Alternate Title: What Dungeons and Dragons Movie Makers can Learn From Ready Player One
Spoiler Alert: I’m going to talk about some of the content that is in the movie Ready Player One. If you haven’t seen the movie yet you may want to skip past the first paragraph.
I took my children with me to see Ready Player One last night at the local cinema. I walked away from the theater extremely disappointed that the filmmakers had stripped away what I considered some of the best parts of the book. Especially that first encounter where Parzival lives through a Dungeons and Dragons dungeon, runs face to face with Acerarak and has to play Joust with him. I really did not enjoy the new race scene but I did find it clever how they had Z solve it. Objectively it is a good movie but I’m still coming to terms with that.
The point of this article isn’t to dissect the content of the new RPO movie though, it’s to demonstrate an interesting take on how to present Dungeons and Dragons on the big screen that the first three movies missed out on.
Ready for it?
FOCUS ON THE GROUP
It’s that simple.
Unless the screen makers attempt to latch on to an iconic character such as Ed Greenwood’s Elminster, or Bob Salvatore’s Drizzt Do’ Urden there isn’t a whole lot of ways to represent D&D on the big screen that stands out from any other high fantasy story. To the masses, Toril could just as easily be Eberron, and Eberron could just as easily be Middle Earth. What makes D&D special is the people that play it.
Ready Player One was just as much about the people behind the avatars in the Oasis as it was about the characters in the Oasis. This meta approach is exactly the new twist on a D&D movie that could make it stand apart from the first three film entries or even movies such as Peter Jackson’s take on the Lord of the Rings. This is also what makes RPO a good D&D movie. It’s that grand adventure with a focus on the characters. It is the character’s story above all else. The Oasis is just their backdrop.
It was great to see pop culture references on the big screen. These pop culture tie-ins that are so prevalent in RPO are also sprinkled throughout D&D. But in the grand scheme, it’s not the pop culture references that made the movie. It was the character and story development outside the Oasis that made us care whether or not the characters inside the Oasis succeded in James Halliday’s trials.
This same meta-awareness is what can make the next D&D movie highly successful. Instead of focusing on the high fantasy, focus on the humanistic aspects of D&D that make it so successful. The group dynamics, the personal growth, the toss of the die. This is also a significant reason we have seen the rise of live play shows like Critical Role.
It’s also this focus on the group of characters and their lives outside of the game, in this case the Oasis, that allowed the creators the freedom to change things about the book to the movie. I mentioned earlier some of the changes I wasn’t a fan of but they probably made for a better movie. This couldn’t have happened if the movie focused solely on the Oasis the same as if a D&D movie focused solely on a fantasy story that takes place only in the game.
That’s it. While it might not be some grand revelation it could be the thing to jump-start the D&D franchise on the big screen. Remember even though dragons are in the name it is the people that make it special.