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TSR's Lost 1980s Dungeons and Dragons Movie Script, Reviewed 167

An anonymous reader writes: Over at the Escapist, games historian Jon Peterson (of Playing at the World) reviews a recently-unearthed copy of James Goldman's 1982 script for a Dungeons & Dragons movie. The synopsis sounds even worse than the Jeremy Irons Dungeons & Dragons film from 2000, if such a thing is possible. Given the resolution of recent legal problems paving the way for a new D&D cinematic universe, will we have better luck with the franchise today? How can you translate the interactive experience of D&D into a compelling movie?
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TSR's Lost 1980s Dungeons and Dragons Movie Script, Reviewed

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  • LOTR (Score:3, Insightful)

    by Kiaser Zohsay ( 20134 ) on Friday September 11, 2015 @08:34AM (#50502029)

    After all, D&D was really an interactive version of Tolkein's world to begin with, wasn't it?

    • Even better would be Futurama: Bender's Game.

    • To an extent, yes.

      D&D isn't actually just one universe. It's a number of settings linked by some core board-game source material. The problem in translating it to the big screen is that its best-known settings - Forgotten Realms and Greyhawk, I suspect - are fairly undistinguished "generic fantasy" stuff, with bog standard elves, dwarves, wizards and so on, which are going to seem horribly clichéd to the modern audience used to watching Game of Thrones on TV. It has some more "out there" sett

      • I don't think any settings are too esoteric for audiences to enjoy a good story set within them. In the final equation, people are people, even if they're modrons. Audiences will enjoy seeing, and pay to see, the heroes relating to each other, their enemies, and the funky environment they have to navigate, as long as the story excites them and the characters ring true.

        Which, of course, they won't. A good story requires good writing, and most movie executives place pretty damn close to zero value on story

        • Spelljammer already happened. It was called Treasure Planet,
        • Well, I suppose the big problem is that, though you may have D&D fans like crazy (husband is one, I never had the patience for it), you never really had a canon story that people can get into: no inside jokes to cheer at, no story beats to hold your breath in anticipation of, no great epics that you could introduce anyone to as "great storytelling".

          Great if you WANT to be creative and make your own adventure. Bad if you're an executive that wants the comfort of having a property that is popular enough

      • I think playing it straight in-universe in any of the settings is probably missing the mark, even though that's exactly what the movie will end up doing.

        There are tons of excellent fantasy properties out there, including the aforementioned GoTs, that are already story-driven because, well, they're stories. The whole point of D&D is to make your own story and frontal cortex your way out of tight situations--the now-cliched generic fantasy stuff** is just the wall covering that keeps a set of mechanic
        • by Quirkz ( 1206400 )

          Or they could do a Lego Movie meta-style "you can create worlds and have your own adventures with imagination" thing. Flash in and out of fantasy action as it's imagined, and back to the real world where the players are collaborating.

      • One word: Spelljammer.

    • My mind is on 1980s tech.
      I hear TSR I think (Terminate and stay resident programs) [wikipedia.org] the precursor to drivers.
      Then LOTR I am thinking of Legend of the Red Dragron.

    • Hawk the Slayer was the definitive 1980s D&D movie. The plot is exactly like one of those pre-designed adventure source books, and the acting is about on a par with typical D&D players (which is to say excellent but kinda chewing the scenery).

      The guy behind it is trying to get a sequel called Hawk the Hunter made on Kickstarter right now. It's not going very well, which is a shame.

  • It's roughly the same dumb premise. If you asked a movie company to make a fictional movie about baseball, it would be a complete disaster. Lots of good films about baseball players, or baseball teams. But not about baseball in general. "Let's capture all of baseball in this film." It would be nuts.

    Same thing here. "D&D" is just a framework in which fantasies are played out. Most are fun to engage with, but ultimately have very boring narratives to an external audience.

    Gotta make the movie about something smaller.

    • by Toshito ( 452851 )

      It depends on what genre of film you want to make.

