Saturday, May 26, 2012

The D&D Movie

Yeah, not the one you're thinking of.  I saw a Sinbad movie long ago (when I was 10? earlier?) and it has always stayed with me.  It was hard for me to find because I would re-watch all the Harryhausen pics thinking it was one of them, and they are all good and I remember them too.  But the one that stuck most was the German production Captain Sinbad.
I think it pretty much epitomizes D&D for me, especially the last 25 minutes.

To start you have a film ostensibly about Sinbad and the Middle East, but really that's only an excuse to have lavish costumes and fantastic events.  I mean the villain, El Carim, looks like a Hun with a sheepskin vest.  And his name, is he from Spain?  Sinbad fights in a full-blown gladiatorial arena!  What era is this?

As Sinbad and his crew attempt to reach a tower that holds the key to El Carim's power they struggle through a weird amalgam of jungle/swamp.  There are crocodiles and strangling vines, screaming monkeys and whirlpool-suck-holes.  The conflation of the exotic terrain is similar to the conflation of decorations and clothes from many different cultures considered exotic.

It's basically something the Academy calls Orientalism.  Folks in the West see cultures to the east of them as exotic, sexual, indolent, brutal, etc.  You basically project your own ideas onto a place you find foreign.  Even though that place has thousands of years of culture and probably considers your own culture strange.  And then you use those ideas to justify colonization, exploitation, and war.

Anyway, I didn't mean for this to be an essay on Orientalism in D&D which is something I'm very wary of and try to guard against, but is also, I think, at the root of D&D (It's the pseudo in pseudo-medieval and pseudo-middle eastern that even makes it possible-- adventures in a fantastic world that never existed.  And exotic means new and interesting to you even if it's old hat to someone of another culture).  I mostly wanted to point out a root source for my own conception of D&D.

Watch the last 25 minutes if you can, see the hirelings drop like flies.  Watch the crazy guardian Sinbad has to fight at the end in all its Rientsian glory.  See the villain immune to all harm unless a fairy tale-like condition is fulfilled.


  1. wait wait - is his soul kept in an inaccessible eagle's aerie? If so, this is the film I've been searching for since I was a wee one, and I was convinced the bad guy was Tom Baker but he's not Koura.

    Nice, brief essay on Orientalism. I think it's inseparable both from fantasy and from adventure as a genre/mood. I also think there's nothing inherently wrong with it: the victimization that has so often gone together with it is not a necessary part of it.

    And Arabian Nights plus Flash Gordon is about the closest filmic description I can find for what I want from dnd, with Arabian Nights being that film I half remember. I kinda feel it sets me apart from most of the OSR that I don't want Excalibur or Conan or A Fistful of Dollars or LoTR and I absolutely don't want WoW or Daggerfall or Ultima - I actually like the slight uncertainty that half-defined setting provides - that sense of not quite knowing where you are.

  2. His heart's at the top of a tower. That aerie also sounds familiar though. Now I wonder if there's another fantasy movie I need to go find.

    As far as setting. If you asked me a few years ago I would have said I wanted a realistic medieval world something like Harn, yet what I end up producing is invariably something like Arabian Nights with fairy tale logic and some body horror elements. So who knows.

    I imagine it has to do with encountering D&D so young-- before the Chronicles of Narnia, the Hobbit, or any Howard or Vance, but not before reading about Greek myths, fairy tales, knights and dinosaurs. The dungeon crawl as a genre I learned from D&D itself. But once you leave the dungeon, what's there? It could be anything. I'm with you I like the uncertainty, it seems tied to exploration and wonder. I'm resistant to lose that by defining parts of my world before I have to. Heck I don't even want to map my main city, Nidus.