Marvel Productions (September 17, 1983 – September 11, 1985), BCI Eclipse (December 5, 2006), 5 disc set, 594 mins plus supplements, 1.33:1 original fullscreen ratio, Dolby Digital 2.0, Not Rated, Retail: $54.98
Dungeons & Dragons was a children’s television show that ran for three seasons between 1983 and 1985 on CBS. The show featured six young kids trying to find their way back home after being magically transported to the realm of Dungeons and Dragons by a portal in a roller coaster ride. These six kids represented different types of personalities and age groups, and each was granted a special weapon. The natural, and self-appointed leader of the group is Hank, the ranger, who has a magical bow he uses to trap and fire at his enemies. Diana, the acrobat, is a confident young woman who uses a telescoping pole to vault over her enemies and power her kicks. The only other girl is Sheila, the thief, a sensitive and caring person who is given a magical invisibility cloak to fool her foes. Her younger brother, Bobby, the barbarian, is an impulsive kid that yields a powerful magic club he uses to knock his enemies off their feet. Eric, the cavalier, is a spoiled rich kid that uses a magic shield to protect the group from attacks. Rounding out the kids is Presto, the wizard, a nerdy and indecisive boy who often accidentally manages to pull something useful out of his magic hat. A young female unicorn named Uni, who has special, and rarely used, teleporting abilities, joins the kids in their quest.
During their travels, a powerful magician, referred to as Dungeon Master, helps the kids. While Dungeon Master’s motives seem unclear at times, he does frequently help the children and others along the way and claims that they have a greater purpose for being inside the realm. The children’s greatest antagonist is Venger and his henchman Shadow Demon. Venger, an evil wizard who is intent on destroying the children, wants to steal their special weapons in order to become the most powerful being in the realm. Venger’s henchman is Shadow Demon who regularly spies on the kids and reports their movements to Venger. A five-headed dragon named Tiamat also regularly appears as a foe to both the kids and Venger. Of course, there are all sorts of evil characters lurking in every corner of the realm causing havoc for the kids to resolve. I remember watching and really enjoying this show when I was younger, so I was glad that after two decades, the cult show has finally made its way to DVD where all three seasons of the show are presented with remastered tracks and great special features.
The Sweatbox Review:
Based on the popular game, Dungeons & Dragons attracted television producers shortly after the game, created by Gary Gygax and Dave Arneson, was released in 1974, ten years before the show aired. The controversial game that would define gaming for years to come is still popular around the world today. Now in version 3.5, the game was heavily influenced by 70s pop culture and mythology, especially The Lord Of The Rings series. While hailed by many, the game would become a center of controversy over its inclusion of demons and devils and because of some players who were unable to separate fantasy from reality. The idea behind the show was certainly influenced by the narrative of the game, but little of the game was actually used in the show. One of the major differences between the game and the show was the role-playing aspect. While an early version of the show had the kids imagine their actions and end with them around the game, producers wanted more realism. The decision was then made to have the kids in actual peril by having them transported to the realm of Dungeons and Dragons. The show, a co production between Marvel Productions and TSR, the company behind the game, quickly developed its own mythology and is still popular more than 20 years after it was cancelled.
In this DVD set, the episodes of the show are spread on four discs with discs one and two holding the first season (and one episode of the second season), disc three holding the second season, and disc four holding the third and final season. There are three types of episodes on the show. There are episodes where the kids find out about some magic portal that can take them home, others where they are compelled to help strangers along the way, and the character-centric episodes that develops the personality of one of the kids. During its short 27-episode run, Dungeons & Dragons produced some really exciting episodes, including the classic episode “The Dragon’s Graveyard.” In this episode, which does not fit into the three types I have just described, the children decide to be proactive in their quest for a way home. After another frustrated attempt to go home, the children decide to confront Venger and “do whatever it takes” to defeat him. While considered a violent episode, this is mainly due to the premise of the episode because the kids actually attack to kill Venger and his skeleton warriors; something still considered taboo for Saturday morning television. The show also reveals a surprising twist to the show that ties in nicely with the unaired series finale, “Requiem”. Other great episodes include “Quest of the Skeleton Warrior”, “The Box”, “Day of the Dungeon Master”, and “The Dungeon at the Heart of Dawn”.
After its cancellation, the show spawned a series of rumors surrounding the cancellation itself and the supposed unaired finale. One popular rumor was that the children were in fact dead and were in some sort of purgatory. Another rumor was that Dungeon Master and Venger were the same person, or were working together using the kids. The creators of the show have frequently denied both of these rumors. However, Dungeon Master’s motives for keeping the children in the realm when he apparently has the power to return them home have always been puzzling to fans. During the interviews found on this set, the writers and producers never seem to know his reason, but they all insist that they are good. This set should put all rumors to rest as the final episode of the show was actually written and is included on this set as a radio show. The episode finally gets down to the relationship between Venger and Dungeon Master as well their motives for keeping the children in the realm. The satisfying conclusion should be enough for fans and only makes me wish they hadn’t cancelled the show due to declining ratings.