      You could make a fantasy movie that draws on the D&D imaginary world. No dice, no DM, just draw on the vast D&D lore.

      Or you could make a dramatic movie, where you see D&D players, and how the game influences their lives.

  • by Fire_Wraith ( 1460385 ) on Friday September 11, 2015 @08:43AM (#50502097)
    With anything, whether it's a superhero/comic book movie, a video game movie, or a D&D/Fantasy genre movie, you need a good story and a good script. You absolutely can't rely on the IP itself to make things good. It also has to be capable of appealing both to the original fans, and to the wider audience that knows jack about it. There have been good, and bad, examples of each of these. You're definitely not going to get away with just having a two hour commercial, or with something so cheesy that people can't get into the story, etc.

    But it can be done, and when it happens, people in Hollywood will be falling all over themselves to make more (many of which will suck - see the recent Fantastic Four movie for instance, or, better yet, don't). I'm particularly interested to see how the World of Warcraft movie is going to turn out, because from the sound of it, they have a good story, a good director, and a general good idea of how to present their product on film. Sure, it'll be a CGI-fest, but that's kind of to be expected when going with that sort of environment.

    That said, Blizzard does know how to tell a story. I remain unconvinced that anyone in D&D-land (WoTC/Hasbro/etc) knows how to do that on the big screen.
    • by Dracos ( 107777 )

      WoTC never understood D&D, and Hasbro only understands board games. This is part of why there have been 3.5 versions of D&D since WoTC bought out TSR. I'm not sure how D&D could be packaged as a movie franchise, or why any studio would want to back it.

      • The thing is, there is tons of stories already produced under the D&D franchise.

        I grew up reading them... Forgotten Realms, Dragonlance, Ravenloft, Dark Sun, etc.

        The pool already exists, you just need one of the authors to come on board and there you go...

        • by Dracos ( 107777 )

          The thing about almost every D&D setting is that they are either a clone of something else (chiefly Tolkien), or don't represent what most people think of first about D&D (Dark Sun, Planescape, and Ravenloft aren't generic fantasy). I'm pretty sure Dragonlance is simply off the table, as it were.

          Movie studios want a built-in audience, and as Marvel and DC know well, audience is attached to characters, not setting. What characters does D&D have with an audience big enough to pique a studio's in

          • by Zumbs ( 1241138 )
            Why is Dragonlance off the table?
            • by Dracos ( 107777 )

              Because the book authors have severed all ties with the game.

              • by Zumbs ( 1241138 )
                I don't quite see how that makes a Dragonlance movie impossible? Depending on the contract between Margaret Weis, Tracy Hickman and TSR and any ill will they may harbor against each other, that is.
                • by Durrik ( 80651 )
                  I don't know for sure, but I don't think that Weis & Hickman own the copyright on Dragonlance. I know that both were employed by TSR when the books were written for TSR. Since they were published by TSR while Weis and Hickman were employed by TSR they'd be considered 'Works for Hire'. Which means that TSR -> WotC -> Hasbro owns the copyright on the Dragonlance novels and world.

                  There may have been a supplemental agreement that gave them ownership of Dragonlance, but if that doesn't exist that

                • by Dracos ( 107777 )

                  IIRC, Weis & Hickman had a falling out with TSR around the time the Saga System was released because they didn't want Dragonlance to be D&D anymore, and the Saga System sucked. I'm pretty sure W&H own the DL IP, and only licensed it to TSR.

      • If Hasbro only understood board games then there would be no brony (My Little Pony) fandom. Any nebulous subject needs to be approached in a similar way to Hasbro's reboot of it's 80's (and much smaller and trite) property.

