Lost in Translation has covered a Dragonlance adaptation, the 2008 animated film, Dragons of Autumn Twilight, based on the novel by Margaret Weis and Tracy Hickman, which itself was based on the DL-series of modules released starting in 1982. The published adventures and the novels covered the War of the Lance as the heroes, Tanis Half-Elven, Raistlin and Caramon Majere, Goldmoon, Riverwind, Flint Fireforge, Tasslehoff Burrfoot, Sturm Brightblade, and, later, Tika Waylan, work to unite the nations of Krynn and recover the fabled Dragonlances, magical weapons capable of killing dragons. The story is an epic battle between good and evil, where gods walk the world.
The animated film showed the problems of trying to fit a novel into a ninety minute movie. The movie was accurate, but lost details and depth trying to get as much story on screen as possible. However, the world of Dragonlance, Krynn, has much more to it than shown in the novels. Game settings need a world for players to adventure in, even if the novels’ heroes are doing the heavy lifting. The setting includes two elven nations at odds with each other; the Silvanesti being insular and hidebound compared to the Qualinesti, who are hostile to outsiders. Yet, there’s room to deal with the corruption of the Silvanesti by the green dragon Beryl. Evil isn’t just afoot, it’s on the march.
There’s several ways to adapt the Dragonlance setting. The obvious one is to adapt the novels and learn the lessons from the 2008 animated movie. The core of the novels is the interaction between the characters; this draws from each character being played during playtesting of the modules. Film run times, even the longer ones at 150-180 minutes, don’t have the space for deep characterization, especially with a large cast. Add in battle scenes and there’s even less time for character moments. However, as A Game of Thrones demonstrated, television has the time to delve into a larger cast of characters. Unlike A Game of Thrones, the War of the Lance is complete. No waiting for the next book to be written.
Another option is to have new characters in a different part of Krynn as they fight in the War of the Lance. The drawback will be that the adaptation won’t have the characters fans are familiar with. However, DC Comics did have a short-lived Dragonlance comic in 1988 that featured new characters. Again, the best route would be television; a movie’s run time won’t be enough to get the background info across without taking away from screen time for the main plot.
If a film adaptation is needed, the best approach would be to break down each book to find good break points. This will turn a three book series into a six movies or more, but the loss of what the fans want will be minimized. The large cast will still be an issue, but might be handled better with the run times of half a dozen films.
The setting has a history and a future. Works have been set before the Cataclysm that marked the withdrawal of the gods from the world; others have been set after the War of the Lance. Dragonlance Legends involved magical time travel, so there are possibilities. The drawback is introducing the setting to a broader audience. Fans will know what the Cataclysm is; someone new to the setting won’t.
Dragonlance is a popular setting, with a greater success through the novels released, There is a fan base, but the setting can be closed to a more general audience. A successful adaptation will have to take the characters fans love and introduce the plot in a way that doesn’t leave the broader audience scratching their heads.
The Empire Strikes Back getting the Shakespeare treatment.
William Shakespeare’s Star Wars did well enough to get the next movie adapted the same way. An educator’s guide is also available.
Neil Gaiman updates on American Gods TV series.
HBO is out. Freemantle Media is in. No network has been announced. From the same journal post, Anansi Boys will be made into a TV miniseries for the BBC.
Help put clues together with Sherlock LEGO.
LEGO is still reviewing the idea, but a set of Sherlock minifigs are making their way through the review process. Other sets being considered are the Macross VF-1 Valkyrie and a Back to the Future DeLorean.
Barbarella TV series sets up at Amazon Studios.
A pilot script has been written and is now waiting for a showrunner. Amazon Studios is run by the online bookseller. Gaumont International Television, the producing company, is also involved with NBC’s Hannibal and Netflix’s Hemlock Grove.
Gal Gadot to play Wonder Woman in three films.
