There is an ever growing light being shone upon the lesser acknowledged sides of geeky culture. We see more and more anime on main stream channels; computer games are growing in recognition as a competing field against film, television, books and music; and comic books have taken the film industry by storm.
Live action role play – the once maligned form of active gaming mocked even by the tabletop players – is seeing something of a facelift in public perception, due in no small part to the number of celebrities who have come out as proud nerds and gamers, and geeks are becoming celebrities in their own right.
Two such films plunged normal people who’s normal lives are driving them slowly mad into the abnormal and far more exciting lives of fictional characters in a fantasy world.
Role Models (2008)
Paul Rudd and Seann William Scott star as representatives of an energy drink company touring schools as part of an anti-drug/promotional tour, when Rudd’s character starts to lose his enthusiasm and mounts a monster truck over a horse statue. They are mandated by the court to join a mentoring program for young kids, one a foul mouthed tearaway out to cause trouble, the other a quiet nerd who only comes alive on the field of fake battle. It’s a classic odd couple redemption story, as their connection to their charges leads Rudd’s uptight suit gone wrong and Scott’s “totally not Stifler” character on to better themselves and each other.
The game LAIRE features initially as a background detail to the life of Christopher Mintz-Plasse “Augie”, but as his involvement in the game becomes one of the major breaking points for the story, it also becomes the means by which all four of them finally connect, and heal, an escape and a violent outlet for their frustrations with life. Though Rudd and Scott both begin by mocking and belittling the hobby, they come around, throw themselves into it, and come out the other side the better.
Role Models takes a few unfair stabs at LARP, but doesn’t treat it unfairly. The criticisms clearly come from places of ignorance, and when those “mundane” folk such as the parents and the mentors come around when they see how impactful it can be on someone’s life they gladly put aside their preconceptions. Oh, and even better, turns out LAIRE is real! The group have been running for twenty five years, and it’s cool that real geekery backed a damn good film.
Knights of Badassdom (2013)
A similarly high-geek content film, Ryan Kwanten plays a dropout of life who’s finally lost his deadend job and uptight girlfriend. His friends, Peter Dinklage and Steve Zahn decide the only way to pull him out of his funk is to drag him to a LARP, against his will if needs be. During the game, Zahn inadvertently summons an actual demon from hell with a book he bought from eBay that begins to wreak some serious havoc. Understandably it’s all a little too easy for a demon to find victims in a forest full of people fully immersed in a fantasy world, and it’s killing spree takes the grand-melee at the finale into a bloodbath.
Notoriously geeky actors Summer Glau, Danny Puddi, Brain Posehn and Jimmi Simpson lend their considerable talent to this film, but the name that surprised me the most was one not appearing on camera. Bear McCreary is a name you’ll recognise if you pay attention to your opening credits, as he also composed the music for Battlestar Gallactica, the Walking Dead and Black Sails, this is a seriously talented composer putting time and effort into a film that broadly flew straight under the radar for most people.
Here is a film clearly made as a labour of love for the game and a desire to showcase something awesome, despite ending on the moral that LARP is dangerous and you should just play Doom Metal instead because it saves lives. Nevertheless, this is a fairly mediocre film made by people who were clearly loving every moment and it shows in every moment that Knights of Badassdom was a project made by fans for fans, budget be damned, let’s have some fun.
There is a very clear line to draw between these two films. Knights of Badassdom was clearly written with the express intent of making a LARP film that would appeal to LARPers but could be watched by anyone, where Role Models seems to approach it from the non-LARPers perspective. Does it make either film bad? Not in the slightest, although it’s very clear who used their budget more effectively. Badassdom had plenty of special effects to waste money on, and the quality is inconsistent; we start looking stunningly professional, and end a few steps north of student film. Role Models has virtually no special effects, leaving us with a film that is well executed from start to finish.
It’s an obvious thing when a cast and crew enjoy making a film, and these are two films that show for how much everyone wanted to be there. Neither is a sizzling blockbuster or a work of heartbreaking beauty but they are must-watch films for anyone who wants to know what geeks do for fun and have professional production quality and acting talent to play with. More LARP in cinema please!