AD&D 1e The Movie
I’ve heard friends, gamers and many people online prattle on and on about a Dungeons and Dragons movie: they argue about what campaign setting it should be, what novel it should be (half the fanboys out there seem to want a Drizzt movie, which would be fine and dandy, but it would be more of a Drizzt movie and less of a Dungeons and Dragons movie). The biggest fear that I have and that many others have expressed is that whatever studio does a D&D movie will probably hand craft a bland, unoriginal backdrop and overload it with Michael Bay special effects, which would distract from the fact they didn’t think up a plot that it would ultimately fail to capture the spirit of the game, making it unlikable for fans and non-fans alike. But I digress.
I spent the last two years off and on, wracking my brain about what would make a good D&D movie, even going as far as writing down notes for a D&D-themed novel. I came up with a pretty decent idea, but it simply wasn’t enough. Something important was missing. Recently three events have guided me to figure it out once and for all. A film that will not only appeal to fans of Dungeons and Dragons, but a film that would appeal to a broad audience outside of the hobby as well. The three things that lead me to this awesome discovery are as follows:
1- I was watching The Greatest Showman, a modern musical after over a decade of no decent musicals. This movie was uplifting and had an excellent plot. I didn’t care for the style of music at first, but after watching it three more times it sunk in and I have even caught myself humming it in the car on my way to work in the morning. This in and of itself didn’t lead me to the big idea for a D&D movie, but it has hung in the background of my dusty old brains.
2- I was watching The Office, in particular the episode in which the character Andy is released from his position by Robert California and begins writing a 70s-style rock opera. Again, this stuck in the back of my mind as I love rock opera (the One-winged Angel them for Final Fantasy 7 was inspired by 70s rock operas), but it wasn’t enough to fully inspire me to come up with the ultimate film treatment.
3- Finally, I was watching That 70s Show, and it all came together on the episode in which Hot Donna’s boss is revealed to be a player of Dungeons and Dragons. Suddenly it came crashing together and formed into a sustainable orb of brilliance.
So what’s the big idea for the movie? I’ll tell you: The movie will be set during the early 1980s, right at the start of the Satanic Panic. The film will center on a group of five players who come together after school in a small southern town, each one representing a different social dilemma.
The first character, the Dungeon Master, opens the movie with a 70s-themed musical number in which he is pouring over his notebooks and game manuals, producing tables and maps for his campaign. Here is where we can have a truly dazzling intro with special effects creating a kaleidoscope of fantasy imagery, including several iconic characters and themes from the Advanced Dungeons and Dragons 1st edition books. He then goes to school and we find that he is extremely shy and awkward around his peers (essentially running D&D games is how he is able to break out of his shell and socialize with other people).
The second character is a young black male who is ostracized by his black peers for being scholarly, and at the same time he is not taken seriously by his teachers or white classmates for being a minority. He joins the D&D game when he talks to the DM about his flyer he puts up in the library advertising his game. He explains that D&D has a mix of different races that work together in spite of their different cultural and racial backgrounds. The black teen falls in love with the wizard class, comparing it to the sciences he loves so much and has an epiphany that the universe is filled with mysteries and he can use his accumulated knowledge to unravel their secrets to improve life for people.
The third character is a teenage girl who allows herself to be bossed around by other people and is expected to be a proper lady in her austere southern family’s household. She has a boyfriend who tells her he is going to the library after school to play in a game with some friends and drags her along with. The boyfriend is an obnoxious douchebag who annoys the other players and the DM, causing an argument that results in him being kicked from the group (and I should also add that when the DM asks if the girl would like to join, the boyfriend says that she wouldn’t get any of it because she’s just a chick). He drags the teenage girl with him, but as they leave she looks at the game they were playing with curiosity. She later encounters the DM in a class where he explains the game to her. When she joins she plays as a ranger and falls in love with the idea that she can be independent and make her own choices, seeking out new roads and new horizons.
The fourth character is a lackadaisical youth who plays as a rogue in the game. He has no aspirations and suffers from a low self-esteem, which compels him to believe that no amount of effort on his part will help him succeed: there will always be people bigger, stronger and more skilled than him. As his thief levels up and he improves his skills he learns that if he actually practices what he is passionate about (musical instruments) he can master his talents. Eventually he performs in front of the school, faltering somewhat, but showing his music teacher that he has made great strides and shows true potential.
The fifth character is a stern boy who doesn’t care about other people, but as he plays his cleric he comes to see how kind acts and helping other people are a source of strength, and he begins to appreciate the talents that other people bring to any group.
The adventures the players have and the musical numbers reflect social clashes in the real world, including rejection from peers and parents. Everything builds up to the Satanic Panic when the principal bans the D&D group from the school and parents mount a protest to find and eliminate all of the books in the community. After the group disbands, the DM falls into a downward spiral of depression as his parents and other members of the community view his hobby as a detriment to his well-being. His friends help pull him through this and eventually he is sent to talk to his church leader about his gaming hobby. The church leader expresses concern with the depictions of devils and sorcery in the book and worries that he is involved in the occult. The DM explains that it’s all make-believe and that the demons and other monsters in the book are akin to the trials people face on a day to day basis, and the best chance people have of overcoming their various obstacles is by standing together in a spirit of cooperation and friendship, and working their hardest to master new skills and bolster each other’s weaknesses until they can cooperatively do very hard things that no individual can do.
Though the group is unable to continue playing their games, they eventually meet up after college, each having mastered a profession. The characters who have married and raised children are then introduced to a later edition of D&D and start up their own adventures.
The movie should focus heavily on the culture of the late 70s/early 80s and mirror the events of the time, and possibly parallel current issues in which we see too many divisions in society. The music should be uplifting (like with The Greatest Showman) and convey a strong message of interracial/political/religious/whatever harmony, demonstrating that, like D&D, life is meant to be enjoyed by everyone and not solely one group. Along these lines there should be indicators in the dialogue that the characters all have different religious and political leanings, but their differences and little arguments should never spill over into serious contention as their journey together shows that everyone has enough similarities that such things as political ideologies are superfluous in the greater scheme of things.