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Ah, I remember it well. 1982. I was twelve years old. Mom heard they would
be showing this movie on TV and decided I should watch it so I would get
of the D&D club I had just joined at school. After it was over, she asked
what I thought.
"A perfect example of the dangers of fantasy."
She missed the sarcasm. Completely.
Rona Jaffe's book and movie did more damage to role-playing in the '80's than almost any single other source. The book and movie have little to do with the realities of role-playing. But, then again, MOST anti-RPG rants are just as bad.
I've seen it a couple of times in the video stores under "Drama". I suggested they move it to it's proper place - "Comedy". At least THEY got the joke! :)
Man, this movie makes me miss the days when gamers were viewed by the
general public with unease and fear. The best gaming happened then. These
days, there are no cautionary tales of gaming gone awry. Instead they make
fun of gamers on shows like "Jesse" and "Buffy the Vampire Slayer". Time
stripped away the fun of doing something that your parents worry about and
just left the "geek" stigma.
I'll bet that 90+% of the people who have viewed this film are actually
gamers themselves. I will also bet that those same people have watched
movie more than once. It's a guilty pleasure. How many times have I heard
fellow gamer say "Frelig jumps into the pit, what does Frelig find?", or
have said it myself? It has added to the jargon of gamers. I've heard
refer to someone as having "Gone Pardu" when they are getting a bit too
into their role-playing hobbies. Though I have yet to rescue a fellow
off a skyscraper after he has been stabbing "Gorbils" in the
My Best-Friend's parents actually made him watch this movie to try to
scare him away from gaming when he was a teen. They didn't actually watch
the movie. They just taped it, and showed it to him and didn't stick
Boy, his Dad was horrified with the results. Instead of turning my friend
off of gaming, it turned him onto to Live Action Role-Playing. Within a
years he founded the LARP group Adventures in Mid-Land in NY. A group that
still exists under new leadership a decade and a half later. How many
were inspired to LARP because of this film?
If you enjoy this film you should also check out the following movies.
"Shakma" is a film starring Roddy McDowell as GM who's live action game
horribly wrong when a crazed baboon starts killing his players (Don't you
hate when that happens?). When billed in channel guides it is typically
listed as "A game of Dungeons & Dragons turns deadly". Uh oh, Mom and Dad,
another cautionary tale. Then there is the OTHER Wendy Crewson anti-gaming
film "Skullduggery". With both Mazes and Monsters and Skullduggery to her
credit, you have to wonder what this lady has against us gamers.
Skullduggery is so incredibly bad it deserves to be on MST3K. If you are a
gamer and a fan of bad films (and what are the odds of that?) you really
need to track those two films down.
Quick listing of other movies that have some anti-game statement.
& Dagger", "T.A.G. the Assasination Game", "Gotcha! (1985)" and for our
S.C.A. friends there is George Romero's "Knightriders". The film "The
Dungeonmaster" with Richard Moll is NOT a gaming movie, despite the title.
It is side-splittingly bad though.
There is also the book "The Dungeon Master: The Disappearance of James
Dallas Eggbert III" by William Dear. It's the true story of how the
search for a missing college student. The author is a P.I. and focuses his
search around the missing kid's D&D hobby. He ignores other aspects of
trouble in the kid's life, like the kid's drug problem and instead hangs
to play D&D and get into this kid's head. In the end James Dallas Eggbert
III is found in a crack house with no help from the author. The cover of
book lead people to believe yet again that D&D is bad for you, when the
reality of it is that being a 16 year old genius in college with drug
problems, homosexual tendencies and the name Eggbert would overwhelming
anyone, gamer or not. James Dallas Eggbert Committed suicide before the
came out. William Dear had the TV show "Matt Houston" based on him. They
even had an episode play very Loosely on the Eggbert story.
If you look at all of these tales, fictitious or true, the game itself is never really to blame. In Mazes & Monsters it's Robbie's issues with guilt over a missing brother that caused his insanity, not the game itself.
This movie is a classic. OK not in the "what a masterpiece" sense or the "what a great undiscovered gem" sense but more along the lines of "Oh my God I am gonna pee my pants laughing at this early 80s fear-mongering flick which happens to feature a young and bewildered Tom Hanks." This is right up there with "Plan 9 from Outer Space" or "Reefer Madness." Not a movie to take seriously AT ALL, just a nice slice of Reagen-era silliness for your Sunday afternoon perusal. If you haven't seen it, it is well worth rooting out, though I fear you won't "get" the beauty of it if you are not a thirtysomething former nerd who lived through the "D&D is a product of Satan and responsible for warping my child's fragile mind" eighties. Then again people are making the same complaints about "Grand Theft Auto" and "Hitman" so perhaps it still holds its charm...