        1. Find someone with both talent and passion for the subject.

        2. Give them time to develop concept/treatment, allowing them to grow their own team.

        3. Keep the restrictions minimal, and follow their lead

        4, Avoid tailoring the project to fit merchandising, but let the merchandising follow th

  • You can't (Score:5, Insightful)

    by Higaran ( 835598 ) on Friday September 11, 2015 @08:45AM (#50502113)
    It doesn't work. D&D is all about making your own experience, it just like how almost every video game movie sucks. You could in theory make a good movie that is set in the D&D universe but you need a $100 million dollar budget and someone like Peter Jackson to make it. This will never happen, it will have a piddly budget, and some no name director, I actually believe that Vin Diesel would be a good director for this movie, since he has been a big D&D guy for years. The best D&D cross over to video that I've seen is actually the Futurama episidoe Benders Game.
    • Or something like the "Breakfast Club" where the weird, geek, goth, jock, and stoner are all forced together for X amount of time, only distractions being a D&D game...

      • The TV show "Community" actually had two episodes of people playing D&D much as you describe, and both are excellent.
    • by vux984 ( 928602 )

      The community D&D episodes were pretty brilliant too.

    • by Zumbs ( 1241138 )

      Depends on what you actually mean. If by making a D&D movie, you mean an interactive experience with friends, you are right. Movies are not interactive.

      If you mean making a movie that captures how you and your friends act when playing, Zombie Orpheus and Dead Gentlemen Productions have made a number of awesome comedies in the Gamers [youtube.com] series [youtube.com].

      If you mean making a movie that features a party of adventurers having adventures ... there are a lot of those. Most Hollywood movies of that type follow the hero an

  • The best D&D movie is the one that plays in your imagination during a gaming session.

    The experience simply cannot be replicated by Hollywood - no matter how hard they try.
  • by xxxJonBoyxxx ( 565205 ) on Friday September 11, 2015 @08:56AM (#50502183)

    >> How can you translate the interactive experience of X into a compelling movie?

    You can't. Quit trying. See "Mortal Kombat", "Street Fighter", "D&D", "In the Name of the King" (Dungeon Siege) and the upcoming turd of a Warcraft movie for examples.

    • /sarcasm But come on, I mean "Super Mario Bros." the movie (1993) now was such a paragon of quality movie making .. NOT !

      "Everything Wrong With Super Mario Bros. In 21 Minutes Or Less"
      * https://www.youtube.com/watch?... [youtube.com]

      "Game Theory: Why Video Game Movies SUCK!"
      * https://www.youtube.com/watch?... [youtube.com]

      • Who the hell is going to waste 21 minutes to find out all that was wrong with the Super Mario Bros movie?

        It can be summed up as: lame assed live action adaptation of video game which was always going to suck. Nothing about that game was ever going to work in a live action adaptation without being terrible: not the characters, not the visuals, and not the plot. Because NO video game inspired movie had ever been successful before, and I'm hard pressed to think of any since which have been any better.

        Same

    • by shuz ( 706678 )

      You forgot "Doom". *shudder* However there were a few ok to good ones. Super Mario Bro's, Wing Commander, Final Fantasy, The Resident Evil series.

      • >> there were a few ok to good ones. Super Mario Bro's, Wing Commander, Final Fantasy, The Resident Evil series.

        Let me know what drugs you were on when you saw those. There'd be a hell of a market for those kind of uppers.

        • by GTRacer ( 234395 )
          Can't vouch for the quality of Wing Commander or Resident Evil, but Final Fantasy 13 had some excellent storytelling mixed into the expected action setpieces.
      • by vux984 ( 928602 )

        Wing Commander was terrible. The kilrathi ended up looking like Robot Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles. Then there were the Sonar in space? And that scene where they push the wreckage of the landing strip on the carrier, and it *falls* over the side... ? That movie is awful. I think someone took a shitty naval or submarine movie and said... ok... use this, just use spaceships instead of ships... ships is ships, amirite!!

        Final Fantasy -- meh... I didn't care for it, but it was anime and I'm pretty picky about an

    • Maybe when franchise owners learn to steer clear of Uwe Boll we might see a rise in quality.

    • Here's the deal though... You watched all of these movies...

      You will fall for it again... What are you going to do? NOT watch the movie? pfft...

