Directed by Courtney Solomon, starring Jeremy Irons, Thora Birch, Justin Whalin, Marlon Wayans and Zoe McLellan.

Whether you're an expert RPG (role-playing game) player or have a complete aversion to computer games, you probably know of the existence of a game called 'Dungeons & Dragons'. From its inception in the late 1970s to its peak in the late 80s/early 90s, the game has achieved such ubiquity that if you haven’t played it, you most likely watched someone else play it. For those reluctant to enter the realm of the game, four hundred fantasy adventure books have been published under the D&D banner.

So it comes as quite a surprise that with such a high-profile product, the responsibility for big-budget committal to celluloid falls into the hands of first-time producer/director Courtney Solomon. Despite no film school training and no studio backing, Solomon has produced an epic, magical tale that mimics those of Spielberg and Lucas. The film's quest involves different classes of creatures and beings of various races ultimately joining forces for the greater good of the empire, which is thwarted by the ruthless ambition of the villainous Profion (Jeremy Irons). He plays the power-crazed baddie-masquerading-as-statesman under the rule of teenage Empress Savina (played by American Beauty’s Thora Birch). He usurps a magical sceptre from the Empress that controls Izmer’s golden dragons and her only chance to save the Empire is to locate the legendary Rod of Savrille, reputed to have the power to tame red dragons. Her quest is aided by petty thief Ridley (Justin Whalin) and his mischievous mate Snails (Marlon Wayans) who are drawn into the quest when caught breaking into the Magic School by Mage Marina (Zoe McLellan).

Along the way they are joined by Norda (an elf) and Elwood (a drunken dwarf) who assist the trio in their endeavours to find the mystical rod. Ridley and his unlikely gang of allies face a range of adversaries, including Xilus, (Richard O'Brien) a prince among thieves, who forces Ridley to navigate his way through an Indiana-Jones type medieval obstacle course. Their entire quest is shadowed by Profion’s dastardly emissary Damodar, played by Bruce Payne.

The plot sweeps along and there are definite parallels with Star Wars in the good versus evil elements of the Empire angle. Shot on location in Prague, the film includes many computer-generated sets which create an epic, magical backdrop, but are at times done to excess (electronic-fuelled blood spilling from slain dragons looks decidedly false). The effects are sparkling and the costumes are elaborate and magical. The cast is quite a mixed bag, with Irons over-playing the villain, Thora Birch doing her best Queen Amidala impersonation and leading lad Justin Whalin playing his role like every chisel-jawed American sitcom son. Ultimately it's an effects eye-feast for kids sprinkled lightly with adventure and plenty of (computer-generated) dragons, but slightly low on dungeons (and any real merit).

Sinéad Gleeson