Board with Hollywood is our look at the film industry’s attempts to dive into our world of gaming. Do these films succeed at representing our beloved games or do they miss the mark completely? Let’s find out!
Films about live action roleplaying games, or LARPs, aren’t a new phenomenon. The hobby was thrust into the Hollywood limelight with 2008’s Role Models starring Seann William Scott and Paul Rudd. It was an occassionally funny but surface level view of LARPing through the lens of an outsider, granting the Everyday Joe a look at something incredibly nerdy and niche that he’s probably never seen or heard of before. A number of documentaries have also been produced on the subject, many from fans of live roleplaying and active participants. But the film world lacked a solid work of fiction that truly embraced the hobby that poked fun at it from a purely insider experience, allowing other fans of LARPs to feel included in the jokes instead of standing in the comedy firing line.
Enter Knights of Badassdom, an indie release that was originally unveiled at ComicCon 2011, nearly three years ago. The movie was scheduled for a 2012 release but went silent for a long time, leading many to wonder its fate. Rumors swirled of executives dipping their hands into the pot, attempting to steal the film away from director Joe Lynch to re-edit and reshape his original intentions for the movie. And then, lo and behold, invitations began to roll out for screenings throughout California. It seems the little film that could, finally did. But in what shape and form did the final cut take, and was it as faithful to the original promise made by the first trailer years ago?
Well, yes and no.
Knights of Badassdom is a strange amalgamation of various genres, and the best description I can muster is that Knights is a stoner-comedy horror-adventure flick. If that sounds utterly bizarre, then I feel vindicated as Knights of Badassdom is a genuinely strange and surreal experience. It’s funny, gross, creepy, and appropriately badass at times, living up to its title. If you go into the movie thinking it adheres to a single genre or formula, you’ll likely walk away either pleasantly surprised or sadly disappointed.
The star power behind such a project is truly astounding. Knights of Badassdom stars Ryan Kwanten (True Blood), Peter Dinklage (Game of Thrones), Steve Zahn (Dallas Buyer’s Club), and Summer Glau (Firefly), and features a number of smaller roles by favorites like Danny Pudi, Jimmi Simpson and Brian Posehn. The cast is fantastic and played a huge part in my enjoyment of the film. The chemistry between Kwanten, Zahn, and Dinklage especially is very endearing and allows most of the comedy between them to succeed. I have no complaints about the cast; they all approach the subject matter with a level of energy that helps show that they aren’t out to make fun of roleplayers, but simply embrace an oft-shunned hobby by the mainstream world.
Unfortunately, the script is all over the place in terms of quality. Most of the writing is fairly funny, but there are some awkward scenes that seem a bit out place. Knights also suffers from some weird editing issues, giving some credence to the claims that the movie was passed around in post-production to various executives that all had their own visions for what the film should be. Most of the awkward cuts and transitions occur around the fim’s questionable practical and digital effects. Lynch comes from a direct-to-video horror background and the film’s budget was nothing of note, but instead of embracing much of the shlock and cheese, it seems efforts were made to edit out the intentional B-level trappings. The director mentioned that the movie that was finally released is not his cut of the film. It’s hard to gauge whether Joe Lynch’s original cut would have been better than the final product, but it’s always disheartening when Hollywood steps in to compromise an artist’s creation.
Despite its issues though, Knights of Badassdom still works and is entertaining for fans of shlocky horror, stoner comedies, and/or roleplaying games. The movie takes care to not necessarily make fun of the hobby and instead embraces it by playfully poking at some of the sillier aspects of nerd life and gaming. The focus remains mostly fixed on the LARP throughout the movie, only pulling away for brief moments of comedy or relationship building. And unlike Role Models, the protagonists of Knights aren’t struggling to understand why people enjoy roleplaying games, but instead begin the film already entrenched in the hobby and embracing the people that play. It’s a bit of an uneven mess at times, but it’s a funny, endearing mess that I’m happy to share with all of my gaming and non-gaming friends.