    • by Zumbs ( 1241138 )
      They don't have to suck. Dead Gentlemen Productions and Zombie Orpheus made the Gamers series where the tabletop RPG fused with the action in the game. Sure, they are cheap indie productions, poking good hearted fun at ourselves, and unlikely to become smash its, but ... they are quite a lot of fun. If you are into foreign movies, Astrópía [imdb.com] is pretty good, and could, feasibly be interesting to a wider audience.
    • Ah, yes.... but Prince of Persia did kick ass.
  • We will all mourn the loss of very funny remarks about Tom STUD-MAN and his car-racing friend Fearless McHairychest, and their adventures battling stop-motion dragons.

  • Forgotten Realms being one of the major ones, has an entire series of books with a set story line and characters with a rich history.

    • by Dracos ( 107777 )

      The only D&D book character a studio would want to adapt is Drizzt Do'Urden. Built-in audience is a huge studio requirement these days, and Dark Elves haven't been on the big screen before.

  • From the linked article:

    its two low-budget

    Unless that movie had two different streams of money or there's an underlying lingo, I think I have found a real treasure in it.

  • The only way to do this is to have a sense of humor about it. There's nothing appealing about watching a bunch of nerds taking a game way too seriously - even playing D&D, the best games happen with people who have fun with it and embrace the fact that there's a bit of absurdity inherent in the process. That doesn't preclude drama or action, either. Anybody who has seen the Community D&D episode knows that you can mock D&D and celebrate it simultaneously.

  • I'd pay to see a movie based off of the Dragonlance Chronicles. That is if Margaret and Tracy were to allow it. Who would be cast as Hasslehoff I wonder?

    • Who would be cast as Hasslehoff I wonder?

      Are you imagining a Dragonlance - Bay Watch cross-over, or just typo'd Tasslehoff?

    • There actually was an adaption of Dragons of Autumn Twilight [youtube.com] done in 2008, and when I discovered it was really excited - right up until I'd watched about 5 minutes of it. It was so bad - a cross of underbaked CGI, 1980s "G.I. Joe" like animation, and bad voice acting (even Kiefer Sutherland couldn't save it) - that I almost regret mentioning it here. It doesn't even deserve to be in a Wal-Mart bin full of "Please Buy Me for $0.99!" movies (which is probably why hardly anyone knows about it).

      I hope they do

      • It's not just the animation (3D dragons on 2D drawings) and the acting that sucked. They got the story wrong in several places. Watch the ending for Elistan and Laurana if you want to make your brain explode. Totally phoned in.
    • by Zumbs ( 1241138 )
      I was actually thinking something along those lines, myself. Those three books more than anything defined that world for me. They have lots of action, comedy and mystery to them, and they are a full stand-alone series. The first book could even stand on its own.
  • by DutchUncle ( 826473 ) on Friday September 11, 2015 @09:24AM (#50502331)
    Sorry, cut off: Zombie Orpheus Entertainment.

    The first one, a college film-student production, was fun and silly. The second, "Gamers 2: Dorkness Rising" (recently revived through crowdfunding support), was a bit better as a real movie that might appeal to non-players. The third, "Gamers 3: Hands of Fate", shifts focus to collectible card gaming (CCG) (though suggesting that roleplaying improves the CCG experience) and the craziness of conventions (cosplay, competitive gaming, etc.); this disappointed a portion of the crowdfunding audience that expected more continuation of the RPG-focus characters and story. The same folks have also produced a webseries "Natural 1" in a similar vein. The presentation jumps between the real world of players around a table, and the imagined world of characters in the story world, sometimes mixing the story world with voice-over narration from the real world.

    Similar style may be seen in the webcomic "Table Titans" by Scott Kurtz (already known for "PVP"). Of course, in a drawn comic, it is possible to make a more dynamic and fluid transition between elements of "real" and "story" worlds; sometimes the imagined snow-covered forest looms over the "real" table and players, and sometimes the casually-clad DM walks through the imagined location, and occasionally the players around the table are shown in costume as if they had forgotten which world they are in.

