John Boorman and the Making of Excalibur: ‘The Biggest Selling Game in America is Something Called Dragons and Dungeons’

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Tolkien sold the film rights to The Lord of the Rings—for $250,000—to United Artists in 1969. That same year, John Boorman pitched Excalibur to UA, but studio execs wanted him to do a live-action Lord of the Rings film instead. He agreed, and he and Rospo Pallenberg (co-writer on Excalibur) wrote a script. By the time it was finished—two years later—management at UA had shifted, and the project got dropped. (Boorman’s script, which is housed at the Tolkien Collection at Marquette University, features a sex scene between Frodo and Galadriel, along with “gratuitous nudity and rebirthing rituals.”)

There are a number of choice Boorman quotes in the article, from the May 6, 1981 edition of the Sarasota Herald-Tribune:

I’ve been trying to get `Excalibur’ made since 1969. But it took a surge of interest in fantasy in the past few years – in books, magazines and games, as well as in movies – before I could get financing […]

There is tremendous interest in the subject,” said Boorman. “Fantasy magazines have proliferated. The biggest selling game in America is something called ‘Dragons and Dungeons’ [sic]. This surge of interest helped me get `Excalibur’ made […]

‘Star Wars’ put fantasy back in fashion. And if you look closely at that film’s literary heritage, it’s really another variation of the Arthurian legends […]

One of the things the film [Excalibur] is about is the attempt to transcend the primitive-predatory nature of man, the attempt to build peace and a great society, the attempt to transcend materialism and to move into the world of ideals […]

Compare the last quote to L. Sprague de Camp’s 1980 description (in Omni) of the “heroic fantasy” genre:

Heroic fantasy is alive and flourishing. The more complex, cerebral, and restrained the civilization, the more men’s minds return to a dream of earlier times, when issues of good and evil were clear-cut and a man could venture out with his sword, conquer his enemies, and win a kingdom and a beautiful woman. The idea is compelling, even though such an age probably never existed.

All in all, the article is significant. It shows (1) the enormous cultural impact of Star Wars and D&D; (2) how closely Star Wars and D&D are related—they both descend from Tolkien, whose work descends primarily from the Arthurian mythos; and (3) the direct link between the fantasy (or heroic fantasy, or sword and sorcery) genre and the American counterculture, which dates from the 1965 paperback editions of The Lord of the Rings.

George Romero’s Knightriders (1981), a very good movie about the counterculture’s failure to “build peace and a great society,” is also highlighted in the article.

The Peter Yates film called “Sorcery” in the article was released as Krull in 1983. It was originally titled Dungeons and Dragons.

1 Response to “John Boorman and the Making of <em>Excalibur</em>: ‘The Biggest Selling Game in America is Something Called Dragons and Dungeons’”



  1. 1 The Sword and Sorcery Movie That Never Was: Paul Morrissey’s Torc | 2 Warps to Neptune Trackback on March 8, 2016 at 2:56 pm

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