The Dungeon Masters Movie Review -

Movie Review

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  • Documentary: The Dungeon Masters
  • Rating: Unrated
  • Starring: Scott Corum, Richard Meeks, Elizabeth Reesman
  • Directed By: Keven McAlister
  • Distributor: FilmBuff
  • Series:

The Dungeon Masters Movie Review

Life Is Gaming Is Life

By Rob Vaux     August 06, 2010

A cool new look at the geek phenomenon in DUNGEON MASTERS(2010).
© FilmBuff Productions


The Dungeon Masters does itself a disservice by caving into some of the stereotypes about all the geek boys and girls out there. It follows the lives of three avid Dungeons & Dragons players over the course of one year, covering their real-life trials and travails in between sessions of their beloved hobby. At many points, they appear to be just like every negative portrayal of gamers: social misfits, Peter Pans and starry-eyed dreamers so lost in their fantasies that they can’t connect to their real-world difficulties.
Director Keven McAlester overcomes those impressions with an immense amount of compassion for his subjects. All of them have their problems—both emotional and financial—but they haven’t allowed that to snuff out their creativity, which the game provides an outlet for. The film charts their struggles to find happiness in their lives, and the way their gaming helps them with that.
I pause here to add a few personal credentials. I grew up playing D&D (along with numerous other tabletop role-playing games), and spent a considerable chunk of my career as a professional game designer. I know the gamer stereotype extremely well, and like a lot of stereotypes, there’s just enough truth in it to justify the distortions and falsehoods. The Dungeon Masters fails to note how many gamers defy those assumptions: living happy, well-adjusted lives and still loving their hobby as much as surfers or golfers love theirs. A better balance in this arena would have done wonders for the film.
On the other hand, McAlister goes out of his way to integrate us into his subjects’ lives and show us who they are beyond our quick and easy judgments. To be sure, each of them grapples with some significant problems. 23-year-old Elizabeth is emerging from a horrific marriage, struggling to find a job that fulfills her while living in a coastal Mississippi town flattened by Hurricane Katrina. She periodically dresses as a drow (an evil elf to the uninitiated) and participates in live-action events as well as tabletop gaming. Scott is considerably older: a part-time apartment manager with a curdling marriage and a half-written fantasy novel which he hopes to see published. Richard ranks as perhaps the saddest of the bunch: a “killer DM” whose unflinching approach to the game costs him friendships while hiding deeper psychological insecurities.
The Dungeon Masters takes time to catch newbies up on tabletop gaming, but you don’t need an understanding of the game to connect with the film. Anyone going through tough times can appreciate the trio and their troubles. The game serves as both an escape from their demons and a means of empowerment to confront them. McAlister takes care not to paint D&D as the source of their difficulties, establishing it within a larger canvas of their overall personalities. It never hinders them from dealing with the world, nor does it distract them from the realities of life.
Indeed, like many people’s hobbies, it provides them with a viable outlet to vent their stress and frustration. It also keeps their sense of imagination alive, allowing them to express themselves in ways they couldn’t without the game as an outlet. McAlister approaches it from a definite outsiders’ perspective, but the gamers themselves are the real deal, and fellow hobbyists will spot some telling details amid the scenery (the R.A. Salvatore novels on Elizabeth’s bookshelf, for instance, or Scott destroying one of his low-rolling dice while lining the other dice up to watch).
The final portrait remains achingly sympathetic to all of them. Even when their wounds come self-inflicted or the movie settles for surface impressions rather than more nuanced details, we remain firmly in the trio’s corner. We pull madly for them to succeed and die a little bit when life hands them its inevitable failures. McAlister structures the documentary after classic fantasy novels, with rising challenges leading to moments of darkness and an eventual (if comparatively minor) triumph. It demonstrates how the game they love teaches lessons on life, and how life in turn feeds back into the game. They’re not in opposition to each other, but act together: something few outsiders understand but which The Dungeon Masters—despite some shortcomings–illustrates with thoughtfulness and empathy.


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jedibanner 8/6/2010 7:39:24 AM

ahhh, the old D& D characters...I remember always choosing to be a big, large a-la-conan or thanos type warrior with huge axes or swords.

But it is true the stereotype of these aspect of fantasy life gamers is sometimes sad to see. The Big Bang theory is probably one show that does not help to cement this ideology of the ''typical geek'' casting who plays D & D, dress like a nerd, collect comics, buys status and doesn't have girlfreind (but yeah, in the show they changed that a bit but still).

