Wednesday, February 4, 2009

Two Films From The 80's Getting Sequels

Back in the early 1980's, there were two films that made the rounds on HBO and Cinemax that really got my D&D blood racing and which in retrospect I see had a great influence on my gaming at the time. 1980 saw Hawk the Slayer, staring John Terry as the noble Prince Hawk and Jack Palance as his villainous brother Voltan (complete with Darth Vader-esque helm). It is usually considered just another cheesy swords-and-sorcery flick, but I find a lot of good stuff there. The music is rousing, if a little over-the-top at times. The special effects are definitely wanting, but are made up for by the earnestness of the cast and a pretty good job of acting all around. Jack Palance in particular gives an over-the-top performance that chews the scenery in a way worthy of Ricardo Montalban in Wrath of Khan.

But what I really like about the film is the way it uses the now-standard idea of the party of adventurers gearing up for a quest. Each is introduced in his own vingette, and these serve to give color to a band that could easily have been nothing more than a Greek chorus or reflection of the leader's coolness. There is good humor (particularly in the interactions between Baldin the dwarf and Gort the giant) and you really get the idea that these characters have known one another for years. The plot is pretty standard; Voltan has kidnapped an Abbess, and Hawk and company must rescue her. But there is much more going on under the surface; Voltan's son is plotting to usurp him, flashbacks show us the root of Hawk's vendetta against his brother, and we see a world where the magic is slowly going away and so are the elves. The scenes where the good guys get the gold they need for the ransom from the slavers are terrific, and show us that the good guys aren't always so good. The image of the Medevial-like church with its Holy Fortress stuck with me for a long time as a model for my own D&D campaigns, and many of my maps had a River Shale and Forest of Wyr.

And now it turns out that the original director is coming out with a sequel! Hawk the Hunter won't star the original John Terry (which is a shame, and somewhat curious, as he's still acting; he recently played a doctor in a series of flashbacks on Lost). I have no idea what the plot is going to be like, but it's being done by the same director as the original (Terry Marcel), and they have cast Tom Hardy (Shinzon from the utterly forgettable Star Trek: Nemesis) as Hawk. And it actually has a budget of $2 million! Can't wait.

Much as I adore Hawk the Slayer, 1982 gave us The Sword and the Sorcerer, which was a much better film overall. The acting is better, the action is better, and the special effects, although certainly not stupendous, are better. Once again, the key to my mind is the fact that there is a lot of implied backstory. You get the impression that Talon's men (Prince Talon-- one wonders why there is such a surfeit of princes in these films) have been boon companions for years, and the pirates they encounter in the city have of course followed Talon in the past and will gladly do so again.

The humor is important, but it doesn't overwhelm the film. One scene stands out in my memory in particular; Talon has been captured, and his men have enlisted the aid of the afore-mentioned pirates to help break him out of the evil king Cromwell's dungeons. They cheer and leave the tavern with murder on their minds and with a resolve that nothing will stop them! Cut to all of them in a cell, captured. Hilarious, because it's done in such a deadpan fashion. But because the film doesn't present itself as a comedy, even self-depricatingly, the humor works.

And of course this is one of the standards of the genre, especially where it intersects with gaming tropes. The evil king, the rebellion brewing among his oppressed subjects, the plot twists around Count Michelli... great stuff and all very usable in a gaming situation.

And yet again, there's a sequel in the works by the original director! However, instead of replacing the lead character like they're doing in the Hawk sequel, the original Prince Talon (Lee Horsely) will appear in a sort of cameo to hand the reins off to Kevin Sorbo as the new hero. I don't get this, personally. Lee Horsely is only 54 himself, and I would think they could get a lot of mileage out of the old hero coming back for one last adventure theme. And it's not like Kevin Sorbo is a spring chicken. I mean, I liked Hercules and Andromeda well enough, but he's only three years younger than Horsely. Once more, this one promises to be bigger, and better, and have a larger budget. Another must-see.

There were plenty of other films from the era that influenced my gaming, of course; The Archer: Fugitive from the Empire and The Beastmaster foremost among them. But these two have a special place in my heart, and the fact that they are being revived (rather than remade) could be a very good thing indeed.

EDIT: I just remembered that 1982's The Dark Crystal is also getting a sequel, due out in 2011. The Power of the Dark Crystal has apparently made it out of pre-production, so it's a definite go. Is this some sort of trend? What's next; E.T.: The Return?

My 2009 Convention Calendar

This is something of a wish-list, as I'm going to be including conventions I know for a fact I won't be able to attend, but man oh man would I like to. The local NJ cons are pretty much a given, and I'm pretty fortunate that there are so many that are really local to me. Here we have, in chronological order, my 2009 convention calendar.

Feb 19-22. Dreamation 2009. Morristown, NJ. A local gaming convention.

Mar 6-8. Creation. Cherry Hill, NJ. Yes, Creation conventions are normally quite lame, but my wife is a huge fan of "Supernatural", and this one is a salute to the show.

Mar 12-15. Cold Wars. Lancaster, PA. Historical miniatures convention. I might do this one instead of the July "Historicon", which is put on by the same folks.

Apr 17-19. Chiller Theater Expo. Rutherford, NJ. Big horror convention.

Jun 5-6. NJCon. Miniatures wargaming.

Jun 24-28. Origins Game Fair. Columbus, OH. Huge gaming convention. I don't know if I'll be able to make this one, but I'd really like to.

Jul 8-12. Dexcon 12. Morristown, NJ. A local gaming convention. Unfortunately, this one conflicts with the next on the list, and I don't know which I'll be attending yet.

Jul 10-12. Shore Leave. Hunt Valley, MD. A local fan-run sci-fi convention. See Dexcon, above; this is a toss-up for me. The costume contest on Saturday night is always a highlight, and this is one of those types of conventions where the guests hang out in the bar with the fans and have been known to make the rounds of the room parties.

Jul 23-25. Historicon. Lancaster, PA. A big gaming convention focusing on miniatures.

Aug 13-16. GenCon Indy. Indianapolis, IN. Huge gaming con. Finances might keep me from attending this year, but I'm hoping I can squeeze it in.

Oct 23-25. Ubercon XII. Piscataway, NJ. A local gaming convention. I'm hoping to run some AD&D or a simulacrum at this one.

If you're going to be at one of these conventions, too, drop me a line and maybe we can grab a beer.

EDIT 2/7/09: Added "Cold Wars" in March and "NJCon" in June.