|Lets have a quick show of hands did any of you ever play Dungeons and Dragons as a teen? I know I did. At that age, there werent too many social activities available that didnt involve drugs or alcohol. Its been a long time since I last handled 20-sided dice, but I still have a few of em around here somewhere. (Hey, you never know when you might need to suddenly generate a random number between 1 and 20.) They called us "gamers," and the image this particular little special-interest group generated wasnt always a pretty one.
The gamer image has not been particularly well served by the medium of cinema. Many fantasy films (Conan, Lord of the Rings) appeal to gamers and "normals" alike, presenting a fine visualization of the world gamers pretend to inhabit. Movies that are actually about gamers, on the other hand, are a different story.
One of the first that I can recall is Mazes and Monsters (1982), a made-for-TV cautionary fable that presented the hobby as a semi-occult activity that drives players insane. The films characters wear costumes to their gaming sessions and graduate to acting out the game in caves, until one unbalanced youngster (played by Tom Hanks) completely loses touch with reality. Most viewers found the film merely boring, while gamers, incensed at being so wildly misunderstood, hissed and threw popcorn at the screen. Still, the scene where Hanks has a nervous breakdown in a phone booth packs quite an emotional wallop. Here was an actor clearly destined for greater things.
When the movie Dungeons & Dragons (2000) came out, gamers dared (for a moment) to hope that their dream movie had finally arrived, only to be cruelly abused by one of the worst fantasy films in recent memory. If one sits through this terrible movie, one does so in appalled silence, unable to summon the energy to mock it, before stumbling bleary-eyed back into the real world, ready to erase all memory of what has just been witnessed. Weve got Jeremy Irons overacting his head off, Thora Birch acting like shed just had her head surgically reattached and didnt want to speak or move too much, Marlon Wayans being a thousand times more irritating than he was in The Ladykillers (2004) and a guy with blue lips trying to be scary. Gaaaahhh! The DVD contains an alternate ending even lousier than the one they used, and the director admits to shooting a third ending thats even worse. The mind boggles. Tragically, Dungeons & Dragons 2: The Elemental Might (Might? Might what?) is scheduled for release later this year, featuring none of the original cast other than blue-lips guy. It cant possibly be any worse than its predecessor. (Or can it? I dont wanna know.)
With the bar set so low, I figured I was ready for Spains take on the gaming movie, El Corazon Del Guerrero (a.k.a. Heart of the Warrior) (2000). It turned out to be quite enjoyable for a number of reasons: I used memories of Dungeons & Dragons to set my expectations at an appropriately dismal level; lots of naked tits; plenty of fake blood and crazy special effects; a generally insane story line; and I had the foresight to view this with some gaming-savvy buddies in the mood to mock a dubbed, European D&D movie.
El Corazon Del Guerrero begins in a set of haunted catacombs, with a muscle-bound Conan clone named Beldar (Joel Joan) questing for magic items. He gets more than he bargained for when the warrior heart of the title casts a curse on him and he suddenly awakes, screaming, in his bed. Not a warriors bed, though, but a modern suburban bedroom filled with geeky accoutrements like heavy metal posters and X-Files action figures. His mom even greets him and tells him to get ready for school. Confused, the mighty barbarian wanders into the bathroom, splashes some water on his face and turns into Ramon (Fernando Ramallo), a common spotty-faced teenager.
Is this the nature of the curse? Is the mighty Beldar doomed to live out his days as an acne-faced kid? Sadly, no. This movie is set in modern Spain and Ramon is the films protagonist a callow youth who only imagines hes Beldar during his gaming sessions. Ramons a little on the unhinged side and often has trouble distinguishing fantasy from reality, so anybody whos seen Mazes and Monsters will know what to expect from there. Still, the fantasy segments are hilariously corny, with enough of a European edge to them to keep you guessing. (At one point, the kids gaming session is interrupted by a nude, headless woman who simply wanders into their midst.) Ramon gets even more psycho when hes convinced that busty streetwalker Sonia (Neus Asensi) is his imaginary girlfriend from the game and tries to convince her of his undying devotion while she eyes him with suspicion. Ramons psychosis comes to a head when he actually tries to assassinate a local politician, who in a bizarre twist is actually involved in a sinister conspiracy. Lots of crazy plot twists, terrible dubbing and bizarre characters (like the little guy who lives in a sewer, eating rats) make this quite watchable, despite a draggy middle and the fact that Beldar doesnt show up often enough.