Mazes & Monsters (1982) Movie Review

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Mazes & Monsters (1982) Movie Review

Postby pacman000 » October 25th, 2017, 4:35 pm

First a disclaimer: I've never played Dungeons & Dragons. I'm not really interested in the game, or most non-video games. (Yes I know there are D&D video games, dating back to the Intellivision at least.) I am, however, curious about it and the controversy it caused. That puts me closer to this film's target audience than most reviewers, tho I am a bit partial to fantasy and sci-fi stories in film and literature.

Second: If you want to know more on the film's background, just look it up with your favorite search engine, assuming the search engine's still in business and indexing the web at large. (Northernlight's still around, but only indexes recently-published business news articles; WhatUSeek only indexes sites which pay to be in their directory. AltaVista, AllTheWeb, InfoSeek, ScrubTheWeb, and many others are gone. Excite, HotBot, and Yahoo no longer have their own index, etc.)

The Review:

From the box you'd think Mazes and Monsters is a cool early-80's fantasy film. It's not; it's an attempt to capitalize on the late 70's/early 80's
controversy surrounding Dungeons & Dragons and other fantasy role-playing games. Surprisingly it wasn't made by the 80's re-incarnation of Dwain Esper; it was made by CBS, a major U.S. TV network. I knew this, but bought it anyway out of curiosity. At the very least a TV film would have some minimal quality standard imposed on it, and controversy sounds interesting from a distance.

After a brief scene showing reporters and police gathered around a cave to look for a missing teen, we flash back to the start of the year at an east-coast university. Several students who feel isolated from their parents and other kids are trying to get a game of Dungeons &- uh..."Mazes & Monsters" going, but they need a 4th player. Enter Robbie. Robbie's a new transfer student, and he likes Mazes and Monsters. No, strike that. He doesn't just like it; he's obsessed with it. That's why he's had to transfer to a new school; he spent so much time playing Mazes and Monsters at the old school that his grades began to slip. His parents, who apparently argue constantly, forbid him from playing anymore. He agrees, at first until he meets one of the D&...M&M players. (Mmmmm...M&Ms...) When the rest of the group finds out Robbie is a high-level player, they implore him to join their group. They only play once or twice a week, so Robbie agrees.

Most of the 1st half of the movie makes RPGs seem innocent. No, really. I might even say it makes RPGs seem like a positive outlet for people who want to participate. They were alone, but now these kids have friends, spend time together. They do play by candle light, like the game's a seance or something, but, other than that, it just seems like another activity, nothing odd, unusual, weird, or wrong. This does not make for an entertaining or engaging movie.

Eventualy, one of the characters (not Robbie) decides to commit suicide because he's starved for attention. He can't just do it in his dorm room; it has to be memorable, so he takes off for the local, forbidden caverns. There's something disturbing with his attitude; he's decided to throw his life away, but he doesn't really seem depressed and he doesn't act like this was a big decision. He acts too casual; he decides to kill himself the same way someone would decide to order pizza. He goes to the caves and wanders around for awhile there; then, after a quick dissolve, we see him playing Mazes & Monsters with the other kids. What happened? I don't know; it's not explained. Any grand epiphany, that life is beautiful and shouldn't be thrown away so casually, that he really has friends, that he can at least look forward to the weekly Mazes & Monsters game, is dissolved away. His Mazes and Monsters character dies, but this kid's time in the cave has gives him a great idea: he convinces everyone they should play a Mazes & Monsters for-real in the caves.

There's a few scenes of them preparing for the game, then they wander around in the caves for awhile. Eventually Robbie imagines he's being attacked by a monster. The movie's half done, and we're just now getting to the complication. Oh, and the monster looks worse than most of the creatures in Lost in Space. (Note: I'm a bit biased; I'm a Lost and Space Fan.)

After they leave the cave Robbie still acts like his character. He has a dream where "the Great Hall" tells him that he must break up with his girl friend to advance to the highest level. He does! He begins to act more and more like his character, but we don't get to see it. Nope. We get to hear his ex-girlfriend talk about his behavior behind his back, but we don't get to see Robbie's increasingly weird behavior. There are times to break show-don't-tell, Jack Webb narrating Dragnet to sum up long, mostly un-productive parts of their investigation worked. This did not work. I need to see what was happening to Robbie; I don't care what his friends say behind his back. That's just gossip, and it does nothing to develop or connect me with the character.

Eventually Robbie walks out on a Halloween party to find "the Great Hall." When he doesn't show up for class, his friends report him missing, then go to find him when the police can't. This involves riding elevators and escalators up and down the...:( the Twin Towers til they accidentally run into Robbie. The see him going to the roof, keep him from jumping off (not suicide; he thinks he can fly) and give up RPGs. Everyone goes onto a great career, except for Robbie, who will need years of psychological help.

Honestly? Well...There are a few nice moments. One character has a bird, trained to say "Birds can't talk." The sets are good. Cinematography's ok. I'd like to see more long shots, but this was a TV movie. Long shots don't always work well on a 20" screen. Acting's generally acceptable, tho Tom Hanks' last line as Robbie was more laughable than dramatic. There are a few other places where the actors could've used a bit more practice, but generally they're performances are acceptable for a TV movie. The monster suit, while goofy looking, is well-detailed. The story, however, is a failure. It fails in it's main purpose: to show RPGs as a bad influence; the 1st half makes them look good; the 2nd half doesn't show enough of Robbie's breakdown to make an impact. Doesn't matter if you agree with what the movie was trying to say; it failed to say it. And it's dull. So dull I could hardly get through this review; just remembering this movie is boring. ZzzzzZzzzz..zz...z....

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Re: Mazes & Monsters (1982) Movie Review

Postby scotland » October 25th, 2017, 5:32 pm

Neat choice for a review - I enjoyed it, thanks.

I was a D&D player back in the day. I regret getting rid of my early (very early) D&D books, but such is the life of young people.

This movie was made by scared mostly clueless people for other scared mostly clueless people. For decades, people had a mild fear of Satanists, as seen in the many horror movies of the 60s and 70s to feature devil worshippers and devil children and possessed children, etc. This was just the After School Special version. It is the D&D themed version of Reefer Madness from half a century before.

Totally forgettable except for the inclusion of Tom Hanks.

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Re: Mazes & Monsters (1982) Movie Review

Postby VideoGameCritic » October 25th, 2017, 10:36 pm

Yeah I remember watching it as a kid when it was on TV. At the time I was into D&D, and I thought it was kind of a stretch that playing the game could lead to violence.

You bring up a good point about the Satanic stuff. Back then everything from D&D to Ozzy Osbourne was supposed to turn you into a Satan worshipper somehow. It was quite bizarre really.

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Re: Mazes & Monsters (1982) Movie Review

Postby DaHeckIzDat » October 26th, 2017, 2:12 pm

You might find this interesting. JonTron reviewed another movie last year that basically had the same goal, to demonize D&D. This one was based off one of those Chick Track things.

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Re: Mazes & Monsters (1982) Movie Review

Postby pacman000 » October 26th, 2017, 5:24 pm

From what I've read Dark Dungeons is more of a parody of the Chick Track of the same title. It even swipes some lines from Mazes and Monsters to emphasize how silly the concept seemed to the producers.

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