D&D General What *is* D&D? (mild movie spoilers)


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I don't think it's so much the grittiness, so much as the low tech low magic feel, and simply taking it very very seriously.

You are really looking at historical drama, but not medieval historical drama, since that has too much civilisation (and glass!) to be Caves of Chaosy.
It's definitely low tech, I will agree.

(But then, so is Xena. ;) )
I associate D&D with low tech more than low magic.
Or in the "common folk don't have the tech". That combined with "Any sufficiently advanced technology is indistinguishable from magic."

It isn't that there isn't high tech or high magic but only people who have it are

  1. People who risk their lives delving dangerous dungeons for magic and tech
  2. People who pay 1 to get magic and tech
  3. People who were around when the dungeons were created and the magic and tech were left behind
  4. Dragons and other monsters who naturally have magic or tech
  5. People deep witin the economies of 1, 2, and 3
  6. Servants of 4
The ironic part is that the natural view of a "true to D&D" film or TV series would be filled with magic because the PCs are 1 and would have tons of magic if the media has turns of action. Because the part without the magic are the parts movies speed through: the town scenes. A D&D movie would spend more time away from the town and within the dungeon.
 

I don't think it's so much the grittiness, so much as the low tech low magic feel, and simply taking it very very seriously.

You are really looking at historical drama, but not medieval historical drama, since that has too much civilisation (and glass!) to be Caves of Chaosy.
Yeah the original Conan is a movie that is absolutely 150% committed to the bit. It doesn't break character. It doesn't wink at the audience. There's nothing "knowing" about it. It just goes for the setting and for the ridiculous cod-philosophy things Conan and Thulsa Doom say and absolutely embraces them and goes with them.

That plus the music and I think probably the budget gives it an absolute incredible vibe that is basically not seen in most other films, because they don't commit in the same way - particularly not after the 1970s and to a lesser extent 1980s.

Amazing movie in just the weirdest way.
 

But then, so is Xena.
Xena is definitely not serious. It's the opposite serious. As @Ruin Explorer says, it's the seriousness that is the important ingredient. And very very difficult for most people to do, and harder to maintain. It's like doing a whole movie of Xenk. Everyone knows the meme that D&D campaigns start out as Lord of the Rings and end up as Monty Python. You can see the start of that arc in Conan the Destroyer.

And there are cultural factors. Warhammer (British) is dark, gritty - and full of black humour. I can't think of any British people who worked on Conan the Barbarian.
 
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Xena was one of my lifelines in an era when fantasy was considered an unwanted stepchild by Hollywood. It was unusual to see a female antihero as the main character of a TV show in the 1990s. Dana Scully, Buffy and Captain Janeway didn't have Xena's checkered past. She set the table for the antiheroes who would dominate TV during the following decade.

Xena ended in 2001, the same year the Lord of the Rings and Harry Potter feature films debuted. I think of that year as a dividing line between the "fantasy is an unwanted stepchild" period and the beginning of the golden age of fantasy media we currently enjoy.
 



And there are cultural factors. Warhammer (British) is dark, gritty - and full of black humour. I can't think of any British people who worked on Conan the Barbarian.
British people can do that level of seriousness - c.f. Excalibur, I mean, some of the Merlin scenes have a bit more lightness but Nicol Williamson (who used to chat with my mum btw lol) isn't taking it to British silliness.

Similarly British people like Danny Boyle and Alex Garland can write and direct unwinking, fully serious SF movies and I imagine they could do the same with fantasy if they chose to engage with it.

The amazing cod-philosophy stuff that kind of propels Conan is very American though - the final script was an amazing mash-up of right-wing libertarian John Milius (who most people will be de facto familiar with via The Big Lebowski, John Goodman's character is directly inspired by him, right down his appearance), and raging far-left liberal Oliver Stone (!!!) both riffing off ideas present or implied (to them!) in REH's work. Stone wrote the original script and then Milius modified it, but it seems like a lot of Stone's ideas survive (and many of the modifications were to get the budget down - it was initially estimated based on Stone's script at $40m, which in 1981, in movie-making terms, is like $250m now (not going just on inflation of the dollar, but on inflation of how much movies cost to make).

(Milius is a fascinating character generally, Dirty Harry - which he wrote and directed - is often seen as a very right-wing movie - not entirely unreasonably, though Overton window shifts make it pretty centrist by 2020s standards. However the sequel, which Milius also wrote and directed, is a reaction to criticism of his movie as supporting murderous cops, and features Harry having to kill a whole bunch of cops who think it's okay to murder people they know are guilty - it's a more violent and honest precursor the whole "Punisher is mad with cops who idolize him" scene.)
 


Xena was one of my lifelines in an era when fantasy was considered an unwanted stepchild by Hollywood. It was unusual to see a female antihero as the main character of a TV show in the 1990s. Dana Scully, Buffy and Captain Janeway didn't have Xena's checkered past. She set the table for the antiheroes who would dominate TV during the following decade.

Xena ended in 2001, the same year the Lord of the Rings and Harry Potter feature films debuted. I think of that year as a dividing line between the "fantasy is an unwanted stepchild" period and the beginning of the golden age of fantasy media we currently enjoy.
I will always remember Xena because when it was on one of my friends was just starting a writing degree (or whatever you call that), and we were watching it, and he's watching Xena and Gabrielle splash around in the surf laughing and he's like "Water equals sex in a lot of fiction", and I'm like "Oh my god" and I never saw the show the same way again (it improved it).

And you're completely right re: fantasy and the period Xena covered.

I was born in 1978 myself and I just sort of assumed fantasy would never come back, that it enjoyed some popularity in movies in the '80s and that was it. 2000's D&D movie only reinforced this view. LotR kind of smashed that though, even if it took a decade for the effects to start becoming fully obvious and two for them to become far-reaching.
 

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