The Animated Films of Don Bluth|
by John Cawley
Halted in mid-production on March 23, 1984, DRAGON'S LAIR II has slowly continued through production over the years and is now completed. This sequel to the first LAIR would have no doubt challenged game players. It combines the popular, bumbling Dirk's quest for Daphne with the storytelling approach of SPACE ACE.
Similar to ACE, the game followed a general pattern of events. Most sequences were shot twice, once normally, the other reversed so instead of going left, the player had to go right. One key difference was that at various points in the game, Dirk can pick up magic items that he will need later in the game. Once again, the game break is the skeletal Dirk appearing and turning into the real Dirk
The preview tells the basic story premise. Daphne has been kidnapped by Mordrok who has taken her into the planes of time. He plans to marry her with the ring in the casket of doom. Dirk must use his skills to get Daphne back with the help of an old time machine.
The first sequence was in Dirk's house. As the (many) children and Dirk sit at the dinner table, Daphne's large mother chases Dirk out of the house to rescue Daphne. Dirk must avoid the many objects tossed at him by his mother-in-law. This sequence included a number of re-used elements from the first LAIR. As Dirk heads back into the dragon's castle for the time machine, he must again battle such creatures as the skulls, snakes, spider, as well as his mother-in-law. The machine, that talks, is Mordrok's brother. Dirk manages to avoid a Scottish snake and take off in time.
One stop is in a prehistoric past. As Mordrok continuously chatters and goads Dirk, the time machine begins to sink in a sea of (what appears to be) mud. Dirk battles off a number of pterodactyl type creatures. When one carries Daphne off, Dirk is given wings and flies off in pursuit. In the air he meets more and more resistance as a continuing number of strange flying creatures battle him.
He actually rescues her, but a small flying creature bites his leg causing Dirk to drop Daphne. Mordrok grabs her and disappears. Dirk lands on the time machine and before he can get it operational, a giant tyrannosaurus-type creature rises out of the muck and closes his mouth over Dirk and the machine. Before the creature swallows, Dirk activates the machine and vanishes.
Dirk lands momentarily after Mordrok and Daphne in a dark room and all three go "through" the room's mirror into an Alice In Wonderland world. As Mordrok races off with Daphne, Dirk is grabbed by Tweedle Dee and Tweedle Dum and dressed in a blonde wig and blue dress becoming "Alice." The Queen arrives, and seeing the characters moving so much in an inside joke about all the games' rhythms, shouts **in** that rhythm, "Stop that bouncing!" The Queen next shouts "Off with her head."
Dirk avoids several card soldiers and leaps on a knight (a chess horse piece) which comes to life. Mordrok and Daphne, also on a knight, are in the distance racing through a line of card soldiers. Cutting back to Dirk, the ground changes into a table cloth and he must avoid the March Hare and Mad Hatter. At the end of the table is a door that Mordrok and Daphne go through. The door quickly shrinks and Dirk can't go on. However out of the tiny door comes a strange long necked creature that grows to gigantic proportions. It is the Jabberwocky.
As he battles the Jabberwocky, he takes refuge on a giant talking head belonging to the Cheshire cat. The cat recites "Twas Brillig" as it floats through space and attempts to eat Dirk. Soon the cat becomes many heads and Dirk is bouncing from one to another. The Jabberwocky soon catches up and Dirk is forced to leap on it, only to find the Queen on board. He then leaps from floating card to floating card and actually uses the cards to surf on the flaming breath of the Jabberwocky... which turns into a rushing torrent of water. This leads him to crash back through the mirror where he mounts his time machine and vanishes.
Another stop takes Dirk to a cloud-like land with a castle. There he meets a fussy old man, telling him to leave, and little cherubs everywhere. As he enters the castle he meets a large figured, buxom woman who is Eve. Dirk is in the garden of Eden. She instantly mistakes Dirk for Adam and runs after him.
In his attempt to escape, he encounters a two headed snake in a tree. While one head tries to eat Dirk, the other promises to help Dirk find Daphne if the knight will bring Eve to the tree so she can taste the forbidden fruit. Eve suddenly shows up and grabs the apple. The fussy old man attempts to keep Eve from eating it, but she does so anyway by tossing the whole apple into her mouth.
The entire atmosphere changes as the lovely clouds are replaced with a thunderous wind storm that is destroying the castle and all around it. Dirk, Eve and the others run and leap from ledge to ledge, trying not to fall into the darkness all around them. Dirk is able to make it back to his time machine and vanish.
One section featured Dirk landing on Beethoven's piano as he is composing his Fifth Symphony. Dirk, only a few inches high, is chased by Beethoven's cat. Mordrok uses his magic to make the battle more difficult. As Dirk fights off the large feline, Beethoven continues to play and Mordrok grabs Daphne and vanishes. Suddenly, Beethoven, piano, cat and Dirk begin rising into the sky.
As they rise higher and higher, the weather turns into an electrical storm. Beethoven finishes his song, jumps to his feet and opens his dark coat, revealing the interior to be a brightly colored piano keyboard, reminiscent of something Elton John would wear. Meanwhile, flying instruments float around. Dirk leaps from instrument to instrument running from the cat. The knight jumps onto a keyboard and runs along it until he is again on the piano.