Besides appearing in Batman Vs Superman, Wonder Woman will appear in two other movies, so far unnamed. Ideally, one of the other two movies will be a Wonder Woman movie, but this is Warner, who can shoot their own foot at a hundred paces.
Transporter: The Series to air in US in fall.
This slipped right by me. Season two of the series, based on the Transporter movies, begins filming in February.
The Astronaut Wives Club gets ten episode summer run.
Based on the book of the same name by Lily Koppel, ABC will be airing the drama over the summer. Both the book and the series follows the lives of the women who were suddenly elevated after their astronaut husbands on Project Mercury made history as the first Americans in space.
Redshirts to become a limited TV series.
John Scalzi’s Redshirts is being adapted by FX as a limited series. Casting has not started yet. It’ll be interesting to see how the novel is adapted.
Black Widow solo movie in the works.
The Marvel Cinematic Universe keeps going. The Black Widow will be played, again, by Scarlett Johansson. The movie will delve into the background of the character.
Speaking of Marvel… Which studio can use which Marvel character? An infographic.
The surprising one was Namor over at Universal. He started as a Fantastic Four villain, has fought the Avengers, has been an Avenger, and has had his own series. The overlap is Quicksilver and the Scarlet Witch, who are tied heavily to both Avengers and X-Men continuity. Fox could easily commit to a Cable & Deadpool movie, while Power Pack falls under Marvel Studios.
Raving Rabbids to invade silver screen.
Ubisoft has been busy, getting deals to have Assassin’s Creed and Ghost Recon adapted to film. The latest of the efforts is Raving Rabbids, who already have a TV series.
And an update! A month ago, I reviewed the Dragonlance: Dragons of Autumn Twilight animated movie and the problems it had at adapting the original novel. Over at io9 this past week, Lauren Davis posted an argument on why Dragonlance should be the next fantasy franchise to be filmed. She has strong arguments. The only thing that could hold back a new adaptation is the failure of the animated movie. However, if ninety minutes was only enough for a shallow adaptation, two hours isn’t going to be enough time, either. Will people go for a six-movie fantasy series based on three books? Going back, I argued that TV may be better for some works than movies; Dragonlance is definitely one of those works. The television format allows for the development of longer arcs, such as Laurana’s growth from elf lass to military leader.
It’s a new year, it’s a new review. To ease back into reviewing, let’s look at somewhat lighter fare.
In 1984, the idea of a pre-packaged campaign world for Advanced Dungeons & Dragons was still new. TSR had a house settings, The World of Greyhawk, based on Gary Gygax’s home campaign. The idea first came from Tracy and Laura Hickman, who wrote two modules for TSR hoping to be paid for them after Tracy lost his job; instead, he was hired. He worked with several people at the company, including Margaret Weis, decided to create a new setting, one not seen before, one where TSR could tie together a campaign setting, a series of modules, and a tie-in novel trilogy. The result was Dragonlance.
To make Krynn, the world where the Dragonlance campaign would be set, different, the creators removed all divine magic from the world’s recent history. The result of the removal would mean that classes that depended on powers granted by deities – clerics, paladins, and druids – would be severely hampered at the start. The first modules, the name for published adventures, focused on the return of the gods of Krynn and set up the epic battle between Good and Evil. The modules’ events were mirrored by the first Dragonlance trilogy, written by Weis and Hickman.
The novels and the modules were based on the playtest campaign, where TSR staffers took the roles of the main characters – Tanis Half-Elven, Caramon and Raistlin Majere, Goldmoon, Flint, Tasslehoff, Tika, Laurana – and the results noted. Some changes occurred. Tasslehoff, one of the halfling-like race of kender, had managed to pick up a ring of invisibility; the writers realized that the combination would get a little to close to a certain hobbit for Legal’s comfort. The first novel, Dragons of Autumn Twilight, hit the New York Times bestseller list.* The novel did two things; it let players, including the Dungeon Master, get a feel for both the world and the plotlinem; and, it served as an introduction to AD&D to people who had never played but were curious.
