Thursday, May 15, 2014

Curious Thoughts Percolating in My Brain on this Stormy Thursday Morning

According to EN World there's a rumor going around that Wizards of the Coast has settled the movie lawsuit and is now attempting to shop around a television series. Putting aside for the moment the reality that this is probably just some guy talking out his neck; I don't know how to feel about that sort of move.

If Wizards had capitalized on the success of the Lord of the Rings and released a series back during the height of its popularity I think that the series would have launched with a rather large groundswell of attention. Yet at this time it seems more like launching another zombie movie to the straight to DVD bin. Don't get me wrong if Wizards can manage to get the right people together they could create an engaging storyline and provide the wider audience with the sort of show they've been craving for years, but I just don't know if Wizards is capable of doing that. Certainly Hasbro is capable; we've seen G I Joe, Transformers, and even My Little Pony become media sensations in recent years. But could they make Dungeons and Dragons a similar sensation?

With forty years of stories, adventures, and products out there you might be forgiven for thinking that somewhere in there must be the great tale a movie or series needs to be successful. Yet I couldn't point to a single one that might be compelling for a wider market. Whether we're talking about the Dragons of series or those Drow and companions books from R.A. none of it holds up. It's all stilted by trying to shoehorn game mechanics in to the stories. As a result, it all sucks. 

All of it. 

It seems that if you're going to get people to actually sit down and watch the series you'd have to start with something fresh. Yet there's a danger that in doing so you'll end up with something like the first Dungeons and Dragons movie. Of course you could use the J.J. Abrams method for the series and use explosions instead of words. Then it wouldn't matter how awful the script is - I mean we've all seen the first Transformers and it's a terrible script, good action though. It seems that the only way a move like this would make sense is if you could find a cast and crew that got the story right without turning it into the sort of regretful noise we've suffered through in practically every fantasy movie and show from the last fifty years. 

Yet even if you get the crew and cast together, and they're fantastic, where to put the series? The networks have shown themselves to be willing to experiment in recent years with shows like Almost Human, Grimm, and Once Upon a Time but they've also shown that they'll eventually remember that they're a network and fuck it up. So do you go to Netfilx or Hulu? Or maybe you make a webseries?

Thoughts?

25 comments:

  1. I think modern Fantasy movies generally fail with the D&D audience not in spite of the 40 years of background noise but because of it. No matter how great the effects, or how cool the explosions, the movies end up feeling flat compared to the gaming memories we have in our heads.
    Liceneced book to movie productions don't have that problem, they already have an audience in vested in the property. Harry potter could have been dog crap on a plate and a large number of people still woudl have gone to see it, the same can be said about LOTR.
    Witha movie or show based on an underpinning of Role playing games, our memories are the property, and no matter how well they do , the producers can not possibly "nail" that.
    IF they want to do a show correctly they woudl be better off making a fantasy show, but as far away form the D&D baggage (baggage that both players and non players carry in some quantity) as they can get.
    At that point they might as well produce "The Sword of Shannara" or some other intellectual property, which I know defeats the point.

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    1. "Witha movie or show based on an underpinning of Role playing games, our memories are the property, and no matter how well they do , the producers can not possibly "nail" that."

      That's certainly part of the problem, but I think that the other part is that so many people who involve themselves with these sort of projects don't really care about the game or about making a good product. :(

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  2. Honestly, I think the best route would be to embrace the camp, and go the Hercules TLJ route. I know they tried that with Conan, and it failed miserably (and let me count the reasons why...), but if done well, with the right mix of camp and art, and production design similar to the 1982 Conan movie, it could be the fun that is missing from adventure TV. Then again, my brain might just be stuck in the 90's right now.

    Also, JJ Abrams? I think you mean Michael Bay. Abrams is the "lens flare" guy from Star Trek.

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    1. "Honestly, I think the best route would be to embrace the camp, and go the Hercules TLJ route."

      God that would be great!

      "Also, JJ Abrams? I think you mean Michael Bay. Abrams is the "lens flare" guy from Star Trek."

      Shit. You caught me! ;P

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  3. A movie or televisions series (or book) linked with D&D should only have two things: dungeons and dragons. That's it. Throw the mechanics of the game out the window. Sure, it can advertise the "brand," but it needs to tell an exciting story first and foremost with decent character development.

    Turn the D&D "genre" on its head like the producers of Battlestar Galactica did with sci-fi.

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    1. Oooh, that would be neat if they went out on a limb and did that!

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  4. I don't know, man; I just don't know. I'd love to see some high production value licensed D&D entertainment, but given past performance of the brand (due to shitty execution rather than any problem with D&D itself) I'm not sure you could find a producer willing to invest anything past basement-living-nerd funding into a D&D brand product.

