Wednesday, September 2, 2009

D&D in Spielberg's 1982 "E.T. the Extra-Terrestrial" movie

I was talking with a couple of friends last night about playing D&D back in the Eighties and one of them mentioned seeing it being played in the movie E.T. - I vaguely recalled that, but couldn't remember exactly how the scene went. So I found some clips online and further chopped them up for the most relevant bits. Here's the result (apologies for the atrocious quality and mouse):

Direct YouTube Link

The basic script:

Steve (GM): 5
Mike: Oh, great...
Steve: You got an arrow right in the chest and you’re out ten melee points.
Greg: Don’t worry about it Mike, I got Resurrection - I’ll bring you back.
Mike: I’m already one of the undead Greg, I can still throw death spells, huh Steve?
Greg: Just tryin’ to help you out man, don’t be so cranky.
Other kid: How about throwing a spell Order The Pizza Man? Order that pizza man, get it, huh?
Elliot: Well I’m ready - I’m ready to play now you guys.”
Someone: We’re in the middle Elliot. You can’t just join any universe (”Any Universe”?) in the middle.
(Some banter...)
Elliot: Mike? ...Mike?
Mike: You have to ask Steve, he’s Game Master. He has absolute power.
Elliot: Steve?
Steve: Gonna wait for the pizza first.
Elliot: Then I’m in?
Steve: Yeah, you’re in. Figure out your strategy because you’re playing after Greg.
...(Some banter)...

Mom: So how do you win this game anyway huh?
Steve: There’s no winning, it’s like life, you don’t win at life.
Greg: Money helps.
Steve: Yeah, but...

Melee points? Referencing a specific body part that gets hit? What's this about Mike playing an undead PC? Is the name of their game "Any Universe" or is that just another nonsensical remark?

It looks like Spielberg wanted to throw in a cultural reference, but either wanted it to sound like what he thought typical parents might have heard or know about the game, or he knew very little about it and got a five minute primer on the subject just before the shoot, and it was largely ad-libbed. Or maybe they were just concerned about trademark infringement. Anyway, it's pretty ridiculous.

Later in the movie, Elliot references the earlier scene and the power of the game master when attempting to swear his older brother Mike to absolute secrecy about the alien which he’s about to reveal to him:

Elliott: Michael, he came back...
Michael: He came back? He came back? Oh my god!
Elliott: (persistently) One thing. I have absolute power. Say it. Say it!...
Michael: What have you got? Is it the coyote?
Elliott: No. Look. OK. Now. Swear it. The most excellent promise you can make. Swear as my only brother on our lives.
Michael: Don't get so heavy. I swear.

So there you have it, a synopsis of D&D (or something fairly close to it) as shown in the film E.T. the Extra-Terrestrial.

Update: Just to add, it only just dawned on me the connection to E.T.'s glowing heart later in the movie and the reference to Mike's character getting hit in the chest by an arrow, as well as the mention of casting a Resurrection spell, considering that E.T. pretty much comes back from the dead. Hmm..

Another Update: On this page: the author talks about how Spielberg staged "an evening long game of D&D for all the younger members of the cast..."


yoyorobbo said...

Good stuff! I love to see gaming references, especially actual play, in movies and tv shows. Even if they dorked up some of it, it still is pretty cool to see the (attempted) exposure.

BTW, I kinda dig the descriptive "Referencing a specific body part that gets hit" thing. Although it's fine to chug along with "you hit it", "you miss", "it hits you", etc. But it also can make things much more enjoyable (IMO) if the battles get a little more descriptive.

Sometimes it makes it more colorful when the player describes a little more of what he/she is doing with the attack, and the DM describes what happens in detail, whether it hits or misses. Especially if the player is missing alot...hehe. When the dice are not on my side, it makes it less painful to at least hear some description of my "miss." ;>]

Nice find with the footage, and thanks for editing and posting it.

ze bulette said...

Sure sure, I of course also occasionally reference locations that have been hit (particularly on killing blows). Here I was being a little facetious and also questioning if perhaps the little punks were playing at Runequest. ;-) Glad you liked the post, it does seem right up your blog's alley!

Chris said...

Sounds like they were playing a heavily house-ruled version of D&D. ;)

The novelization of the film had far more accurate references to the game as written. I recall a byplay argument over the random insanity table in the DMG, specifically over the pronunciation of 'schizoid'.

Jay said...

"Or maybe they were just concerned about trademark infringement."

This would be my guess since TSR had a bad (and only slightly deserved) rep for being litigious.

Jay said...

BTW, was one of them smoking in that first scene? So Spielberg replaced law enforcement shotguns with walkies but kept in the underage smokers? LOL!

Professor Chappell said...

There was also a D&D scene in Freaks and Geeks that was actually pretty cool.

Professor Chappell said...

Found it!

I can't post the link for some reason, but if you search YouTube for "Freaks and Geeks Dungeons" it pops up.

ze bulette said...

@Leger - Pretty fun...

Dan of Earth said...

Can't remember where I heard this but I heard that they actually asked permission to refer to D&D explicitly, probably have them holding real rule books in the scene, but TSR denied them.

Greg Gorgonmilk said...

I love you.

ze bulette said...


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