    The hardest question is: Is this a movie about a D&D adventure, or is this a movie about playing D&D? If an adventure, then forget the game, you can't do it, just do LOTR instead. If it's about moving from the real world into an imaginary one, then you're making "The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe", whether it's a piece of furniture, or a mystic portal opened by "magic"/"science", or a tabletop game gone wrong. What I enjoy about "The Gamers" movies (and especially "Natural 1") is that they are, to some extent, about the people, not the game; the people for whom this regular gathering is an important part of their social circle, and the ways in which the in-game interactions reflect who they are, or who they wish they were.
    • Books: See also Diane Duane, "Omnitopia", about people creating an immersive game, and the server AI becoming a bit more independent than intended (a la Mycroft in Heinlein's "The Moon is a Harsh Mistress").
    • I fully agree, the Gamers films are what a D&D movie should be- focus on the people at the table, the funny storytelling, the stupid jokes, and make it just an awesome story. Have Joss Wheadon write it and just go crazy.
  • by Predathar ( 658076 ) on Friday September 11, 2015 @09:57AM (#50502661)
    Just bring the Drizzt Do'Urden books to the big screen, I'd go see that.
    • But who could possibly act the part of Drizzt? After all, the guy was so dexterous that every move he made was "impossibly fast"....

      Funny thing is, I seem to recall that the movie on this series almost happened at some point around 10 years ago... I think it got as far as casting before it was dropped.

  • by Vyse of Arcadia ( 1220278 ) on Friday September 11, 2015 @10:09AM (#50502781)

    One of the problems with every D&D movie attempt up until this point is that they're always about end-of-campaign type things. But D&D is fun for the entire campaign. Especially since HBO's Game of Thrones has demonstrated strongly that gritty low-magic fantasy has a large audience, I think it would help a D&D movie to focus on low-level adventures. Like, levels 1 - 3, where Magic Missile (the bottle rocket of evocation spells) is the flashiest thing your Wizard can do, and even then just once per day.

    I think a trilogy of movies, low-level, mid-level, and high-level, could actually do very well. The caveat being that the first movie would have to be very good to ensure the sequels aren't just wasted cash.

    • True... origin stories are some of the most fun because there is inherently a ton of major character development. I also think D&D tends to be a blast when you are one or two hits from being wiped out at any given time... when you have single digit hit points you think seriously about your choices in combat.

    • They always do this though....

      As a matter of fact, I have rarely seen a movie where the hero was already a level 20+ badass...

      It always seems to start with the blossoming of their "powers" then a reluctant phase followed by a montage which results in a badass...

      • I freely admit that I couldn't stand to watch the D&D movies sober, but I distinctly remember one of the heroes casting a 9th level spell at some point and bitching about it loudly until someone put more alcohol in my mouth. But regardless, you gotta admit they were doing 20th level end-of-campaign stuff by the end of the movies. Not even with a montage in a couple of them.
    • Let me fix that for you...

      Especially since HBO's Game of Thrones has demonstrated strongly that gritty low-magic, T&A-filled fantasy has a large audience

  • The other issue is that many of the people who play D&D don't pay for movies, and of the ones that do, there aren't enough of them for a movie to make money.

    Most recent examples are the Firefly movie and Veronica Mars - This great groundswell of geeks that would rise up and fund these films into the stratosphere never really materialized.
    • by Zumbs ( 1241138 )
      The last 15 years of superhero comic book adaptions has proved otherwise. Back in the 90s and before most adaptions were somewhere between passable and excruciatingly bad, typically low budget. Now this staple of geek culture has become main stream and immensely popular, due to a number of very good movie adaptions.
  • by indros13 ( 531405 ) * on Friday September 11, 2015 @11:24AM (#50503513) Homepage Journal
    One major reason the 2000-era movie sucked was that D&D is a universe to tell stories in, not itself a compelling story. As others have mentioned, there are many fantasy books whose characters have been in the D&D universe that make good stories, but a "D&D movie" doesn't even make sense, unless you consider the "summoner geeks" short animation. https://www.youtube.com/watch?... [youtube.com] That's what a D&D movie means to me.
    • D&D isn't even a setting, it's a set of rules. The closest D&D was to being "a setting" was in the BECMI days when the rulebooks presented "The Known World" of Urt (later, Mystara) as the default setting. But that wasn't D&D, that was Urt/Mystara.
  • How could Gygax approve of a script that rarely if ever mentions anything from the actual game?
    Imagine if any of the Marvel films that weren't anything remotely like the comics?
    Having a someone not familiar with the game write the script is akin to the TSR move of giving the reins to a CEO who hated D&D and gamers in general.

