Documentary follows three Dungeons & Dragons master gamers in their game lives and real lives
There is more than one problem with The Dungeon Masters, director Keven McAlester's full-length documentary about three people who play venerable role-playing game Dungeons and Dragons. But the main problem is that the three people have nothing to do with each other.
Fortysomething Richard is an Army reservist from the Midwest now living in Florida. He has been a dungeon master for decades, and he lives with the guilt--or is it pride?--of having ended a game years ago by simply killing all of his friends' seminal D&D characters. "They were getting greedy," Richard explains.
Elizabeth, 23, is a Mississippian in full "dark elf" makeup. She's a dungeon master and also plays World of Warcraft and LARPs--that's live-action role-playing for those who have not seen the much better, similarly themed 2006 doc Darkon. She moved back with her parents after a divorce, but now has a trailer of her own.
Scott is a fiftysomething father of one whose wife has two jobs. He is a paragon of the self-aware geek: As a school boy his parents bought him a briefcase, he says, but that was after he told everyone in class to "call me Sherlock." Scott was part of his church's "puppet ministry" before "politics and personal preference" ended that. He worked in finance and is a certified hypnotherapist--but without any clients. So now he has a novel in the works.
The cutline on the DVD reads "3 people. 1 obsession. See what happens when fantasy meets real life," leading one to expect interaction between the The Dungeon Master's main characters. But their mundane and semi-tragic worlds do not overlap.
Richard punks a new set of players, ending his game with an open letter explaining that they were a rotten group and so their game is over. He seems hurt that only four of the seven respond. Also, he's a nudist. That's not really relevant, but the documentary mentions it and montages some archival nudist camp clips. Oh yeah, in the end he converts to Judaism.
Elizabeth runs through a couple of boyfriends. ("I'm tired of dating children," she laments at one point, still in full makeup with "elf" ear extensions). In the end, she gets her dream job and a new beau.
McAlester, in past briefly a City Paper contributor, has some sympathy for his protagonists, but much of the audience's sympathy for them stems from their treatment by the director. It's as if he can't decide between "Heavy Metal Parking Lot" bash and the all-in immersion of something like "A Head's Tale," the 2003 smooch to jam band fests.
Scott, from southern California, is consistently The Dungeon Masters' most interesting character. He gets an agent to read his novel and all seems to be going well through several meetings and revisions--until she calls and tells him the publisher won't buy it. Meantime, Scott goes to the Torrance cable access studio and gets his own show, "Uncle Drak's Magical Clubhouse."
The idea is high concept (also kind of a Space Ghost rip): a washed-up super-villain discovers he was really made to host a variety show. In the first episode, he demonstrates how to make a perfect chicken Kiev and gets attacked by ninjas.
Sounds more fun and interesting than the movie.
"Uncle Drak's Magical Clubhouse" appears to have ended production after the pilot episode. The YouTube site has 21 subscribers. The six-minute "time to fight the ninjas" segment has more than 300 views. The Dungeon Masters has already done much better than that, but a viewer might wonder if that's justice.