that of Jonathan. We received the script and we had a meeting at the studio…” It seems random, told like that, but the choice of Daley and Goldstein made perfect sense.
Certainly, their previous film, Game Night (2018), was a kind of Very Bad Trip around board games and the two friends had signed the scripts for comedies like Storm of giant meatballs, How to kill your boss and the underestimated The Incredible Burt Wonderstone…But above all they participated in the writing of Spider-Man: Homecoming, the successful return of Spider-Man to the Marvel Cinematic Universe. Which positioned them well to achieve The Flash at Warner (ultimately it’s Andy Muschietti, the director of Thatwho shot the film with Ezra Miller), then left for Paramount to Dungeons & Dragons – bringing along their Homecoming producer, Jeremy Latchman.
With Daley and Goldstein at the helm, the film, which remained in the development hell, could therefore restart under good auspices. First announced in 2013 at Warner, provoking a threat of lawsuit from Hasbro (the all-powerful owner of the Dungeons & Dragons brand) who claimed to want to produce a film D&D at Universal (with Chris Morgan, screenwriter of Fast & Furious, at the helm), the project had only stagnated since then. It must be said that the prospect of a film Dungeons & Dragons recalled the first attempt from 2000, an exhausting turnip with Jeremy Irons in the role of the evil sorcerer Profion, signed by the unknown Courtney Solomon. One year later, The Lord of the Rings by Peter Jackson was released in theaters and the film D&D was definitely put in the junk drawer.
Guardians of Fantasy
In 2023, a film Dungeons & Dragons is no longer such a far-fetched idea. The game has never been so popular, boosted by an ideal context: the Covid crisis has caused the practice of online role-playing to skyrocket; nostalgic forties introduce the younger generation to the game; the younger generation is fond of retro leisure activities (thank you Stranger Things) and YouTubers streaming their D&D games online (actual plays). The chain ofactual plays the best known, Critical Role, is hosted by voice actors and has 1.93 million subscribers. Their games of D&D even spawned the animated series The Legend of Vox Machinabroadcast on Prime Video: the studio has just signed with Critical Role for a live action series project.
In short, putting more than 150 million dollars on the table for a film D&D is now perfectly normal. Especially if we consider it as a Marvel production, with its mix of slightly disillusioned, slightly meta fun, capitalizing on a band of misfit heroes/rogues in a colorful fantasy world… Is Paramount trying to make its Guardians of the Galaxy (the film already seriously looked like a filmed role-playing game, with its band of colorful and unmanageable misfits)?
“We didn’t really want to make the same film, but we wanted to have stakes, emotion and laughter. We respect the fantasy genre, where the characters face very serious things… However, our heroes are very “defective”, and it’s funny to see them in these situations. So yes, it looks like Guardians from this point of view, concedes John Francis Daley. But I don’t think we took inspiration from it in terms of storytelling. That said, the success of the MCU has made adapting these franchises fun. The combination of humor and great spectacle didn’t necessarily happen before… I believe that the goal of Guardians was to show space opera in a new light. From Star Warsit has always been a bit serious… The gardians, it’s still space opera but with which we can more easily identify. It’s more contemporary. And it’s the same for fantasy: there is Game Of Thrones And The Lord of the Rings, considered unparalleled models. So how can we put our mark on gender? The challenge is to make it accessible to someone completely outside. This is good, since humor has been an integral part of the structure of D&D since its beginnings. It’s not like we’re betraying the spirit of the franchise. Our voice, our tone, could be expressed freely here. »
But is the Marvel formula now inevitable as soon as we tackle theentertainment General public ? Not at all, according to producer Jeremy Latcham: “The goal was to make a film that has heart and that resonates with the public, that deserves people to leave their homes to go to the cinema. At a fundamental level, it’s not something that differentiates Marvel from DC or Harry Potter, No ? Or Lord of the Ringsof Impossible mission… When Hollywood does its best, we hope that films tell human stories on a huge canvas. »
According to the filmmakers, the solution to making Dungeons & Dragons a movie “who deserves to leave the house” was therefore to target the general public: “We definitely shouldn’t make a film just for the fans”, explains Daley. But, says Goldstein: “There were hundreds of hours of discussion: how do we satisfy fans and non-fans? There are elements of fantasy which, if you don’t know the universe, can lose you. »
The film Dungeons & Dragons thus offers characters and a story that were created especially for the occasion, but takes place in one of the best-known gaming universes: the Forgotten Realms, a great amalgamation, with quiet charm, of all the clichés of D&D fantasy , which was already the framework of Baldur’s Gatethe excellent and successful video game from 1998.
The film does not attempt to replicate the role-playing experience ” on table ” – get together with friends and create a shared fiction, “play to find out what will happen” – but to tell a fantasy adventure. As Jonathan Goldstein explains to us: “You don’t need to know anything about D&D to enjoy the movie. We use cities from the universe, all kinds of creatures, characters… The genius of the D&D game is to create your own journey in this world. That’s how we envisioned the film: like a big sandbox built from fifty years of universe. We created our own characters to project them into our adventure. »
And above all, no meta jokes, no mise en abyme where we enter a game of RPG. “It was one of the initial ideas, yes, but we quickly made the decision not to do anything meta, not anything like Jumanji where you get into the game, because if you see the film and tell yourself that it’s just people playing a game, that nothing is true, it doesn’t work.”, Daley tells us. Producer Jeremy Latcham continues: “The movie is fun because it still takes into account the rules of the game. When a player makes a critical failure on a dice roll and something funny happens, you know? » Daley continues, enthusiastically: “Yes, we really feel in the writing the variations created based on successes and failures – it impacts the storytelling! » which can above all be summarized in this objective: to begin the great conquest of the family public. Except in case of critical failure.
Dungeons & Dragons: Thieves’ Honor, a lukewarm tap (review)