You can’t really tell the teased story Dungeons & Dragons: Honor Thieves is quirky, but that’s part of what makes it so appealing.
At San Diego Comic-Con 2022, Paramount Pictures took the lead by opening the first Comic-Con of the Covid-19 era with a preview of Dungeons & Dragons: Honor Thievesa big budget film based on the popular fantasy role-playing game.
Set in the official Forgotten Realms campaign setting, honor among thieves follows a set of misfits – an all-star cast of Chris Pine, Michelle Rodriguez, Regé-Jean Page, Justice Smith and Sophia Lillis – who accidentally unleash an evil menace. To save the world, this ragtag group must steal an ancient relic to set things right.
With its trailer to Led Zeppelin’s “Whole Lotta Love” and two clips screened in Hall H highlighting the film’s action and humor, honor among thieves promises an exuberant heist in a world of magic like an old Guardians of the Galaxy. In other words, it feels like the epitome of D&D, leading fans online to praise the film for capturing the vibe of their own D&D games at home.
In a conversation with Reverseproducer Jeremy Latcham and co-writers and directors Jonathan Goldstein and John Francis Daley (the latter of whom played a D&D fanatic in the teen comedy Freaks & Geeks) say the familiarity was intentional.
“It goes back to D&D the game,” Goldstein said. Reverse. “When you’re playing a campaign, you’re never very serious all the time. It wouldn’t be a D&D movie if it was dark and gritty and not fun. That informed the tone we wanted to take.
“It’s in the twists and turns that I think the real story exists,” says producer Jeremy Latcham. “For example, you start a quest from X, along the way you realize you need Y, then you learn something about each other. Someone who has never played D&D can following the characters. For me, that’s key, along with tone and character. These guys do it really well.
At Comic-Con, Goldstein and Daley talked about their individual histories with Dungeons & Dragons, the most popular paper-and-pencil RPG since its release in 1974. It’s now published by Wizards of the Coast, which has credited the game with sales record high in 2020. Both directors show a solid understanding of what makes the D&D experience true to type: deadly serious stakes and jaw-dropping gaffes.
“It was just about injecting [our movie] with the spirit of playing a D&D game,” says Goldstein, “there’s improv, laughs, life and death stakes, and lots of emotion and heart, too.
Although Dungeons & Dragons is a story game, the filmmakers did not write their script over the sessions. “It could have been a bit difficult to work with,” says John Francis Daley, adding that part of the film’s success depended on the casting process.
“We kept in mind that there are fundamental strengths and weaknesses for each of the characters,” he says. “It was something we were aware of when we were developing them.” When casting, the filmmakers looked for actors who could work in “conjunction” with the traits of their class archetypes. “I think we were specific enough to make sure they all felt evocative,” Daley adds.
In the center of honor among thieves is its basic premise as a heist movie. Never mind the mimics, owls and displacement beasts that await the heroes. “We knew we wanted to make it a heist movie,” Daley explains. “We thought that was really juicy territory to explore. The big challenge was narrowing it down and making sure it didn’t feel like everything was going all over the place, or that it didn’t didn’t grasp too much on too many ideas and became overwhelming.
Thanks to a plethora of source books, acclaimed novels, comics, and live broadcasts with stories that are now part of official Dungeons & Dragons lore, honor among thieves has a vast canon to draw from. For filmmakers, understanding a story to tell was quite difficult. But finding the balance between all the Easter Eggs that will earn Dungeon Masters veterans’ approval and telling a story that everyone can enjoy was like facing Tiamat herself.
“It was very important to us to make a movie that hardcore fans could enjoy, but we never want to alienate those who don’t know the game,” Goldstein says. “I think if you go down that Easter egg rabbit hole too far, you start losing non-fans because they start thinking, ‘There’s something going on that I don’t understand!’ We wanted to make sure we were playing for both, and part of that was limiting the amount of exposure needed.
“We always double-checked proper names to make sure we didn’t bog the audience down with too many references,” Daley adds. “It’s all fairly true to tradition as much as possible without detracting from the film.”
honor among thieves still has a lot to prove before anyone can call Dungeons & Dragons the next great cinematic universe. The filmmakers, of course, roll the dice and hope they land well. But they’re not arrogant enough to believe it’s a critical hit just yet.
“We can’t know what the future holds,” says Goldstein. “Obviously we would like this movie to be so successful that it becomes a franchise. We think it has that potential. We have tried to create characters and a world that allow that, but we don’t want to forget our spurs .
Latcham, whose production credits include films from the Marvel Cinematic Universe like Iron Man, The Avengers, guardians of the galaxyand Spider-Man: Homecomingknows firsthand the importance of not resting on one’s laurels.
“As the world fractures, you come together and escape into this thing.”
“I came to produce with Kevin Feige at Marvel, and one of the things I would say is, ‘We should save that idea for the second movie. Kevin was like, “There’s no second movie,” Latcham said. “If it’s a good idea, put it in the first movie. I don’t think we ever held back. Everything in the movie is there to make this movie great. We put everything we needed to make it fun and rewarding. If we get the chance to revisit, there are a million things to explore. But we tried to explore it all [here] so it would be a completely confined experience.
Like any D&D game, there could be another session, or an indefinite hiatus until everyone’s schedules free up. There’s never a guarantee when everyone will be able to play again, but this time, Dungeons & Dragons: Honor Thieves will tell the story of a family found against all odds. It’s a story we’ve all experienced at our own tables before and will seek out again and again.
“People play D&D [now] because they’re looking for something,” observes Latcham. “We have been through difficult times, everyone is on screens and isolated at home. It’s hard to talk to your friends for three hours, but you can participate in D&D and explore those relationships and make deeper connections. That’s what D&D has become for people over the past few years. As the world fractures, you come together and escape into this thing.
Dungeons & Dragons: Honor Thieves will hit theaters in March 2023.