Why I’d rather see a Dragonlance trilogy than a Forgotten Realms movie

So, probably everyone has by now heard that Warner Brothers has a Dungeons & Dragons movie in the works now that they’re out of litigation over the rights to it. Reportedly, there’s even a script already written based on the Forgotten Realms setting. I just can’t get myself too excited about it, though, because I, frankly, think filming Forgotten Realms is a bad choice.

  1. Forgotten Realms is problematic as shit.
    So, obviously fantasy in general is problematic as all get out, but the big issue with Forgotten Realms is the drow elves. People are already speculating about the possible appearance of Drizzt Do’Urden in the movie, which makes sense since he’s probably the most popular and recognizable character in the Forgotten Realms, what with having over two dozen books just about him, plus a couple of tangentially related projects dealing with the drow within the setting. I just don’t see how there is any possible way for the drow to be done in a film at all without it being incredibly racist.
    Their whole thing is that they are black and evil, and I can’t imagine that any halfway intelligent filmmaker would want to even step into the minefield of trying to figure out casting, costuming, and makeup for them. Oh, and did I mention that part of the way that we know the drow are evil in the books is that they have a radically and brutally matriarchal society? The only solution, I think, is to just avoid the dark elves altogether.
  2. Forgotten Realms doesn’t have any really iconic characters.
    Aside from Drizzt and company, that is. And I think it’s extremely unlikely that we’ll be getting that story. In some ways, this could be a benefit, as it means that the setting is ripe for new ideas and the film will have a lot of freedom to tell a wholly original story. However…
  3. Forgotten Realms is really pretty generic.
    Of the D&D settings that exist, Forgotten Realms is the closest to the basic game setting. All of the races and classes are pretty strictly (and simplistically) designed, and magic swords are far more common than seems prudent for good storytelling.
    There’s a reason why these books are mostly popular with the under-14 crowd. There’s just not a lot of complexity or ambiguity within the Forgotten Realms world, and trying to inject some darkness and grit to it would warp it beyond recognition. The thing that makes Forgotten Realms so attractive to adolescents is that it’s bright and shiny and simple. Without any overarching story line or epic saga associated with it, it’s a great setting for playing D&D in because it always leaves room for the player characters to be the heroes of the story. Plus, everyone gets to have a +1 sword by like level 5!
    However, it struggles to have any specific personality of its own, and this increases the likelihood that a Forgotten Realms movie–especially absent any recognizable character from the series–will just end up being a boring, derivative, Tolkien-inspired fantasy trope-filled mess.

dragons of autumn flameThe good news is that there’s a better option.

Full disclosure: part of the reason I would rather see a Dragonlance adaptation than Forgotten Realms is just that I read Dragonlance first and have liked it best for almost twenty-five years. That said, there are some real reasons that I think Dragonlance is far superior and would make for an objectively better movie than anything the guy who wrote The Conjuring 2 is going to come up with in the Forgotten Realms setting.

  1. Dragonlance already has a great story.
    Well, maybe not great exactly, but it’s a story, and it’s pretty epic, and I am confident that it could be whittled down to a really excellent trilogy of films. Hell, someone really ambitious could easily do three 10-episode seasons of television that could include all the more rambly parts of Dragons of Winter Night, and it would give Game of Thrones a run for its money. But I’d settle for a movie trilogy.
    Even more than a story, the Dragonlance series has a very strong sense of place. While there’s a good deal of magic in the setting, magic is (compared to Forgotten Realms, at least) relatively rare and difficult enough to use that it’s not a solution to every problem. The heroes in Dragonlance have to solve problems using their wits and ingenuity, mostly, and they face enough challenges and hardships to make for a compelling tale.
  2. Dragonlance is a perfect candidate for the dark and gritty treatment.
    While it’s at heart a pretty kid-friendly series, Dragonlance has a lot of grimdark potential without being actually grimdark. The heroes in Dragonlance have real flaws and face real moral dilemmas, but they are still, for the most part actually heroes. Even Raistlin is sort of the exception that proves this rule, a character who is truly villainous but not so self-serving that he wants to watch the world burn. In terms of plot points, Dragonlance has some dark parts–the first encounter with the black dragon Khisanth in Xak’Tsaroth, Matafleur’s sacrifice, the nightmare in Silvanost, Kitiara’s attack on High Clerist’s Tower, Godshome–that would be amazing to see on screen.
  3. Dragonlance is full of dragons.
    Fantasy movies that do dragons well are few and far between, and they often end up being ironically well-loved rather than really appreciated for their merits. However, Game of Thrones is currently showing us just how far we’ve come with the ability to make CGI dragons in recent years, and I’d love to see some of Dragonlance’s dragons brought to life that way.
  4. Dragonlance has some great female characters.
    Well, again, maybe not great, but they definitely have a lot of potential. Kitiara is a pretty fascinating villain, and she could be written to be less creepily obsessed with sad sack Tanis. Goldmoon and Tika could both be adapted fairly easily. And Laurana is perhaps the most consistently heroic character in the books. She definitely has one of the most significant character arcs in the series as she grows from a spoiled, sheltered elven princess into a tough warrior, revered military leader, and canny politician.
  5. Dragonlance offers a lot of opportunities for diverse casting.
    Goldmoon and Riverwind are canonically people of color. Most of the elves in the series are described as tan to brown, and casting Laurana as a woman of color would be awesome. Kitiara is described in a way that could (and should, in my opinion) be interpreted as her being mixed race, and Tanis is explicitly so. If it was up to me, I’d cast Tika, Sturm, Caramon and Raistlin white, but probably none of the other main characters. And there are a lot of main characters.

Dragonlance isn’t a perfect series, not by a long-shot, and I do think it’s getting a little long in the tooth, but it would be so much better and more interesting than a Forgotten Realms movie. I’ll still be following the news on this project to see how it shapes up, but I expect that it’s going to disappoint a lot of Forgotten Realms fans by not including Drizzt, and it’s going to disappoint fantasy fans in general by being a generic, derivative turd. I guess we’ll find out if the project ever moves on to actually be produced.

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