The Gamers DVD
In this film, the main actors play themselves not only in the real world, as geeky gamers, but as the noble characters they are role-playing within the game. It's a brilliant concept, and one wonders why it hasn't been done before now. Considering overall entertainment value, the sheer amount of extras included with the DVD, and the fact that I laughed till I cried even on a fourth viewing, I can do no less than give The Gamers the highest rating possible.
The Gamers DVD (2003) - $18
by Matt Vancil
Dead Gentlemen Productions
"Stranger in a Strange Land" fantasy stories have always been popular. I'm not referring to the Heinlein novel -- I'm talking about those stories which involve normal people from our "real world" crossing over to a "fantasy world," be it real or of their own imagining. Aside from the obvious ones like L. Frank Baum's Oz books, Lewis Carroll's Alice in Wonderland and Mark Twain's Connecticut Yankee in King Arthur's Court there are plenty within the fantasy genre itself: C.S. Lewis' Narnia books, Christopher Stasheff's Her Majesty's Wizard, Alan Dean Foster's Spellsinger, and Stephen R. Donaldson's Chronicles of Thomas Covenant, to name but a few.
Within these exists a subset which involves not merely a mythical fantasy world, but a fantasy world constructed from the minds of role-players, who then interact with the world of their creation. These include Christopher Carpenter's The Twilight Realm, Kevin J. Anderson's Gamearth and, best known of all, Joel Rosenberg's Guardians of the Flame series. One might add the infamous Tom Hanks vehicle Mazes and Monsters as well. I won't.
I will, however, gladly add The Gamers to this list. Although it does not feature role-players being magically transported to their own fantasy world, the movie does feature interaction with that world, the main actors playing themselves not only in the real world, as geeky gamers, but as the noble characters they are role-playing within the game. It's a brilliant concept, and one wonders why it hasn't been done before now (or, if it has, why I haven't heard about it).
The Gamers starts out by showing us the character sheets of the PCs we'll shortly be seeing, complete with character statistics. They are: Rogar the Barbarian, Newmoon the Elven Archer, Nimble the Thief, and Ambrose the Journeyman Mage. We then meet the four gamers (and their Dungeon Master), busily plotting their upcoming session as the girl in the dorm room down the hall yells at them to keep quiet. Ultimately they settle in, get out the dice and snacks, and, after griping about how their fifth party member (Mark the Red, last of the Berserkers) is out with his girlfriend, apparently, they get down to business.
For those who have never gamed (like my girlfriend), the rest of the film makes little sense. For those familiar with gaming, however, the ensuing 40 minutes is a hilarious romp through situations we've all encountered. Perhaps this is best illustrated by the movie's long running gag involving Mark, the Berserker. Since his player isn't around, his character is sort of dragged along through the action, appearing in many of the fantasy scenes, but unable to interact. How many times has the cleric played by the missing player just sort of "come along for the ride" to help out with healing spells in your campaign? I know from my experience this happens on a weekly basis. It's something every gamer sees at one point or another, but watching the concept of the character who is "there, but not there" illustrated on screen is still quite amusing.
Much like any gaming session, the adventure we see onscreen develops through a series of eight encounters, divided up with short segues in between where the characters walk through the wilderness to their next destination. Lest I spoil the fun, I won't describe them all here, but I will cover a few of my favorite moments.
In the film's first "encounter," we find our characters in a tavern (where else?). As usual, the barbarian is passed out, the thief is off picking pockets (and stealing pants), and the elf and wizard are being accosted by a giant named Hunk (played by the film's director, Matt Vancil). "Am I still unconscious?" asks the Barbarian? "Yes," says the DM. Which means it's up to the thief's backstabbing ability to save the day. Does he use a dagger? No. A sword? No. How about... a ballista? "You're going to backstab him with a f***ing siege weapon?" exclaims the DM. Alas, there being no rule against it, the DM allows it, and rolls the damage. The ensuing carnage required chunky spaghetti sauce as a prop.
In a later combat scene, the party is getting its asses handed to them when suddenly their missing fifth player shows up to the gaming session, just in time. Whereas Mark the berserker had been standing like a statue throughout the combat (even being used as cover at one point), he suddenly comes to life, uttering "Blood, Death and Vengeance" as he goes into a berserker rage and slaughters all surviving foes. Five minutes later, he announces he has to go -- Molly is waiting for him to go on their date. The reaction of the remaining players after their stalwart companion has left the room: "We should kill his character. That'll teach him to interact with females."
Other great moments: The characters conspiring to knock out their companion mage so they can carry him across a river (the mage is afraid of water); the characters conspiring to bury their mage friend by the river (after inadvertently killing him) in order that they might gain piety points and be able to rifle through his magic gear; the elf continually shooting the bandit king before he can issue his demands, much to the annoyance of the DM who's trying to read his scripted speech ("Stop killing him and let him finish talking."); the Barbarian bravely wandering right into a trap and absorbing damage that would have killed any other character; "Called shot to the nuts."; and of course, the clever usage of the "Sword of Ogre Decapitation."
My favorite moment in the entire film comes when the deceased mage returns as a "new character" named Magellan (an obvious clone of Ambrose), the DM introducing him at a critical moment when his talents are needed, but with an advisory: "Guys, please, I want you to role-play this. Remember, you never met this guy before, the last guys you met tried to kill you, and you're standing in the ruins of an evil cursed castle. Just act appropriately."
The entire role-playing scenario unfolds as follows:
Magellan: "Hello, I am Magellan, a traveling mage. I notice your group has no wizard."
Rogar: "You seem trustworthy. Would you care to join us in our noble quest?"
Magellan: "Yes. Yes I would."
Brilliant. Just brilliant.
And if the film is great, the extras on the DVD are absolutely outstanding for a product of this sort. Besides great DVD menus, the disc includes the following special features:
- Five trailers
- A 10 minute "Making of The Gamers" feature, which includes some behind the scenes footage and extra footage that was cut from the film
- Four commentary tracks, including one by Monte Cook
- Nine short featurettes on the making of various audio and video effects
- An outtake real
- A music workshop
- An interactive "Exploring the world of the Gamers" map, which lets you wander the land and supposedly has many secret easter eggs hidden within.
Of them all, I definitely found The Gamers the most likely to be rewatched over and over again (I lent it to a friend and he watched it three times in one night). This is by no means a negative commentary on the other three DVDs, which are all excellently done and worth a look. But considering overall entertainment value, the sheer amount of extras included with the DVD, and the fact that I laughed till I cried even on a fourth viewing, I can do no less than give The Gamers the highest rating possible.
I can't wait for the sequel.