    Full disclosure, I've never seen the 2000 D&D movie, mostly because I (a brand consumer myself!) took one look at the coverage in Dragon magazine and decided that the movie was going to suck like a vacuum cleaner; Seriously, I remember looking a still of Thora Birch with the caption "I wish everyone would stop calling me Natalie," and thinking "Bitch, I wasn't happy with The Phantom Menace, but don't even!" I would have loved to have been proven wrong in the estimation, but no joy in Mudville.

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    1. If you let yourself just enjoy the film the 2000 movie is funny as hell. Just watch the Waynes in every scene and you'll laugh your ass off. Especially when they're in the market. So good!

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  5. I barely watch TV any more, so I probably don't know what I'm talking about, but this is the internet so I will NOT let that stop me.
    A series would certainly work better than a movie since you have more time for world-building (man I am learning to hate that term) and character development (not that most TV shows take advantage of that).
    I'd like to see:
    (a) A tales from the darkside/Twlight Zone type anthology series where it's a different short story every week (some recurring characters here & there would be good though). Maybe a 'narrator' that is a torchbearer or sword merchant telling about a different doomed expedition every week.
    (b) An animated series that just animates various actual play reports. The difficulty would be you'd need really good storytellers to make it interesting. You "evil" campaign stories, some old stuff on Zak Smith's blog, and probably another one-in-a-hundred from blogs and forums. Not sure if there is an audience for that, even if you had actual celebrities like comedians, actors, etc. telling their D&D stories ("Tales from the dorkside").
    (c) Dramedy/Adventure broken into parts where you have the real-life BS of a group of players and a dramatization of their D&D game. Sort of like the two AD&D episodes of "Community" but a little less wacky and some special effects/dramatization of the game world. Bitch to write I suspect.

    So really every D&D tv show idea has similar problems -- too hard to write. Because people wrongly assume that D&D is Greyhawk or Forgotten Realms or whatever game world but those are very accidental to what it actually is, and just having a show with owlbears and rust monsters completely misses the point.

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    1. I would love to see a series set in Greyhawk or Forgotten Realms...

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    2. "I barely watch TV any more, so I probably don't know what I'm talking about, but this is the internet so I will NOT let that stop me. "

      Officially my new motto!

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  6. Just read the other comments and yes, would be a big mistake to try to incorporate game mechanics to the story. You will confuse civilians and never please the rulesmasters.

    BTW Charles -- I have not forgotten about the promised care package of minis. Hope to send them off this weekend.

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    1. WhoooooooooHoooooooooo! :D

      I really need to find a gif with a guy losing his shit for good news like this!

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  7. I'm a big fan of the fantasy genre, both written and film, and because of this passion I happened to see or read things that, with hindsight, I would have done better to let it go, but one thing I noticed: a lot of the most successful fantasy movies come from great or at least good books ... now some of you can point me to any good books of the D&D world? :p
    And please do not mentioned R.A. Salvatore!!! O_o

    That said I would prefer one or more films (like Lord of the Rings) rather than a television series, also because in this moment we must also take into account the success it's having The Game of Throne... though honestly I can not explain all this success. ;)

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    1. "now some of you can point me to any good books of the D&D world?"

      I can't name a single one.

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    2. Paul Kidd's "White Plume Mountain" novel. The scene where the pixie cons the sphinx into revealing the answer to her riddle is priceless. The sentient hell-hound pelt is amusing as well.

      It's the only one of his I've read (he's also done novels of "Descent Into The Depths of The Earth" and "Queen Of the Demonweb Pits") but he's got a very casual style, not as campy as the Hercules series but still light enough I think it'd work as a film.

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    3. Paul Kidd!

      Okay, I was wrong. There is an author whose book line in Dungeons and Dragons doesn't suck. Paul Kidd's White Plume Mountain is a lot of fun!

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  8. I think if they avoided a bunch of a-holes sitting around in a tavern posturing about their missions or their superpowers or their money, and they avoided the Hero's Journey like the plague,and just told a STORY, they might be able to get somewhere.

    Like many of the better players eventually learn with time and experience -- no one cares about your 40-page backstory. What are you doing NOW, and WHY should we care?

    --Dither

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    1. True story.

      You know the more I've thought about it the more I feel like they should follow the old War Movie standard. You start in the middle of a battle and then move forward from there. Action, action, action!

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    2. Oh, and they should totally get Jeremy Irons back. Just sayin.

      --Dither

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  9. I believe everyone is missing the mark when talking about "shoe-horning the mechanics" into something like this. I for one would love a series, or even a movie or two or three. The source material is there. Greyhawk, Forgotten Realms, Spelljammer. All of them would make fantastic backdrops to tell good stories. Hell, the first Dark Sun series of books/adventures would make a motherfuckin EPIC movie series. The only thing "mechanic-wise" that would be great would be the game mechanics on how magic is handled. Wizards have to study years to master the ways of magic, and clerics have to devote themselves fully to their chosen deity in order to be blessed with magic.