The show was one of those rare cases where talented writers and artists were paired with a talented cast that brought the characters to life. There was a diverse group of writers on the show, which was largely due to the complex stories in each episode and the tight production schedule. Most of the episodes were written by Jeffrey Scott, who at the time was better know for his Challenge Of The SuperFriends and Spider-Man scripts. Later, Scott would go on to write for Muppet Babies, James Bond Jr., Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles, and would most recently get an Emmy nomination for his work on Dragon Tales in 2001. Other writers included Kathy Selbert (aka Kathy Lawrence), who also collaborated on Muppet Babies and more recently on X-Men: Evolution, and Karl Geurs, who during his long career became most known for his work at Disney where he worked on The New Adventures Of Winnie the Pooh and most recently in The Jungle Book 2. Probably the greatest contributor to the show was Mark Evanier who wrote the pilot and the show’s Bible. He was a talented writer who had already written for fantasy in Thundarr The Barbarian and Trollkins. Evanier was asked to write a pilot for Marvel with a guarantee from CBS that the show would be picked up. Other writers had tackled the show and Evanier had the difficult task of reducing the number of main characters on the show down to 6 and establishing the kids on their never-ending quest back home. He would later go on to write for Garfield And Friends and Superman: The Animated Series.
The voice cast was also distinguished group of actors who would also work for many years after the show. The most prominent member of the cast was the talented Frank Welker who provided the voice for Uni and Tiamat, along with other animal creatures. Welker is most known for being the voice of Fred on Scooby-Doo, Where Are You? but his voice has been featured in hundreds of shows and movies over his long career, often voicing multiple characters, many of which are animals (most recently he provided the voice for Curious George). Aside from Welker, the most famous of the group was Don Most who played Ralph Malph on Happy Days. Others in the voice cast include TV veteran Willie Aames (Hank), Tonya Gail Smith (Diana), Katie Leight (Sheila) who would become the voice of Sunni Gummi in The Gummi Bears and Honker on Darkwing Duck, Adam Rich (Presto) who was famous for his role on Eight is Enough, Ted Field III (Bobby) who was the son of producer Ted Field II, would go on to voice Spike on the Mister T show, Sidney Miller (Dungeon Master), and Peter Cullen (Venger).
Is This Thing Loaded?
BCI has done an excellent job at compiling special features for this 5-disc set. All of the special features, aside from two audio commentaries, can be found on disc five. We get all types of features from exclusive interviews to a Dungeons & Dragons adventure book.
The highlight of the special features for me is the Radio Show-style presentation of the final, unaired, episode “Requiem.” Here, the episode is recreated using some of today’s popular voice talents including Katie Leigh (reprising her role as Sheila, but also voicing Bobby), Daniel Roebuck (Eric), Wally Wingert (Hank, Dungeon Master, Uni, and Hydra), Laura Leigh (Diana), Buster Roebuck (Presto), and Neil Kaplan (Venger, Narrator, and the Bronze Dragon). The episode runs longer than the regular 20 minutes because of the narration and is filled with sound effects. Neil Kaplan’s narration is great and the voice actors are able to establish the mood of the story so effectively I didn’t even need animation to complete the scenes in my head. This is an excellent inclusion in this set that makes it worth the price just to get a satisfying closure for such a great show.
The bulk of the special features can be found in a new documentary called “Entering the Realm of Dungeons & Dragons” which runs for 32 minutes. Here, we get to listen to the producers, writers, and animators talk about the show and some landmark moments that happened on the show. Among the people interviewed is Ted Field II, direct of Children’s programming for CBS (and father to Ted Field III – the voice of Bobby), Hank Saroyan, Bob Richardson, Mark Evanier, Buzz Dixon, Michael Reaves, and Bob Kline. All give creative insight into the making of the show and put to rest some rumors surrounding the show’s cancellation.
Another great special feature is a full-length animated storyboard for the episode “The Girl Who Dreamed Tomorrow”. Viewers can watch this in three different ways – with the storyboard on screen and the actual animation in the corner, with side-by-side comparison between storyboard and final animation, or with final animation on screen and the storyboard in the corner. It is a great idea, and it was really interesting to see the storyboard to get a sense of the full production process of the show.
The Dungeons & Dragon interactive adventure called “Kellek’s Crystal” allows the viewer to make decisions for Eric and Diana as they try to save their friends from Kellek’s castle. I got through this adventure correctly on my first try, but I could’ve easily made a wrong choice along the way, as there are several to be made. Keep persisting because there are instructions to an Easter egg at the end of the game. The goal of the game is to pick up some keys to unlock a hidden door in Kallek’s castle.
There is a neat fan film by Sean Kennedy called “Choices” in this set. In this live-action short, Hank is coming to terms with the death of an enemy while Sheila is trying to comfort him. I thought that the short looked great, considering what I assume was a small budget. The costumes and the special effects are actually pretty cool, and it was neat to see a live-action version of two of the characters (here portrayed as adults – perhaps they have been in the realm a long time?). It makes me wish that the live-action movie released a couple of years back had taken some more ideas from the show.
