June 20, 2015


(ABC, September 8-December 1, 1984)

Ruby-Spears Productions

Bob Sarlatte – Dirk the Daring
Ellen Gerstell – Princess Daphne
Michael Mish – Timothy
Peter Cullen – Bertram, Sir Hubert Blunt
Arthur Burghardt – Singe the Dragon
Fred Travalena – King Ethelred
Clive Revill - Storyteller

Here there be dragons.

Advertisement for the game.

Dragon’s Lair was one of the most unique arcade games ever released. Whereas most games dealt with pixels and limited framerates reducing the amount of detail that could be seen on screen, Dragon’s Lair was like playing a fully-animated feature film. The player joined Dirk the Daring as he sought to rescue the lovely princess Daphne from the clutches of the evil dragon.

Don Bluth character model for Dirk the Daring.

Inspired by the text game Adventure, Rick Dyer, president of Advanced Microcomputer Systems (later RDI Video Systems) conceived of a device called “The Fantasy Machine.” It manipulated a videodisc containing still images and narration, and a team of designers created the characters, locations and choreography. The resulting game was The Secrets of the Lost Woods, and he took it to market—where it failed spectacularly. Realizing he’d need quality animation and a better script for added excitement, Dyer took the game back to the drawing board.

Flyer for the arcade game.

On a shoestring budget of $1 million and using LaserDisc for its vast storage potential, the game was given the full animated treatment by former Disney animator Don Bluth and his studio. Unable to afford models, the animators looked at Playboy Magazine for inspiration for Daphne. To save money, many sequences were reused and flipped, and several ultimately cut from the final product. As a trade-off for the outstanding animation, the player wouldn’t so much control Dirk as be required to input the correct action Dirk should take at a given time. Failure to select the correct action in a timely fashion would result in one of a number of death scenes. As it was essentially a cartoon, much of the action (including Dirk’s moments of cowardice) and deaths were played more for comedy.

Don Bluth character model for Princess Daphne.

The only professional actor on the project was Michael Rye, who served as the narrator in the game’s attract sequence (the footage that plays before a player inserted their coin). The animators provided the rest of the voices for the characters. Daphne was voiced by Vera Lanpher, head of the clean-up department, and Dirk was voiced by film editor Dan Molina (although Dirk only actually speaks twice in the game, his dialogue mostly filled with noises such as shrieks). 

The dragon Singe from the arcade game.

Now known as Dragon’s Lair, it was released by Cinematronics in June of 1983. Despite the fact the game was the first to cost 50 cents a play, and that the LaserDisc player would often fail due to the high amount of use and seeking it had to do to select appropriate scenes to display, the game became an instant hit. With 1,000 machines sold, a backlog of over 7,500 existed as early as July. Dragon’s Lair was rated the number one arcade game in America, and was recognized as being instrumental in turning around the financial slump the video game industry was experiencing at the time.  Dragon’s Lair went on to have two special episodes of the video game gameshow Starcade (one seen here under episode #99), as well as being a featured game on it, and numerous ports to home systems.

Dirk, Timothy and Bertram.

In 1984, Ruby-Spears Productions was contracted to bring the video game to television screens. Airing on ABC beginning on September 8, 1984, the series followed Dirk (Bob Sarlatte) as he engaged on a series of quests with the hopes of winning the affections of Princess Daphne (Ellen Gerstell) and showing up his rival, fellow knight Sir Hubert Blunt (Peter Cullen), as well as protecting the kingdom from the evil dragon, Singe (named for the first time and voiced by Arthur Burghardt). New characters besides Blunt included the king (Fred Travalena), Dirk’s horse, Bertram (Cullen), and his squire, Timothy (Michael Mish). 

Giddy Goons.

Like the game, the series featured a narrator called the storyteller (Clive Revill) who provided exposition during scenes. Whenever an episode would reach a perilous cliffhanger going into a commercial, the storyteller would task the audience with what choice they would make, invoking the arcade’s gameplay. Following the commercial, the audience would be shown the consequence of the wrong decisions, which were milder versions of the game’s death scenes, before showing Dirk making the correct decision (most of the time). The series also featured several villains from the game, including the Lizard King, the Phantom Knight, Singe’s Giddy Goons and Mudmen.

