The Dwarvenaut

Movie review by
Brian Costello, Common Sense Media
The Dwarvenaut Movie Poster Image
Fantasy game docu has positive messages, drunken behavior.
  • NR
  • 2016
  • 80 minutes

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A lot or a little?

The parents' guide to what's in this movie.

Positive Messages

Discussion of the profoundly positive impact a teacher had on a man's life during a difficult time. Redemption through art and hard work. Discussion of the benefits of playing Dungeons & Dragons, how it brings people together, stimulates their creativity, and forces people away from TV, computer, and smartphone screens. 

Positive Role Models & Representations

Stefan Pokorny openly discusses how art and Dungeons & Dragons converged in his life and gave him a sense of purpose and allowed him to love what he does for a living. He talks of how an inspiring teacher helped him to move his life in a positive direction. He is also shown to be drunk as he attends the afterparties of the gaming conventions and is shown nursing a hangover. He talks of drinking on a frequent basis since he was 14, and about how he took drugs as a teenager. 

Violence

Stefan talks about how his friend was killed by a man armed with a machete. 

Sex

Stefan is shown working on a painting of a nude woman, with full-frontal nudity. 

Language

Occasional profanity, including use of "f--k," "motherf---er," "s--t," and "hell." 

Consumerism

The role-playing game Dungeons & Dragons is frequently shown and mentioned, as numerous people are shown playing it in bars and gaming conventions. Stefan lavishes the game with high praise. The ins and outs of the company he started, Dwarven Forge, are shown and discussed as Stefan tries to raise money for his latest project via Kickstarter. Return customers speak highly of the miniatures he and his company create for Dungeons & Dragons. 

Drinking, Drugs & Smoking

Stefan drinks, acts drunk, and nurses a hangover while talking about the drunken antics that transpired the night before. He is openly castigated by one of the men running the gaming convention after drinking too much the night before. He speaks openly of how he has been a frequent drinker since the age of 14 and how he abused drugs as a teenager.

What parents need to know

Parents need to know that The Dwarvenaut is a 2016 documentary about a man obsessed with Dungeons & Dragons who made a name for himself by starting a company that creates and develops high-quality miniatures for D&D. There are some strong overall messages: Stefan Pokorny, the subject of the documentary, finds redemption in art and sees Dungeons & Dragons as a way to bring about community in a time when so many live life through their smartphones. However, the overarching positive messages get muddied at times when Stefan is shown getting drunk at gaming conventions, nursing hangovers, and getting castigated by a convention planner for excessive drinking. Pokorny discusses how he has been a regular drinker since age 14 and how he used drugs and got into trouble as a teenager, but the latter is placed in the context of getting on track with his life thanks to loving adoptive parents and an inspiring teacher. Expect talk of the importance of applying oneself and using one's gifts as well as some profanity, including "f--k" and "motherf---er." Stefan is shown working on a painting of a nude woman, with full-frontal nudity. 

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What's the story?

THE DWARVENAUT is a documentary about Stefan Pokorny, a man who found a way to combine the two great passions of his life: art and Dungeons & Dragons. As a Korean boy raised in 1970s and 1980s New York City by European adoptive parents, Pokorny was starting to head down a dark path of borderline delinquency, drug and alcohol abuse, and a complete lack of interest in school. Through the help of his parents, who enrolled him in an arts school, as well as an inspiring teacher who nurtured his gifts for painting and sculpture, Pokorny got back on track and fervently pursued art as an avocation. Also, while growing up, Pokorny discovered the role-playing game Dungeons & Dragons, and through the game he found an outlet for his boundless creativity and imagination. In the mid-1990s, Pokorny started a company called Dwarven Forge, where he designed and sold detailed miniatures as companion pieces to heighten the D&D experience. They were an immediate hit for D&D fanatics, and this documentary shows Pokorny setting up a Kickstarter campaign to fund his latest project: a "modular city builder terrain system." Pokorny discusses the positive impacts D&D has had on his life and how he sees it as a way to foster community at a time when people spend more time interacting with smartphones than they do with each other. 

Is it any good?

While the overall themes make this something that can still be enjoyed by those who aren't hard-core fanatics of D&D and Dwarven Forge (Pokorny's company), it's still best for those who already are. One of the toughest challenges in making a documentary focused on a specific subculture is making it interesting for those not invested in the subculture. For the most part, The Dwarvenaut -- a documentary about a D&D-obsessed man who started a company that makes highly regarded and finely detailed buildings, figurines, and terrain to enhance the D&D role-playing experience -- finds the universal messages that go way beyond slaying dragons while rolling 12-sided die. The documentary is at its most interesting when Pokorny discusses how he found redemption and a sense of purpose through both art and D&D and how he found a way to combine the two and turn it into a company with a devoted fan base. 

Where the documentary falls short is in the pacing. While Pokorny no doubt sees life as a grand adventure both in and out of D&D, it doesn't mean the viewer necessarily cares to see him cook pasta or nurse a hangover or sit in a coffee shop. And while it's interesting to see Pokorny go to Lake Geneva, Wisconsin, the birthplace of Dungeons & Dragons, or ride the gondolas of Venice as he talks of artistic inspiration, the time spent in and around the gamers conventions wears thin, doesn't reveal much, and starts to feel like, well, an insurance seminar in Conference Room B of the O'Hare Doubletree.

Talk to your kids about ...

  • Families can talk about how The Dwarvenaut is an example of a documentary film centered primarily on one person. How does this documentary balance the story of the subject's present life with his past and background? What are some other examples of documentaries centered on one person? 

  • How were the documentary's central messages conveyed? 

  • How do the universal themes of the movie go beyond the more limited scope of loving Dungeons & Dragons and creating miniatures for the game? How do these themes make the movie more relatable for those who don't share that passion for Dungeons & Dragons? 

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