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The Dungeon Masters

The Dungeon Masters

By Ben Nicholson • January 20th, 2014
Static Mass Rating: 3/5
THE DUNGEON MASTERS (DOCUMENTARY)
FilmBuff

Original release: Jan 1st, 2008
Running time: 87 minutes

Director: Keven McAlester

Cast: Elizabeth Reesman, Richard Meeks, Scott Corum

The Dungeon Masters

I’m, quite proudly, a bit of a geek: I know the words ‘klaatu barada nikto’, I know who Pote Snitkin is, I know which sector of space Hal Jordan, the Green Lantern, patrols. I’ve also spent a fair share of time playing on computer games; conquering fantastical lands, stealing cars, killing bad guys and guiding Fulham to the Premier League title. I’ve also wiled away the hours in my youth painting minute Orcs and Elves. To your average person, I am a full-on geek.

However, when I walk into a comic book shop I’m massively out of my depth. I’ve also never really played any role-playing games – I’ve never been sucked into Azeroth where the online game World of Warcraft takes place. So whilst I may consider myself a geek, when The Dungeon Masters started, I was well aware that they were on a whole other plain of existence.

The film is a documentary looking at the lives of three Dungeons & Dragons ‘game masters’. Elizabeth Reesman, Richard Meeks and Scott Corum are three people who are highly committed to being the runners of D&D games – they set the scenario and plot contrivances for a group of characters belonging to the other players and then, in turn, each player must decide how to react to each specific event.”

In an interview with Indiewire, director Keven McAlester said the idea was to make a film about “these great storytellers, who really gain no recognition for it outside this community,” and what the film turns out to be is a candid look at the lives of these people. This is not a film about gaming but about the lives of three gamers.

In a very similar way to the 2008 documentary The King Of Kong by Seth Gordon, a film about two computer-gaming Donkey Kong obsessives, this film starts out whimsically looking at the out-there craziness of D&D gamers; the opening sees Scott donning the outfit of his cable TV character Uncle Drac and our introduction to Elizabeth sees her in the full outfit of her character, a dark elf, in full black body paint. The music is jaunty and we are told of how Richard – who reminds of David Brent in his opening interview – once decided on a whim to kill all of the players in a campaign which he had been running for years.

The Dungeon Masters

However, once the documentary is finished introducing the gaming, what we’re treated to instead are insights into three people’s lives. Scott’s married with a young son, but has struggled to carve out a career for himself. When the film starts he’s decided to finally write the book that he has longed to – a fantasy adventure – and we’re able to go along to see how this pans out for him. We see Richard’s life with his wife and the trials of running long-standing campaigns with players he knows well. We see Elizabeth’s struggle to find a partner or a satisfying career.

The fact that we only get to spend a small amount of time with each of these three means we’re not highly invested in their struggles, however we can argue that they don’t have compelling enough ambitions that they could fill a whole hour and half themselves. There are small moments though where McAlester gets to observe touching and subtle things. The difficulties that Scott’s wife has with his lifestyle and his own insecurities about how she feels are made clear through a number of small exchanges, as well as seeing Scott’s crusade to get his novel published and to start his own cable TV show about a failed super-villain.

Richard is forced to confront his past when he visits the son of his ex-wife whom he raised and then walked out on. Elizabeth reveals the troubles of her own past and we see the beginning and end of a relationship with a fellow gamer. It’s these small moments of clarity and of observation that the film has its triumphs rather than to do The Dungeon Masterswith the gaming. People are people and this film is about looking at them. Similarly to Werner Herzog’s Encounters At The End Of The World though, the film lacks an overall theme (outside of their mutual love for D&D) to bring their stories together.

We’re treated to resolutions for each of them to tie up the end of the film, but ultimately, it makes curious but in no way compelling viewing – especially when compared to something in a similar vein like The King Of Kong. It’s nice to see though that, despite the early sniggers, their passion isn’t treated condescendingly by the filmmakers – any eye-rolling is left to either their spouses or to yourself as a viewer. The irony of Elizabeth criticising an ex-boyfriend for being too geeky whilst painted black and dressed as an elf is not lost on us or her.

If you enjoy documentaries then this may well be worth a look and if you are a big D&D fan then you may also enjoy it. Ultimately though, it’s a brief look at a moment in the lives of three people who share a passion, however unlike more successful docs, these are not necessarily three stories that were in desperate need of telling.

Ben Nicholson

Ben Nicholson

Ben has had a keen love of moving images since his childhood but after leaving school he fell truly in love with films. His passion manifests itself in his consumption of movies (watching films from all around the globe and from any period of the medium’s history with equal gusto), the enjoyment he derives from reading, talking and writing about cinema and being behind the camera himself having completed his first co-directed short film in mid-2011.

His favourite films include things as diverse as The Third Man, In The Mood For Love, Badlands, 3 Iron, Casablanca, Ran and Grizzly Man to name but a few.

Ben has his own film site, ACHILLES AND THE TORTOISE, and you can follow him on Twitter @BRNicholson.

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