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Monster Camp: A 4 out of 10 Movie Review

Submitted by on May 29, 2008 – 5:41 am3 Comments

Monster Camp poster

Camp poster

It is important to note that when reviewing a documentary, a great deal of critics review the subject matter and not the film itself. For example, whilst watching Bowling for Columbine (Michael Moore) did you even put any thought into how the film was constructed? Most of us, talk about the ‘facts’ that are told throughout the film and we believe it is to be a respectable movie if we get passionate about the subject spoken about.

This review is an attempt to separate the subject matter of Monster Camp and the film itself. The subject of this documentary is that of live action role playing games. Think: or , but acted out for real. The film follows the paths of a Seattle franchise of a NERO Alliance (a live action role playing ‘game’). Various characters are followed and they discuss their reasons for attending these functions and most try and explain the seemingly endless rule book (inadequately).

Firstly, let’s cover the subject matter:

I have never played Dungeons and Dragons. There is a reason for this. On the few occasions I have been keen to try and play the game, it seemed like I would not have enough time in the week to read the thing. It’s absolutely massive! You start with good intentions as a Friday night alternative to playing the inevitable game of Monopoly and you end up beginning a novel. Well, rest assured I have never gotten past the second page and assumed that surely no-one would ever get through all of the rules.

It seems however that I was so very wrong. There are people out in the world who not only know the rules of Dungeons and Dragons, but have taken on another highly complicated Encyclopaedia Britannica length rule book to play this style of game in three dimensions. The pieces are the players themselves and the board is a State Park in Washington, Seattle. You have to picture it for a second. Lots of people dressed as ‘monsters’ and ‘sorcerers’ etc chasing each other around a state park in cold weather hitting each other with soft weapons (e.g. foam swords) and uttering such statements as “Normal, attack 3”. Debates break out about whether a player has been cheating at the game with one claiming that his nemesis should be dead already due to the fact that he had already hit her with at least 480 points.

If you are confused at this point, then fear not. It seems the film makers wanted us to be bewildered with this type of real game. Throughout the film you are inundated with terminology and rules such as LARPing and Boffing. This to me sounds like some sort of extra marital activity to spice up your sex-life. Either way though, this confusion and eccentric behaviour shows the audience that underneath the green makeup, white sheets and mortal curses, lay some seemingly fairly lonely and reclusive people.

Humour is to be found everywhere in Monster Camp. You just can’t help but laugh at the insanity of grown adults running around a park over a 24 hour period, chasing monsters and resurrecting the seemingly dead. Despite this oddness though, Monster Camp provides a place for like-minded individuals to get together and share a passion (Live action role playing). This is an opportunity for people who would normally spend their time on World of Warcraft (the online game) to interact with ‘real’ people in a ‘real’ setting for a weekend. This can be no bad thing.

You find that many of the characters are very likeable and despite being misfits in general society, have found a niche that they all share. There is a worrying tone of the film though; that individuals can get so wrapped up in this fantasy world that the real world around them is forgotten. Let’s be real about this all. They are merely playing a game and on occasions this is taken too seriously. For these people, they are told to have a break and reminded of the fantasy element.

This “game” is highly intricate and despite everyone’s attempts at explaining the fine detail of the rules they play to, you can’t help but be bewildered and overwhelmed by the experience. The best line of the whole film is that of the organiser of the events who questions “Why can’t people just act like adults?” Such an irony coming from an individual who chases people dressed as monsters and heroes around a park with a rubber sword shouting “instant death” at others who immediately fall down on the floor “dead”.

The Film

As was said before, it is important to separate the subject from the film. In the best documentaries there are no divisions of this kind. You can forget it is being filmed at all and therefore, the construction of the documentary and the subject matter meld quite well. Monster Camp comes close to being such a film, but fails in a few areas.

The film plays out like an instructional video on occasions as rules are explained. I felt like I was being sold something. Along with these interactive guidelines the tone seemed biased (as most things are) in favour of fantasy role-playing. At one point text on the screen explained what World of Warcraft was, told you the price and then exclaimed that it was “pretty sweet”. This doesn’t seem unbiased to me; it seemed like an advertisement. Despite this though, the text on the screen (your only interaction with the documentary makers at all) was well written, offering a cheeky and comical tone which accompanies the oddities we see.

Many characters are seen on screen explaining their reasons for attending monster camp, but it feels like the documentary spreads itself a little thin. More depth to characters showing more of their home lives and the contrast between their real-life days and their fantasy days could have improved the piece somewhat. However, there were some advantages of showing a good range of characters. It allowed you to make the comparison between those who took the game more seriously (so much so, it blurred with their lives) and those who knew what they played was silly, but enjoyed it all the more. There was also an imbalance of Monster Camp participants and “average Joe’s” opinions on the game. Only two “passer-bys” were interviewed on screen which spoke for the audience in a “what the hell are they doing” way.

The film didn’t seem to push any boundaries though. Watching it seemed like watching a recruitment video for a cult and yet these parallels were not investigated. The tone only slightly brushed on the misfit element of this society and more could have made on the subject of loneliness and the fact that Monster Camp acted like a temporary break from the solitary world of real-life. Indeed, one wheelchair bound character seemed to want to say a great deal about how she was treated in the game in comparison to how she was treated in life and yet this was not expanded upon.

Overall, this film is a highly enjoyable watch. Despite the lacking of real world character depth, this insight into how these people play this live action role playing game is informative and fun. It would have been so much better to have investigated the question of “Why they attend Monster Camp”; covering in more detail the feeling of being outcast in their daily lives. I for one would attend a weekend of Monster Camp just so I can have the opportunity of throwing an almost clean tissue at someone whilst exclaiming “my thunderbolt has stunned you with 10 points”. Needless to say, that will not be happening anytime soon! Go out and see this film...see how the other side live.

Rating: 4 out of 5

Monster Camp release dates can be found here Let's hope it comes to the UK soon.

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