Atlanta Film Festival: MAGIC: THE GATHERING: THE MUSICAL Exists, Is Fresh and Fun

magicthegatheringthemusical

(Sorry for the lateness of this review, my last from AFF. Check out my other AFF reviews ATL Retro!

You’ve probably heard of Rule 34, the tongue-in-cheek internet law that states that if a thing exists, somewhere in the depths of the internet, there is porn of it. As the landscape of the web continues to fracture and reform into infinite tiny and tinier niches—Fan of a show? What about a character? What about an episode?! TEAM SUPERNATURAL EP#615 NEVER DIES!—the law itself seems increasingly redundant. If something exists, anything about it can be found on the internet.

The internet continued our march to filling every niche by helping fund Magic: The Gathering: The Musical, a delightful little short film I managed to catch last week at the Atlanta Film Festival. If you’re feeling alone, depressed, despondent because nobody understands your need to see muppet-style puppets sing songs about the world’s geekiest card game, then never you mind, child. There is a place for you in the world at last.

Director Molly Coffee (I now regret forever not having a name that awesome) premiered her film to an appreciative, screaming crowd at “Touch the Puppet Head,” an evening of puppet-themed shorts and live performances. Her film was the last of five to screen—the first four were mostly delicate, elegiac fairy tales produced by Heather Henson—and it was welcomed by a cheering, thriving crowd of locals. Group support has been a staple of the project, a grassroots indie project that collected its budget from the goodwill of others through a successful Kickstarter campaign. The film features a hand-performed cast of geeks and nerds converging on a comic book shop for a Saturday Magic: The Gathering tournament. Those familiar sports movies will recognize the types. Jake is the talented everykid whose just out to have a good game. Doofus is the sad nerd who never wins because he’s a little lost. Heidi is the sexy roleplayer who can’t hear her Vampire LARP over the sounds of geek card gaming.

OK, so I think maybe her type is new.

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The trio sing their felt hearts out as they go through a day of ups and downs, cheating and betrayal, wins and losses, and a triumph of sportsmanship over win-at-all-costs. The songs are all original, catchy and bouncy and more than a little influenced by the irreverence of the most well-known of puppet musicals, Avenue Q. (The intro song title is the same as the film’s tagline: “It’s a Magical Fucking Day”) Coffee has a background as a production designer and artist, and her skills shine through as the puppets sing and dance their way across a stage that honestly looks like a million bucks. Every Kickstarter dollar and then some is on the screen. I got lost in one scene just admiring all of the original art pieces lining the walls.

This is a film by and for geeks, and the more hardcore will enjoy spotting references. As a man who once did my fair share of World of Darkness LARPing, I had a blast listening to Heidi sing about her Giovanni Embrace, a reference that’s going to sail right over most fans’ heads. But the ones who get it, well, Coffee’s got them locked in for life, and that same in-crowd spirit shines through in a number of bits, from comic book references to bits borrowed from other films.

The only geekly faithful who might be disappointed are, surprisingly, the fans of Magic: The Gathering. Wizards of the Coast (owners of the Magic game) refused to sanction the film when asked, and so Coffee was forced to limit the game as seen on screen. No actual cards or even game mechanics make it into the film, which feels to me like a gross mistake on the part of WOTC. Fans of Magic are the ones most likely to eat this project up, and Coffee’s film could have been a fun bit of sanctioned free advertising, and the company’s refusal to play ball comes off as weird, corporate, and a violation of the community trust geeks usually extend to the people who make the stuff they like.

M:TG:TM is review-proof. It will find its audience and delight them no matter its level of quality. That the film also happens to be fun, charming, and well-made is nothing but bonus. After the show, Coffee explained to the crowd that the film’s origin came from a drunken Jesus Christ Superstar sing-a-long. If so, this is the best musical related to Andrew Lloyd Webber in many years, and a damn fine endorsement of getting drunk with your friends.

Magic: The Gathering: The Musical is making festival rounds at the moment, but will likely make it online at some point in the future. Follow the film’s progress HERE
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