I am interested in this movie now and will surelly try to see it.

fallensbane 8/6/2010 11:13:07 AM

As a longtime Tabletop gamer it actually amuses me to see that the Weasley glasses wearing scrawney or fatguy stereotype still endures. None of the people I have played with over the years just never fall into that stereotype, most of them being huge sports fans and wearing their favorite teams shirts, which kinda shatters lots of the sterotyping right there alone. But then again Sometimes the stereotype can make for some seriously amusing videos videos (Look up "John Madden Dungeon Master" or the classic "8-Bit D&D Reenactment".

Anyways this looks like an interesting movie, I will definately have to add it to my list of too see films.

ElBaz13 8/6/2010 8:36:56 PM

I'm curious to see this movie too but like Trekkies, the director only chooses to show the stereotypes. That's pretty sad.

I've been gaming since way back way (1st ed) and still do today. And like Fallensbane has witnessed, all of the players in the group ( of them is a tad stereotypical) do not look or act like these stereotypes. We don't live in our parents basements. We are all well off, happily married with kids and homeowners earning good coin. And yes, most of us play sports. Hockey, football, basketball and even one is a competitive arm wrestler. Oh, and we love to party. :)  It's funny when we encounter other gamers and they find out we game. They are in total shock " guys game?" is pretty much what we hear.

Most of us do it because we are sci-fi/comic/fantasy fans. Especially movies and TV. As a game master, I love writing together a storyline knowing the players will fully enjoy it. I write sessions like a TV season and get my influence from quality shows on TV. Lost (for ensemble casts), 24 (real time action), Firefly (for fringe spacers in Star Wars campaigns) and many more. I also use actors as reference ex: "this dark side force user looks like Gary Oldman's Dr Smith in Lost in Space or this douchebag bard looks like Sean William Scott channeling Stifler."

Since I will never work in the TV or movie industry, this is my way of being creative and putting stories together.

Oh...and are better halves prefer our get together gaming nights as they know where to keep tabs on us. It would have been fun had their been a "player's wife" testimony for this movie. My wife would pretty much say "yeah...I remember those days when he would come home late, empty wallet blown at the casino or the bar, not knowing what he was doing with his buddies but now, he just comes home late, high on caffeine and sugar." :)

Oh, and I like the stereotype videos too. Another good one is Farador D&D = Tom et ses Chums (Tom and his Friends) Funny video (subtitled) on gaming and some guys taking it too seriously. But Tom doesn't! Anyhow, watch and laugh. Even funnier if you understand french and Quebec humor.


Redshirt1 8/7/2010 5:13:30 AM

As a long term gamer I've seen both types of gamer.  The sterotypical "geek" gamer and the non-typical "normal" gamer.  The simple fact is that like any activity you have a range of people.  Everything from the casual to the extreme.  While some people may be gamers and have normal well ballanced lives; you also have those who dress up in costume and act like a elf all day long.  However, in comparison there are those who simply like to watch or play sports, and then there are those who wear the team shirts, paint them selves in the team colours, get drunk and act like raving lunatics.  Not to mention that if its a soccer game those same fans are likely to riot and destroy half a city.  In comparrison dressing up as an elf may not be so bad.  When's the last time you've seen on the news a riot of costumed gamers turning over cars and setting buildings on fire?  Anyway I don't mind films or TV shows that pick on us gamers as long as it's not done with malice.  For example I'm a big fan of the Big Bang Theory and I loved the movie Dorkness Rising (which every gamer should see).  I'm also looking forward to checking this one out as well.

trollman 8/7/2010 10:49:39 PM

I have played D&D for over 20 years - still play & I have a HOT red haired beauty of a wife that doens't tolerate it - SHE PLAYS TOO! I met her at a Star Trek Con and we are both functional geeks (meaning "normal" people wouldn't know we are geeks on sight)- we love "The Dead Gentelman's - Dorkness Rising" funny movie!

This sounds a bit dry and humorless, based on the review I wouldn't likely see it.I don't want to sit and watch as real life beats up on people. Give me "The Guild" any day!

mikemc2 8/9/2010 3:27:17 AM

And once gain, Hollywood chooses to portray table top D&D gamers as social misfits with only 1 outlet...D&D.  Go figure!!!   Cleverly hide as much as they may, Hollywood still has absolutely zero respect for the more isoteric hobbiests.



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