A lot of the success of Dragonlance came from the characters. All of them were flawed in some way, and not all of them were good.** There was friction within the group, characters made poor decisions that came from their motives and goals, yet the fellowship could still come together to thwart evil. The setting expanded, in game material, in novels and short stories, in video games, and in comics. When D&D went to its third edition with new owner Wizards of the Coast, Margaret Weis Productions licensed and released a compatible version of Krynn.
In 2008, Paramount licensed the rights to make an animated Dragonlance feature from WotC. The movie, based on Dragons of Autumn Twilight, was to be the first of a trilogy based on the original Chronicles. With Kiefer Sutherland as Raistlin and Lucy Lawless as Goldmoon, the production team went for star power to draw in viewers while filling the rest of the cast with experienced voice actors***. The animation team made sure that the characters resembled their likenesses from the Larry Elmore covers. However, the movie had some issues. The animation, a mix of 2D and 3D techniques, clashed. The main characters were 2D, but had to fight such three-dimensional monsters as draconians and dragons. The 2D animation also became choppy in parts, jumping without a in-between work. The differences were jarring. The visuals for several spells also didn’t match the what the original descriptions in the Player’s Handbook. In particular, Fireball doesn’t smash into targets; it explodes instead. The Fireball spell as cast by Fizban resembled the lower level spell, Flaming Sphere.
Another problem was the running time; ninety minutes was just not long enough to cover Dragons of Autumn Twilight properly. The novel spent time with world-building, setting up the intricate balance between the different races and nations, introducing the elements that made Krynn a different campaign setting. One character’s death was moved to a different part of the story after the passage through Mount Nevermind, the home of the tinker gnomes, was removed entirely. The death becomes far more dramatic, though. Insufficient running time is an ongoing problem for novels depicting epics. Books can pack in a lot of information in their pages; it takes skill to be able to figure out what can and cannot be removed, and is much easier when there is no Book 2, 3, or, in the case of A Game of Thrones, 7. Blade Runner and Scott Pilgrim vs. the World both managed to extract the core story from the original works. Unfortunately, Dragons of Autumn Twilight became shallower with the removal of material.
A third issue came from the rating. Dragons of Autumn Twilight is a swords and sorcery tale. Swords and axes mean bloody corpses, and blunt weapons like maces and staves aren’t much better. The movie received a PG-13 rating because of the “fantasy action violence”, and while charred, featureless corpses were allowed, blood was reduced, to the point where swords were clean even after striking goblins. Fortunately, the draconians could be stabbed; on death, the creatures turned to stone. Still, to avoid the R rating, the blood needed to be cleaned up some.
With Dragons of Autumn Twilight not faring well, it appears that the next two books, Dragons of Winter Night and Dragons of Spring Dawning will not be adapted, at least as animated features. Cindi Rice, the co-executive producer, estimated that a live-action adaptation of the book would cost around US$75 million. While that is far less than many of the blockbusters that failed in 2013, Dragonlance doesn’t have the namespace among the general public that would get studios to take the risk to finance the adaptation.
The animated Dragons of Autumn Twilight comes out as a “nice try”. Ignoring the animation issues, the running time was the biggest drawback, not giving viewers the time to properly experience the setting or the story.
Next week, the adaptational news round up.
* TSR’s publishing arm did well with fiction and was willing to take risks that other publishers wouldn’t. The Edgar-winning novel, Bimbos of the Death Sun by Sharyn McCrumb, was first published by TSR after McCrumb passed her manuscript along to Margaret Weis.
** Or even Good; Raistlin, in particular, started with a Neutral alignment and shifted to Evil over the course of the novels.
*** This isn’t to say that the leads weren’t inexperienced. Both Sutherland and Lawless had a number of voice acting prior to Dragons of Autumn Twilight, though they weren’t primarily known for such work.