20th Century Fox, 21st Century Dragon
Is there a "chain-mail" link between fantasy Role-Playing Games and fantasy films? I certainly think so - at least in one noteworthy case. And that link becomes obvious when you take a closer look at the 1980s, a decade of Reaganomics, Rubix Cubes, Role-Playing and Really good fantasy flicks...
I don't care who's not funding what efforts for whom - the entire Hasbro/WotC/TSR conglomerate has obviously got a heck of a lot riding on the upcoming release of Dungeons & Dragons 3rd Edition. One might even suggest that the fate of paper-based Role-Playing Games hangs in the balance. But that goes without saying.
What everyone seems to forget is that on the other side of that set of dragon scales is the forgotten offspring of the fantasy Role-Playing Game - the fantasy film.
1978's Ralph Bakshi-animated Lord of the Rings marked a certain attitude shift towards a more widespread acceptance of fantasy films. Granted, nobody's going to tell you that 1978's LotR changed the world, least of all me. But that may be simply because it was just a shade too early to catch the wave of fantasy film popularity that saturated the 1980s like a poorly-oiled wineskin.
Starting in 1979, and running through 1989 before petering out miserably, the fantasy film genre produced more than twoscore cult classics that just about every FRPGer will remember fondly. Ask any gamer over the age of 20 to list his or her favorite films, and more than a few of them will feature swords, sorcerers, dragons or dungeons: Conan the Barbarian(1981), The Beastmaster(1982), Krull(1983), Legend(1985), Labyrinth(1986), The Princess Bride(1987), Willow(1988).
What many people don't realize, however, is that most of these films would probably never have seen the light of day if not for the help of a single game: Advanced Dungeons and Dragons. Released between 1978 (Player's Handbook) and 1979 (Dungeon Master's Guide), AD&D was the catalyst that sparked a Hollywood revolution. Perhaps not as big as George Lucas managed with Star Wars, but sizeable and memorable nevertheless.
Of course, the relationship between AD&D and fantasy films isn't totally clear until you look a bit more closely at the latter half of my range - 1989. Because the best 1989 could muster up was Erik the Viking, and after that it was all downhill.
And what else did 1989 bring us?
Advanced Dungeons & Dragons, 2nd Edition.
Personally, I find it more than a bit fascinating that so many of the most memorable fantasy films released in the past score years or so are sandwiched firmly between 1979 and 1989, the release dates of AD&D 1st Edition and AD&D 2nd Edition.
And now, almost exactly a decade after the genre fell into a magical slumber, we're going to get D&D 3rd Edition and two huge fantasy films (D&D and Lord of the Rings) all at the same time. It seems somehow appropriate that our story begins in 1978-79 with LotR and AD&D 1st Edition, and now finds us back on the same ground.
But is history truly repeating itself? Will the release of 3rd Edition breathe new fire into the lungs of the sleeping dragon? And if D&D: The Movie fails to take off, will the upcoming LotR film save the genre in its stead? Do we have a whole new decade of three-bladed swords, ferret companions, scantily-clad princesses and bad British accents to look forward to?
I don't know.
But I certainly hope so.
You know... thinking about my days as a yoot has got me all nostalgic for those movies. I'm thinking I may just spend a few days locked in the house with a stack of movies. How does "Aeon's Grande Revue of Movies Past" grab you? We can take a little retrospective jaunt through the past, spending a little time in each year between 1981 and 1989, looking at the good, the bad, and the ugly, and why we loved all of it. Should I start in 1981? It looks like a good year to me... Conan... Time Bandits... Excalibur... Let me know what you think.