P-51 Dragon Fighter (2014)
Here is yet another installment of B-Movie inspiration, seeding your RPG ideas by watching very bad movies…so you don’t have to.
Browsing through available movies, I found a gem of a movie that I really connected with. I have been running Actung! Cthulhu all year at every convention I have been at this year, and I just finished reviewing both the Investigator’s Guide and the Keeper’s Guide. When I saw the title, I was immediately drawn to it. Also, I have focused so strongly on old cheese, I felt that some new cheese was needed. The problem is that there is so much new cheese to choose from. Anybody with a 3D rendering program and a few friends who can half-way act is putting together a monster movie of some kind. And the Syfy Channel is buying them up, no matter how bad they are. It is like they are throwing cheese at a wall and hoping something sticks to make a market for it.
I immediately thought this is going to be one of those direct-to-SyFy Channel special movies because the movie is seriously low budget with bad special effects, full of bad acting and clichéd scripting. There are so many shots and scenes that make you slap your forehead that it is sickening. However, I liked the concept so I suffered through it. I took breaks between the very bad scenes and the horrible acting, so it wasn’t too bad.
There have been several World War II/Nazi occult mash up movies – The Keep comes to mind, or Outpost and its sequel – but this one just stood out to me. Too many of these types of movies have the same things in common – Nazi zombies or the like. That is so clichéd that I felt something new might be refreshing. When I saw “dragons” in the title with a P-51 Mustang, I was hooked.
The movie opens with an archaeological dig in some desert setting, which you assume is North Africa somewhere. The workers uncover what their fearsome leader is seeking – what we learn later is a dragon egg. This evil leader – Dr. Heinrich Gudrun – looks hungrily at the egg as he holds it up to the light and, through a very cheesy effect, shows the dragon embryo.
We then switch to an American armored position somewhere in the desert where a very badly rendered Sherman tank is sitting out in the dessert. Through some unclear events, we see the tank crew report of something going on near their perimeter and call in air support. The air support, the forward observer (that pops out of nowhere), and the armor unit itself is then subsequently destroyed by a flying creature breathing fire.
Enter our hero, Lt. John Robbins – a angst-ridden pilot suffering some trauma from a past war experience. He took himself off the flight roster after this bad experience and became a brawling drunkard. Of course, up until his bad experience, he was one of the most decorated pilots in the war and now the Allies want him back. There is a “new threat” and only he can help with it. He is introduced to a couple of officers at a airfield somewhere in North Africa and shown gun camera footage of the events in the beginning of the move. Of course, the good guys get a stern look in their face that says, “We have to do something about this!”
They form a team of the best pilots the Allies have to offer – 8 pilots – that include a few of RAF pilots, the French, Czech and a couple of Americans. They are assigned to hunt and kill these new creatures who are obviously dragons. Before they can get settled in, however, they are attacked by 3 dragons. They send up all the pilots (less our hero who is still grounded by the American general because, of course, all officers are pig headed and stubborn). This first real exposure to dragon dog-fighting is not as exciting as I had hoped but it has its moments, despite the poorly done special effects.
Every piece of hardware, from the aircraft to the tanks, are done in CGI. Never is there a moment where you see an actor and a 3D-rendered item in the same shot, save some shots of the dragons in the background and the humans in the foreground. I think they blew their blue screen budget on that one scene. I had to chuckle when I saw the dragons. The dragons themselves have the iron cross tattooed on their wings. That was a nice cheesy touch. I laughed thinking “Who was the poor German tattoo artist that had to do that?”
We are also introduced to more bad guys, led by none other than the Desert Fox himself, General Irwin Rommel. He and a couple of staff members along with the archaeologist earlier welcome a group of four women they call the Vrill (something like that) to their Benghazi location (a cheesy set they probably borrowed from some generous studio). These ladies wore black robes that scream occult witches with special powers. Through these women, it is music that soothes the savage beast and controls the dragons. They have some kind of psychic connection as well that allows anyone to see from the dragon’s perspective if they touch their temple.
The low budget is nowhere near as apparent as in this one horrible scene where the women’s powers are introduced. The archaeologist asks for a volunteer and Rommel’s minion is volunteered (he was obviously brought along for this single purpose). As a demonstration of the witches’ and dragons’ power, the minion is told to run. Of course, a sense of foreboding and dread is conveyed here as one would expect some kind of horrible demise to befall this running minion. However, all you are shown are the fearful faces of those watching as the witches chant and sing. Never do you see what actually happens to the minion. Rommel touches the temple of one of the witches and quickly orders a stop to it. You never hear a scream from the minion or see anything that happens to him; it just cuts back and forth between the actors. They could not even spring for an effect showing the dragon picking up a CG version of the minion. It was such a frustratingly badly cut scene that I almost stopped the movie there.
Rommel is shown the archaeologist’s plan to hatch a dragon army. In a bunker deep beneath the ground, they tour an egg facility (all CG) where the archaeologist proposes an army that Rommel can lead. He explains that the dragons are all born female and produce eggs on their own. He also references the possibility of a male being hatched, and if that were to happen, they would lose control of the dragons. He assures Rommel that won’t happen. Of course, that’s a badly veiled attempt at foreshadowing.
The movie could have been straight forward from this point on, but they actually try to get creative and throw a twist in just to make sure you are paying attention. I had to watch it a second time (yes, I suffered through it twice for you) but there are some vague attempts to imply that Rommel has a secret agenda. Rommel apparently has a conscience and arranges a plan with the Allies to destroy the dragon hatchery.
The plan is hatched, so to speak, and of course, there are complications – like the arrival of a full grown male dragon with full swastikas tattooed on his wings, which even is a surprise to the archaeologist who is supposed to be the one behind the breading of the dragons. So, the male just popped out of nowhere and no one knew it existed? And who put the swastikas on there? Really?
And of course there are the historical discrepancies that are quite flagrant. It seems like the writers thought of the title first and rewrote history to fit it. A couple of examples – P-51 Mustangs never served in North Africa and V-2 rockets, mentioned in the hero’s bad experience, were not used until well after the North African campaign. There are more but those are the glaring ones. Maybe it was an alternate history.
Are there any RPG plot ideas out of this? Maybe?
Nazi and the Occult: This is also a good go-to. My issue with this, though, is that everyone seems to go to Nazi zombies or vampires. This movie thinks outside the box and brings dragons into the mix. So if you go the Nazi occult route, think outside the box and do some research. There are whole RPGs that center on alternate World War II settings – Weird Wars from Pinnacle Entertainment comes to mind. There is a lot of opportunity there for Nazi Occult weirdness but it’s even more creative in a modern setting that is otherwise true to reality. The players will never know it’s coming.
Working with the enemy: Rommel coming to the Americans and forming a plan to destroy the dragons is a good twist. Things can get so bad that the players in an RPG party could wind up with strange bedfellows. Enemies can become temporary allies. Arranging this kind of thing can be a very fun situation. Also, I encourage bringing in one-time players to play the other side. These kind of situations might call for it.
Aerial Combat against Creatures: This was at the core of the movie, probably the primary inspiration for it. It’s really difficult to have aerial combat at the center of the adventure but with the right set of rules and the right preparation, it can make for a great session. The GM needs to remember to center on roleplay and story-making and not turn the game into a miniature combat session.
On an interesting gaming note, if you watch carefully in the trailer (and in the movie if you so choose to suffer through it), it really looks like they are using Columbia Games blocks from the block war games on their tactical maps.
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About the author
Ron McClung (Ron McClung)
Gaming Coordinator for all MACE events. Former writer for GamingReport.com and Scrye Magazine.