Beethoven, the cat, Dirk and the piano begin descending back to Earth. Dirk is able to avoid the cat until they all return to the study. As Beethoven continues playing, Dirk leaps to his time machine. The cat grabs the machine, but before he can bite down, Dirk activates it and he and the machine disappear.
One stop is in ancient Egypt. Dirk arrives on his machine and flies into one of the pyramids. Once there he goes on foot and battles numerous groups of spiders. He hears Daphne call for him and rescues a female mummy, apparently Daphne, from inside a gigantic sculpture. Also inside the sculpture is a melted substance that Dirk must avoid, as well as more bugs.
He finally gets the female mummy to safety only to have it grabbed by a larger mummy. As Dirk battles the larger mummy a giant bat grabs the small mummy and Daphne cries for help. Dirk hangs on to the small mummy as they fly through various hallways until he is able to free it right by his time machine. The mummy cries for help and Dirk is finally able to unwrap it. He starts with the legs and sees Daphne's shapely legs. However once the head bandages are removed, he finds it is Mordrok's head. The entire body now shifts to Mordrok who kisses Dirk and laughs maniacally. The two battle. Mordrok disappears and Dirk follows on his time machine.
A mini-scene occurs when Dirk arrives to find Mordrok putting the ring on Daphne. Dirk throws his sword and it pierces Mordrok's arm. The ring falls of Daphne's finger and she vanishes. Dirk grabs the ring and tosses it onto Mordrok's finger. This causes Mordrok to explode and be destroyed as Dirk escapes out of a small hole. This small sequence was one possible ending for the game, which had two possible climaxes.
The general ending occurs similar to above, but once the ring is placed on Daphne she grows into a terrible monster. Dirk knows he cannot kill the beast without killing Daphne also, so he continually avoids the creature's deadly gestures and tries to get the ring off the finger. He finally does remove the ring and tosses it onto Mordrok's finger, and as above, Mordrok explodes. However, now the entire room begins to collapse. At the same time, the monster turns back into Daphne. The sequence ends as Dirk goes up to Daphne, killing a few flying creatures around her.
The next sequence begins with Dirk kissing Daphne. He then sits next to the body and begins to cry. Unbeknownst to him Daphne begins to wake up. Dirk stands up, not looking back and begins to exit. As the ground breaks up around him, he leaps to avoid falling, as well as uses his sword to continue killing the flying beasts. Daphne calls to him and Dirk calls back, speaking his first lines of actual dialogue, "Daphne!" He returns to her and they embrace and kiss.
The ground continues to break up and they fall onto the time machine that also begins to fall. Dirk activates the machine and they fly off, hitting a few barriers on the way. Daphne doesn't mind the rough ride as she continually gives Dirk kisses. The duo slide to ground right outside of the couple's home. All the children come out to welcome them. Even mom welcomes them back. Dirk empties his backpack (filled with all the prizes game players **could** have picked up) and the entire family jumps on the time machine and goes flying through the sky. At the bottom of the screen, the words "Congratulations, you are a winner!" appear.
BEHIND THE SCENES
While work was finishing up on ACE, Bluth's team went to work on LAIR II. The same crew was once again called into play. Don's desire to keep making the games more playable, rather than merely inventing new graphics made LAIR II quite unique. One element was the idea of collecting items as the player went along. This accrued the player points and at one time in early discussions, would have led the player to the simpler final sequence (without Daphne as a monster).
Another option Don added was the optional sequences of two endings. The shorter, easier ending versus the much more spectacular and difficult battle with Daphne. Also bound to surprise many gamers was a last move. After Dirk and Daphne were safely aboard the time machine and leaving Mordrok's lair at the end, if the player did not move at the right time, the couple would crash and die!
For voice work, Dan Molina and Vera Lanpher repeated their performances as Dirk and Daphne. Daphne's mother and the evil wizard, Mordrok, were played by Hal Smith.
Even more so than LAIR I or ACE, LAIR II featured tremendously fast action, cutting and animation. Some scenes were only one foot long! In fact, it features much of the same "keep everything moving all the time" style of visuals found years later in WHO FRAMED ROGER RABBIT.
The excitement of working on the game, as well as other projects, came to an abrupt halt, though. Cinematronics, one of the gaming partners, already in bankruptcy, was now in more financial problems. In March of 1984, the group handling the bankruptcy of Cinematronics stated they could no longer pay any funds to Bluth Group.
On Friday, March 23rd, Don issued a memo that work on LAIR II was "temporarily discontinued." The memo also notified employees that until a new project was found the workers "service" was also discontinued. On that Friday he called all the employees into the main lobby and told them to go home. If work came in, or the situation changed with Cinematronics, they would all be called back. He hoped it would only be a matter of a few weeks.
Almost a year after the debut of the first LAIR game, in July of 1984 it was reported that Cinematronics was trying to liquidate it's supply of DRAGON'S LAIR games and laser playing units. An auction was finally held where the remaining stock of ACE and LAIR Laserdiscs, as well as numerous amounts of computer and gaming hardware, were auctioned off. For the second time in less than two years, Don found himself with no projects and no real staff. The video game was over.
The game was almost fully animated at the time production ceased. Through the years, though, Bluth and his crew have continued work on it until it was finally completed in the late Eighties. There are no official release plans (at publication) for the completed work. Options the studio has looked into include releasing it as a Laserdisc-computer game to the arcade or home market or as a videocassette for collectors.
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text and format © John Cawley