While role playing games are still going strong, even if they're mostly done online these days, there was a time that many children of the eighties will remember where Dungeons & Dragons was king. While religious zealots around the country were proclaiming that the game would send the souls of countless nerdy youths to eternal damnation, a lot of us were sharpening up our pencils and rolling those twenty-sided dice in hopes of allowing our imaginary selves to slay the beast and save the day.
With the popularity of the game (then handled by TSR) skyrocketing, Marvel teamed up with the role playing game giant to co-produce an animated series based on the property. Debuting on CBS in 1983, it lasted for three seasons until it was eventually cancelled in 1986 and a total of only twenty-eight episodes (each running about twenty-four/twenty-five minutes in length). While the series may not have run as long as others from the same time, it developed a pretty solid cult following thanks to its creative character designs, fantasy elements, and the fact that it was considerably more violent than most other children's programming on television at the time.
The show revolved around a group of kids who wind up making a bad choice in amusement park rides when the roller coaster that they get on takes them to another world where magic is real and so too are monstrous dragons. When they kids arrive, they all find that they have different skills and attributes, many of which compliments one another. The kids, and their respective powers were: Hank, the valiant ranger skilled in combat; Eric, the cavalier who is a bit of a smug jerk but also quite good with a sword despite his cowardly tendencies; Diana, an acrobatic type who uses her staff to fight bad guys; Presto, a young wizard in training who is far more powerful than he gives himself credit for despite pretty regular slip ups; Sheila, a sneaky thief capable of getting in but also out of rather difficult locations; Bobby, a barbarian who is quick to anger and likely to use his club before using his head; and last but not least Uni, a baby unicorn who tags along with the group on all of their adventures providing comic relief and usually getting into mischief.
At the center of all of this is a Dungeon Master, a magical dwarf wizard type who serves as a sort of mentor to the group and who encourages them to develop their abilities. He's basically their Yoda and he provides them with all manner of quests, most of which revolve around trying to defeat an evil sorcerer named Venger. His whole deal is that he wants to snatch the kids and use their powers and abilities to further boost his own power and evil agenda. He's a pretty typical super villain type and in typical super villain fashion he's got a few henchmen at his disposal in the form of a 'shadow demon' who is always trying to spy on the kids and report back to his master about what they're up to. On top of the problems posed by Venger and his gang, the world itself is full of peril. Look out for lizard men, ogres, demons, and some neat Harryhausen inspired skeleton soldier types who look like they walked out of a Sinbad movie and into animated form.
The nine episodes contained in this collection are:
The Night Of No Tomorrow / Eye Of The Beholder / The Hall Of Bones / Valley Of The Unicorns / In Search Of The Dungeon Master / Beauty And The Bogbeast / Prison Without Walls / Servant Of Evil / The Quest Of The Skeleton Warrior
The series holds up well by today's standards even if the animation looks a little rough around the edges. Watching it as an adult it's easy to see how kids at the time could get pretty into the show as there's always a lot going on. The colorful cast of characters and creative design work are eye catching and fun to watch and the monsters and incessant action keep the series reasonably exciting. It may never be regarded as a classic of animation but it's nothing if not a fun diversion. Much of what seemed controversial at the time now seems harmless and innocent by today's standards but it's a fun batch of episodes in this set.
Each of the nine episodes in this set is presented in its original 1.33.1 fullframe aspect ratio. Given the series' television origins this makes perfect sense. Aside from the fact that the transfers are all interlaced, things look pretty good here. There's a bit of mild print damage to contend with in the form of the occasional spec or instance of visible dirt, but it's never overpowering or even really all that distracting. Colors are nice and bright without looking oversaturated and while the limitations of the eighties era animation shines through with abundance, you can't fault the DVD for that.
The English language Dolby Digital 2.0 Stereo tracks are okay. The dialogue is clean and clear and there are no problems with hiss or distortion. A lot of the material sounds pretty flat but that's probably got to do with the limited range of the source material rather than with the DVD itself. There aren't any glaring problems here.
Aside from a static menu and episode selection, this release is completely barebones.
If you're a fan, you've probably already got the 'complete series' release that came out from BCI a few years ago and as such, you won't need this collection as it brings nothing new to the table. That said, it's priced right, and the audio and video quality are alright. If you're looking to dip your toes into the series without trying to hunt down the out of print complete collection you can consider this release worth getting, but otherwise, there's not much here to recommend. The series is fun, but this release isn't all that exciting.
Ian lives in NYC with his wife where he writes for DVD Talk, runs Rock! Shock! Pop!. He likes NYC a lot, even if it is expensive and loud.