    There is so much variety and creative things that can be done with just the existing material, it boggles my mind that Wizards/Hasbro haven't done is successfully yet. I've said it before; get 2 or 3 of their best designers and team them up with one or two of some bad ass hot shot action movie writers, lock them in a room together for a month, and come up with a great story that works within the game itself. It can be done. It's just that no one at Wizards/Hasbro or Hollywood are thinking far enough outside the box.

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    1. I think the problem isn't so much thinking outside the box as it is putting the wrong people involved in the process.

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  10. Oh lord - "all D&D novels suck, no director can be trusted" etc etc. Yes, clearly there is no hope so why should they even bother? Novel-wise, they sell a ton of Forgotten Realms novels alone every year, and have been doing it for 20+ years. You may not like them, but somebody is buying them.

    As far as timing, well, Game of Thrones is pretty popular right now and the hobbit movies have done alright (even if I don't like them). I think there's plenty of fantasy interest out there, even if superheroes are the bigger deal.

    Oh and zombies are pretty popular too, straight-to-DVD or not. Just because there's some crappy material out there doesn't mean people aren't rabid for more Walking Dead.

    So if WOTC pitched a movie as "Lord of the Rings meets Walking Dead", billed it as "a Forgotten Realms film", and found a halfway decent director, I think there's all kinds of room for a success there. Getting Salvatore's name in there wouldn't hurt either.

    There a probably half a dozen other possibilities too, including doing a "Drizzt" movie. You may cringe at the thought but those books have been going for 25 years and making a film about a dark, angsty, black-clad badass fighter is going to touch all kinds of popular points - he's a fantasy Batman, if you want to look at it that way. There's plenty of nerd rage out there but a) there's plenty of nerd rage about all the super hero movies they've been making too and b) if WOTC has 3 ideas for a D&D movie I'd bet "Drizzt" is one of them.

    I think live-action TV is going to be tough to pull off. GoT sets a pretty high bar and it would be pretty expensive to match that. I suspect an animated series is the most likely option for D&D on TV but there are always going to be concerns about the violence so it's going to be hard to make it a kids show.

    That said, Hasbro would be involved and if they can get boardgames made into movies I suspect they can get a D&D movie made that's at least a step up from the poor efforts we've had for the last 15 years.

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    1. "Yes, clearly there is no hope so why should they even bother?"

      Oh no, I definitely think that we should try. I would love to see a series that was as enjoyable to watch as Sorbo's Hercules or the Game of Thrones series. I just feel like if it's going to happen that we need to find an author for it that rocks. I know that the sales for the books are good - or else they wouldn't publish them - but I've never run across one that I actually liked. I keep giving different books a try every couple of years but I've never found one that could hold my attention. Do you have any suggestions?

      "There a probably half a dozen other possibilities too, including doing a "Drizzt" movie. You may cringe at the thought but those books have been going for 25 years and making a film about a dark, angsty, black-clad badass fighter is going to touch all kinds of popular points - he's a fantasy Batman, if you want to look at it that way. There's plenty of nerd rage out there but a) there's plenty of nerd rage about all the super hero movies they've been making too and b) if WOTC has 3 ideas for a D&D movie I'd bet "Drizzt" is one of them."

      That's a very good point.

      "I think live-action TV is going to be tough to pull off. GoT sets a pretty high bar and it would be pretty expensive to match that. I suspect an animated series is the most likely option for D&D on TV but there are always going to be concerns about the violence so it's going to be hard to make it a kids show."

      I think the expense hurdle is where things are going to be really difficult for any D&D style show - especially since it would be launched as a relatively untested commodity. According to Wizards D&D has a wide brand recognition and that would help launch it, but committing the money necessary to do the show right would be a chore. It's a conundrum alright.

      "That said, Hasbro would be involved and if they can get boardgames made into movies I suspect they can get a D&D movie made that's at least a step up from the poor efforts we've had for the last 15 years."

      I haven't been able to verify when the deal for the movies were struck but the first one came out in 2000, after Hasbro had already bought Wizards. My guess is that the movie contract was signed before the sale to Hasbro was complete because I don't think Hasbro would have allowed them out the door otherwise.

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  11. Assuming they didn't royally screw it up, they ought to be able to get three classic movies or two 10-12 episode tv seasons out of the Giants modules. With the option of following it with a Drow series or movies.

    And if they managed to focus on story and character / villain development, like Game of Thrones, instead of getting bogged down in D&D mechanics it might even not suck.

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