Premiering at the Toronto International Film Festival and making its way across the country, Kevin McAlester’s The Dungeon Masters is a documentary that falls into the genre that explores the nerdish or geeky subculture. Here, the viewer is introduced to three current players of the game Dungeons & Dragons, Scott Corum, Richard Meeks, and Elizabeth Reesman, and rather than focus on the game, we learn about these people and their lives over a period of time.
Corum is an apartment manager in Torrance, California who lives with his wife and son. He has big dreams that his talent has trouble fulfilling. Of the three, the viewer rarely sees Corum playing D&D. Instead his spare time is put into working on his first novel and creating a cable-access show starring a super villain. There are a few tense moments with his wife who doesn’t come across very supportive in the film.
Meeks is a sanitation worker in Tacoma, Washington. His wife also doesn’t seem to understand the game or her husband. He is a bit of an enigma as major pieces of his life are slowly revealed. The viewer learns he is an active reservist, a nudist, and is rather nonchalant explaining that he walked out on his wife and stepson years ago. As a dungeon master, he has a falling out with his crew for who knows what, but it was obviously very important to him, and kills every character with a Sphere of Annihilation. He later learns the group has moved on without him.
Reesman is a computer programmer from Mississippi and was impacted by Hurricane Katrina. She dresses as an evil black elf and covers a majority of her body in make-up. Her character is a strong fierce woman, which contrasts with how poorly she is treated by men. Her first husband was abusive and a new boyfriend we meet doesn’t last too long, which was foreshadowed when Reesman says, “Oh, I don’t think [a break-up’]s going to happen,” which is followed by an awkward silence. She also LARPs, which is a live-action form of Dungeon & Dragons.
While their stories are interesting, The Dungeon Masters as a whole isn’t overly compelling. There is no great arc or theme to their lives that needs to be seen and they have no real connection to each other. The film is just snippets of three lives over a year with some of the most dramatic moments seeming to happen off-camera. I was glad the participants weren’t mocked by the filmmakers, which how Trekkies came across, but they all fit the type you would expect to be playing D&D. The film would have benefited with more participants speaking about the game and their attachment to it. I enjoyed what I saw, but it was no different from learning about the lives of any three strangers you come into contact with.
For the curious, Reesman posted her own review of the film at her blog, and her perspective is fascinating.
The intro for Corum's TV show, Uncle Drac's Magical Clubhouse:
Uncle Drac vs. Ninjas: