Suspended Animation #286
On March 27, 2020, it was announced that the popular 1983 arcade animated videogame Dragon’s Lair would become a live-action feature film produced and starring actor Ryan Reynolds as Dirk the Daring.
Dragon’s Lair was the first Laser Disc interactive game and the first time that arcade gamers were playing an interactive short movie with classical hand-drawn animation. The game was created by Rick Dyer (who came up with the characters of Dirk and Daphne) and Don Bluth and his studio.
In 2016, Don Bluth said, “The game didn’t really have a story. It was just this clumsy knight (Dirk) entering a wizard’s castle filled with creatures and booby traps, to rescue the fair Princess Daphne.” The castle belonged to an evil wizard who was later identified as Mordroc.
The game was followed by Cinematronics’ Space Ace (also produced by Bluth) in 1984, and Stern Electronics delivered Cliff Hanger in 1983 based on two Lupin III anime films.
The original Dragon’s Lair was released in 1983 and over the decades has been ported to dozens of different platforms. A sequel, Dragon’s Lair 2: Time Warp, finally was released in 1991. A third game, Dragon’s Lair 3: The Curse of Mordread, hit personal computers in 1993, and a 3D sequel hit PC and console in the early 2000s. Mordread was the sister of Mordroc.
The live action film will be produced for Netflix with Don Bluth, Gary Goldman and John Pomeroy also listed as co-producers. The script is being written by Dan and Kevin Hageman, who paired up for 2014’s The Lego Movie.
In October 2015, Bluth and Gary Goldman turned to Kickstarter and later Indiegogo to raise money to produce a ten minute animated teaser for a Dragon’s Lair feature film that could be shown to investors in hopes of making a multi-million dollar film. They ended up raising $731,172 for the teaser.
At the time, Bluth told Gamespot magazine that the film would not depict Daphne as a “blonde airhead” and her “sexulaized” appearance would be toned down for the movie just as it had been for the Ruby-Spears 1984-85 Saturday morning television series based on the game.
Thirteen half hour episodes of that series were produced with Bob Sarlatte voicing Dirk and Ellen Gerstel doing Daphne. In the videogame, sound engineer Dan Molina voiced Dirk and Vera Lampher, head of the assistant animators, did Daphne.
In the game, the dragon was unnamed but for the series was dubbed “Singe” and could now talk. The series was developed by Rick Merwin and Paul Dini focusing on different quests from King Ethelred who was also Daphne’s father. Bluth gave the studio model sheets from the game and had script approval but rarely read them.
This recent announcement of a feature film was not the first time that Bluth and Goldman tried to develop the game into a theatrical feature. At the height of the game’s popularity, Bluth brought in writer Alan Dean Foster, known at the time for his novelizations of movies including the first Star Wars, to participate in story sessions.
Bluth said, “I think we have a really good shot with the movie version. If the Dragon’s Lair name appears on a movie marquee, kids won’t be threatened by it. They won’t feel shy about going into the theater. Seeing Snow White might embarrass them, but Dragon’s Lair is already theirs.
“We’re going to give them everything they want to see. Answer all their questions about our hero, Dirk, and his background. At the same time, we’re not going to aim the subject matter at the nursery level. We’re going to aim up.”
Oddly, rather than expanding upon the cliffhanging adventures in the game, Bluth wanted to tell the story of how Dirk and Daphne met as teenagers and battled a evil sorcerer named Mordroc who was planning on raising an army of corpses from the river of the dead to take over the world.
Dirk and his friend Strun are peasants who live in a forest and have been adopted by a strange old hag who was killed by Mordroc. Strun is kidnapped and becomes possessed. Princess Daphne and her aunt Brunhilde are disguised as gypsies and hide in the forest to elude Mordroc.
Dirk learns of a warrior knight who can defeat Mordroc and sets off to find him. Along the way he meets up with seven dwarf trolls called the Seven Deadlies named after the Seven Deadly Sins: Greed, Lust, Sloth, etc. Foster had designed them as thieving otters but Bluth changed them into a mixture of Disney’s Seven Dwarfs and the little people from the movie Time Bandits (1981).
They strike up an alliance to find the knight who turns out to be an aging, burnt-out former “hired gun”. Dirk is given his familiar chain mail and orange tunic and the knight agrees to face Mordroc.
Mordroc has taken over Strun’s body and has captured Daphne and intends to wed her. The knight kills Strun but Mordroc’s soul oozes out and transforms into a dragon. The knight collapses into a pile of empty armor.
Dirk slays the dragon but finds that Daphne has been killed. His love brings her back to life and Dirk has become the famous Dirk the Daring because of his bravery and sacrifice.
The film lacked the silliness and cartoony approach of the game and the redesign of Dirk and Daphne left them almost unrecognizable.
A short film was produced to interest investors consisting of roughly thirty story sketches narrated in epic solemnity. As writer John Cawley stated, “At one major studio, Bluth showed the presentation and then showed the work print of LAIR II which was almost completed. The executive sat there for a second then stated they should turn LAIR II into the feature and forget the other one.”
Started after work on Space Ace had been completed, Dragon’s Lair II: Time Warp takes place years after the first game and has Dirk married to Daphne with lots of children. When Daphne is kidnapped by Mordroc to be forced into marriage, Dirk must once again go and save her. He is assisted by a talking time machine that has been possessed by the brother of Mordroc.
Dirk travels through several dimensions and historical eras searching for Daphne. Some of those scenes were inspired by classic stories and fairy tales like Alice in Wonderland and Sleeping Beauty. Production on the game was halted when the arcade game market started to fall apart in 1984 but it was eventually completed and released. It was very much in the spirit of the first game with fast action and lots of humor.
Let me finish with a great anecdote from my friend John Cawley, “Shortly after the arcade video game market began to crumble, the (Bluth) studio briefly dabbled in producing games for the home computer market. One game, largely designed by Dan Kuenster, starring Zorro did get completed and was released with no real recognition to the Bluth studio.”