Other features are galleries for original model sheets and memorabilia, character and artifacts profiles, and alternate or rare video footage from the original show (mainly consisting of original opening and closing title sequences and episode previews).
On the other discs, viewers will find two audio commentaries and “Uni’s Fun Facts” trivia in the episode menu for each episode. The first audio commentary is for the pilot “The Night of No Tomorrow” while the second is for “The Dragon’s Graveyard.” Included in the commentaries are producer Bob Richardson, story editor and voice director Hank Saroyan, writers Mark Evanier and Michael Reeves, and CBS executives Ted Field II and Judy Price. They are hosted and interviewed by special features producer Andy Mangels. The commentaries are informative and the best one is actually for “The Night of No Tomorrow.” Michael Reeves is actually very quiet and seems to narrate rather than comment on most of “The Dragon’s Graveyard”, but producer Andy Mangels manages to get some interesting anecdotes about the episode and the turning point in the series. Overall, it is a really good effort and worth the time for fans of the show.
There are also trailers for other BCI properties including He-Man and the Masters of the Universe, She-Ra: Princess of Power, The New Adventures of He-Man, Flash Gordon, Ghost Busters, Journey Back To Oz, Groovie Ghoulies, BraveStarr, BlackStar, Happily Ever After, Hero High, The Freedom Force, Space Sentinels, Mission: Magic, A Snow White Christmas, Ark II, Space Adademy, The Ghost Busters (live action), Jason of Star Command, and ISIS. Scripts, storyboards, and the series development Bible are included as a feature on the last disc, which is like icing to the cake on an already packed set.
I love the packaging that BCI has used for this show. The series is in a cushioned red box that opens from the front. Inside is a digipack case that folds out in three faces and holds five discs. The case features the original promotional poster from the show on its cover and a map of the realm on the back. Aside from disc one, all of the other discs share the same face in the case so that disc 2 lies on top of disc 3 and disc 4 lies on top of disc 5. The disc art is very impressive with a great picture of Hank on the disc one, Diana on disc two, Eric on disc three, Presto on disc four and Sheila and Bobby sharing disc five.
There is also an Episode Guide booklet with brief summaries of each episode as well as technical details (premiere date, writers, etc…). I actually found one error in this episode guide. While the season 2 premiere episode, “The Girl Who Dreamed Tomorrow” is labeled as being on disc 3, it can actually be found at the end of disc 2.
Also included is the Dungeons & Dragons Animated Series Handbook for players of the game and a card with Dungeons & Dragons products. The handbook features powers and technical games specs for each of the characters in the series, including Venger and Shadow Demon. The handbook has an adventure called “Beneath The Blade Of Sword Mountain” based on “The Dragon’s Graveyard” episode of the show. One minor complaint I have about this handbook is with the binding, which fell apart for me when I got it out of the box.
Ink And Paint:
The episodes included in this set are the remastered copies and they are much cleaner than the original. If you want to see some comparisons on what the old copies looked like, check out the main title and closing sequences found on disc five. The show is featured in its original 1.33:1 full screen ratio, with just an average amount of dust and scratches. Viewers have the option of watching all episodes on the disc with a play all function on the first menu of each disc, or select scenes from each individual episode on the episodes menu. I have to point out that the show featured some spectacular animation and art design for an 80’s show. The art director for the show, Takeshi Masunaga, was instrumental in bringing some of the show’s key design ideas on to the screen. For example, he was the one who felt Venger should only have one horn despite the fact that animators have a tendency to keep things symmetrical. The result is a truly unique character that did not fall prey to the devil-look-alike cliché. Other notable artists were George Goode and Bob Kline who both worked on the storyboards and models and should be praised for their great work in this series.
The full set is presented with a Dolby Digital 2.0 English track. The sound quality is pretty good for a twenty-year-old show, and the show’s score really stands out in this edition. However, I did notice that the score on some episodes have been changed (most notably in “The Dragon’s Graveyard”), which could upset some fans out there that were fans of the original score. I was actually surprised to find that there was no subtitle option available. In fact, there is no settings menu on any of the discs, which was a bit puzzling. I suppose one thing that BCI kept in mind is that they are keeping this strictly an English release, despite the show’s popularity in other countries.
Dungeons & Dragons is a great show and I am sure many fans have been anxiously waiting for its release on DVD. I am glad that the company releasing this is BCI, which continues to surprise me with their dedication to releasing great DVD sets with special features that are actually worth our time. With the entire series in this one set, and with all of the special features included – especially the series finale – this set comes highly recommended. Fans of the show should love the experience, and I am sure that this set should be able to win over some new fans as well. After 20 years, people still talk about the show, which is a testament to the talented writers, producers, and animators who worked on this great show. If you’re a fan of the show, you should definitely get this, and if you are just a casual fan, you might just want to get this for the quality and care put into this release.
Animated Classic or Back To The Drawing Board?