    If this film had been made it would have achieved the following:
    1) Infuriated D&D fans.
    2) Confused and bored non D&D fans.

    Someone familiar with the game should
  • by QilessQi ( 2044624 ) on Friday September 11, 2015 @11:37AM (#50503631)

    The story begins with Tom Boyman, a 23-year-old Californian who has finally saved up enough money to begin his studies at Yale.

    I guess the name "Tom Manchild" was taken?

    On his way to catch the bus east, he meets Milton "Fearless" Gilroy, a car racer who convinces him to go to a county fair before leaving.

    If you race cars, it's important to have a nickname which tells people that you are brave, because otherwise they would have no way of knowing that.

    At the fair, Tom chances upon Margot Champion, a senior at Wellesley who is summering in California at an archaeological dig

    She was accompanied by her brother Victor Champion, her sister Hero Champion. and her cousin Winnie McWinsalot. But they don't do much in this movie.

    The three of them strike up a friendship and visit the dig site that night, where, among howling winds, a mysterious power brings them all to another world.

    It's called "peyote".

    They awake near a strange body of water, where an oared galley awaits them. From this ship emerges Odo, a water-walking cleric, who bids them to come along. He then transfers the water-walking ability to the party, who join him on board--

    Why does he need to walk on water if he has a ship? Is it that he's clumsy and falls overboard a lot, and can't swim? And why do Baby Manboy and his two friends need to walk on water to get to a ship that's supposedly been waiting for them? Don't they have docks, or gangplanks, or launches? How did all the oarsmen get on board? Do they need to walk on water too?

    --to travel to the island of the Master. The Master explains that he, and this world, were created by the Onelord. Every seven hundred years, the power of the Master fades, and a Child will be found who is destined to replace the Master. However, because "nothing can exist without its opposite," the Onelord also created the Nightking, who is "dark beyond your powers to imagine," and whose strength grows as that of the Master fades. So a Chosen One is summoned from our world to help maintain the balance. The Master reveals that Tom is this Chosen One, and charges him with an urgent quest: the Child has been discovered, but has already been kidnapped by the Nightking, and can be saved only by Tom.

    Ok, I totally want to watch this movie now.

    • I'm so frickin' tired of that (looking at you, Sherlock Holmes sequel!). Can't we have a movie about some people, or elves, whatever, who just want to loot a dungeon, and maybe along the way they run into something bigger but does it have to be The Whole World Hangs in the Balance? Basically The Hobbit, but less sucky?
      • Exactly my thoughts. Also, stop with the "the protagonists are from Earth" framing nonsense. If it's a D&D fantasy story then set it in the fantasy world, period.

  • There's one way I can see a movie being made that wouldn't suck: bringing D&D characters into this world a la Inkheart.

  • Give the entire audience the dice. And every so often they'd have to roll them and yell out their numbers. The most rolled number would decide the next scene. Hey, it worked for Dr. Sardonicus...well...sort of. ;)
  • The synopsis sounds even worse than the Jeremy Irons Dungeons & Dragons film from 2000, if such a thing is possible.

    It's not.

    Seriously, that's about the worst movie I've ever seen. I have trouble believing its possible to make a movie worse and still get it released and seen. That's likely how the script got "lost" in the first place.

  • I still think even though the 2001 D&D movie was flawed, it was still very entertaining for the low budget it had.. Also let's not forget, the same people are behind the new D&D movies, but with a much larger budget..

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