Blunt attempts to wow Daphne with a gift.

While the character designs by Thom Enriquez, Ric Gonzalez and George Goode looked close to the game’s designs, without Bluth’s direct influence there were some notable differences in both appearance and movement. An intentional difference was in Princess Daphne, who was given a much more modest dress to wear for the series. Daphne’s character was also changed to be more adventurous, joining Dirk on some of his quests, rather than simply being a damsel in distress all the time. The show was written by Bill Wray, Richard Merwin, Michael Charles Hill, Sheryl Scarborough, Kayte Kuch, Dennis Marks and Evelyn Gabai. John Debney composed the music.

Dragon's Lair II promotional poster.

Unfortunately, the series didn’t fare well in the ratings and was cancelled after only one season, continuing to air in reruns until April of 1985. Likewise, the fanfare surrounding the game had quickly faded by 1984, and similar games received little success. A sequel, Dragon’s Lair II: Time Warp, was released to arcades in 1991, having begun production immediately following the successful release of the original. Because of graphical limitations of home consoles at the time, many ports had to be compressed and omit parts of the game. Those omitted parts were later released as their own games such as Escape from Singe’s Castle and Dragon’s Lair III: The Curse of Mordread. In 2002, Dragon’s Lair 3D: Return to the Lair was released as a 3D interpretation of the original that allowed players to actually control Dirk. In 2005, a new Dragon’s Lair III was released incorporating footage from 3D but with the control scheme of the original. None of the sequels garnered the same reception as the original.

Dragon's Lair DVD.

In 2003, Crossgen Entertainment produced a mini-series based on the game while incorporating elements of the cartoon. Only 3 of the planned 6 issues were published until Arcana Studios reprinted the complete series as a mini-series in 2006, and a collection in 2008. In 2011, Warner Archive released Dragon’s Lair: the Complete Series as part of their Hanna-Barbera Classics Collection (despite Hanna-Barbera not having anything to do with the series, except that it was merged with Ruby-Spears when both were acquired by Warner Bros.). Individual episodes were also made available for purchase through Amazon Prime.

“The Tale of the Enchanted Gift” (9/8/84) – Singe lures Dirk into a quest for a golden falcon to give Daphne on her birthday, which comes to life and kidnaps her for Singe.

“Sir Timothy’s Quest” (9/15/84) – Timothy sets out to free his jailed friend after The Lizard King stole a map he was guarding, but Timothy ends up captured by the lizards.

“The Tournament of the Phantom Knight” (9/22/84) – The Phantom Knight kidnaps the king during a tournament.

“The Smithee’s Haunted Armor” (9/29/84) – An evil smithee with a magical hammer created a suit of armor that Dirk tries to retrieve for the king.

“The Pool of Youth” (10/6/84) – Evil witch Borella looks to increase her powers with the Pool of Youth and turns anyone who stands in her way into stone.

“The Story of Old Alf” (10/13/84) – Daphne is taken on as magician Alf’s apprentice, but her misuse of magic brings down the wrath of Singe on the kingdom.

“The Song of the Chimes” (10/20/84) – Urisk seeks to use magical wind chimes to turn the world into a desert he can rule with his lava men and fire creatures.

“The Girl from Crow’s Wood” (10/27/84) – Savilla wants the Griffin stone in order to increase her magical powers and cause mayhem on the village of Crow’s Wood.

“Mirror, Mirror” (11/3/84) – Singe uses a magic mirror to turn himself into Dirk and discredit the hero.

“The Snow Witch” (11/10/84) – A snow witch tricks Dirk into giving her the vial of potion he found that can turn fire into ice.

“The Tale of Dirk’s New Sword” (11/17/84) – Dirk must retrieve the enchanted timer of Havenwood before Trolls can make an invincible weapon with it.

“The Legend of the Giant’s Name” (11/24/84) – Dirk makes a bargain with a giant Singe awakens: his survival of the Black Hill of Arddu for the giant’s eternal banishment.

“The Mist of Wishes” (12/1/84) – Dirk and Blunt attempt to steal the weapon that can destroy Singe, but exposure to the Mist of Wishes turns Blunt into a bigger threat.

Originally posted in 2015. Updated in 2020.

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