Fellowship of the Dice (2005)

Elizabeth (Aimee Graham) sits in a dull room explaining to her parole officer why she wasn’t at home the night before. She confesses how she met a group of people who play some unusual game that involves pencils, paper, and imagination. “They call it a role-playing game,” she says. Her parole officer leans over the table bug-eyed: “Is this some kind of sex game?!”

Being marketed as “Spinal Tap meets Dungeons and Dragons”, The Fellowship of the Dice is a mockumentary about a group of gamers playing a Dungeons and Dragons-esque role-playing game. Its marketing slogan should get all gamers and mockumentary fans salivating, but unfortunately the film breaks some vital rules for mockumentaries and alienates most of its audience, which is the non-gamer demographic.

The film begins with Elizabeth, our protagonist, who’s feeling quite bored and claustrophobic after being put on house arrest (albeit with some mobility) for disruptive party behavior and abusing drugs. She wanders into a gaming store one day where she’s approached by a gamer who asks if she would like to come over and play a game with his group of friends. Elizabeth accepts out of sheer desperation – anything to alleviate her boredom — but she has no idea what she’s in for.

What follows is a long glimpse into the lives of people who spend most of their time pretending to be someone else. Lightly poking fun at gamers, the characters in the film are realistic walking stereotypes any gamer could recognize. The film is also spliced with interviews from real role-playing gamers who, in fact, fit such stereotypes.

As enticing as the idea of a mockumentary about role-playing is, The Fellowship of the Dice isn’t all as funny as the subject matter could be. It has its clever moments; for example a scene where a character shouts Elfish (a language developed among a certain sect of gamers) at a driver who cuts him off. But it seems the filmmakers missed some opportunities, such as a not developing some compelling characters to their full potential. For example, the character Gwen, the Game Master’s wife, does nothing but chew on her pen and mumble. Why is she there? Meanwhile, the whiny Kevin (Jon Dabach) is overused, being the sole purpose of all the conflict in the story.

It’s obvious this film was made for gamers, which is also its biggest weakness. Anyone watching this movie who isn’t a gamer will probably quickly grow bored. All the action takes place in one room and it feels very much like you’re watching other people play the real Dungeons and Dragons – but you’re not let in on the game, or the minds of the players. Any ounce of pleasure to be found comes from finding a character you can identify with, or who reminds you of someone you know. Pardon me as I let my true geek show, but the “Kevin” character reminds me most of some of the people I used to game with. He shadows the million of high-strung, whiny gamers out there who take themselves and their characters a little too seriously.

For example, a major conflict in the story happens when the Game Master, the person who controls the game, takes a bunch of powerful weapons from everyone and replaces them with meaningless items. Kevin can’t accept it and gripes through the whole game. “You just hate me because I’m too powerful for you,” he whines.

But back to the mockumentary genre; this isn’t a true mockumentary film. It seems the filmmakers were having a hard time deciding if they wanted to make a low budget movie or a fake documentary. It begins like a regular movie, showing a scene of Elizabeth walking curiously into a gaming store, but then shows a scene that seems a little too serious, or perhaps too “realistic” for this film, which is a scene of Elizabeth talking with her parole officer. Also, and perhaps I’m getting too realistic about this, but it’s never clear why a documentary crew is following this group of strangers around, anyway.

Surprisingly, the interviews of the “real gamers” are more interesting than the “actor gamers” and they make me wonder if the film would have worked better as a plain ‘ol documentary. One of the gamers interviewed, a guy wearing sunglasses and fangs, seemed 10 times more colorful and weird than anyone else in the whole film.

The DVD itself is quite minimal, which is to be expected from a low budget film. There are a few extras, such as bloopers and production stills, so it’s nice that they tried. Don’t expect Fellowship of the Dice to rival Spinal Tap or Best in Show but it will smite thee with a level 8 rapier.

RATING 5 / 10