I didn't even know this was originally a made-for-tv movie when I saw it,
but I guessed it through the running time. It has the same washed-out
colors, bland characters, and horrible synthesized music that I remember
from the 80's, plus a 'social platform' that practically screams
"Afterschool special". Anyhoo.
Rona Jaffe's (thank you) Mazes and Monsters was made in the heyday of Dungeons & Dragons, a pen-and-paper RPG that took the hearts of millions of geeks around America. I count myself one of said geeks, tho I have never played D&D specifically I have dabbled in one of its brethren. M&M was also made in the heyday of D&D's major controversy-that it was so engrossing that people could lose touch with reality, be worshiping Satan without knowing, blah blah. I suppose it was a legitimate concern at one point, if extremely rare-but it dates this movie horrendously.
We meet 4 young college students, who play the aptly named Mazes and Monsters, to socialize and have a little time away from mundane life. Except that M&M as presented is more boring than their mundane lives. None of the allure of gaming is presented here-and Jay Jay's request to take M&M into 'the real world' comes out of nowhere. It's just an excuse to make one of the characters go crazy out of nowhere also-though at that point we don't really care. Jay Jay, Robbie, Kate and Daniel are supposed to be different-but they're all rich WASPy prigs who have problems no one really has.
But things just continue, getting worse in more ways than one. The low budget comes dreadfully clear, (I love the 'Entrance' sign and cardboard cutout to the forbidden caverns) Robbie/Pardu shows why he's not a warrior in the oafiest stabbing scene ever, and the payoff atop the 'Two Towers' is unintentionally hilarious. Tom Hanks' blubbering "Jay Jay, what am I doing here?" made me laugh for minutes on end. Definitely the low point in his career.
Don't look at it as a cogent satire, just a laughable piece of 80's TV trash, and you'll still have a good time. That is, if you can stay awake. The majority is mostly boring, but it's all worthwhile for Pardu's breakdown at the end. At least Tom Hanks has gotten better. Not that he could go much worse from here.
Mazes and Monsters was the made-for-TV special at the head of the
anti-Dungeons-And-Dragons movement, spearheaded by Patricia Pulling who
blamed the game for her son's suicide the same year. I know people
whose parents confiscated and threw out/burned all their gear as a
result of this film, which suggests such games cause loving, sensitive
kids to go insane and suicidal.
For a made-for-TV, it's pretty well done, despite the fact that its premise is rather, well, inflamatory. It's wholly designed to make parents fear their kid's imagination. Still fun to watch and laugh at. Although it launched Tom Hank's movie career, I've heard he won't acknowledge having made it.
I'm a longtime gamer and a lover of trash movies. I had heard of this film
before, but not much about it. So, i took the plunge and rented Mazes and
Monsters. I laughed 'til i nearly cried. many have commented upon the bad
acting and low budget.. yes, it's bad, but i think that in at least the
cases of Hanks and Makepeace the problem was not a poor performance
by no means stellar) but that the actors had so little to work with
The gaming scenes are absurd even if you know little about gaming. For example, although the most classic gamer paraphernalia, polyhedral dice, are displayed, they don't seem to be used in the game. note also a serious lack of junk food at the table.
anyone who has ever played a tabletop RPG will know that some folks do get awfully wrapped up in their characters, but i doubt anyone has ever been as far removed from reality as Robbie. is this an attempt at propaganda, or simply to cash in on a faddish wave of hostility? i'd say somewhere in between, but leaning toward cash-in.
this mentality may have once been a threat to gaming, but time has borne out the weakness of the arguments against it. walking down the street, or drinking tap water is far more dangerous.
who would enjoy this movie? i'd recommend it to gamers with a sense of humor, camp lovers, and anyone wanting a more complete historical perspective of Hanks and company. if you're looking for exciting action, logical plot, or serious drama, choose something else. for farcical humor, give it a go.. it should be cheap fun.
Laughable early attempt to "show the danger" that playing D&D leads one to
lose all contact with reality, this film (from the book) was an obvious
attempt to cash-in on the popularity of the most durable RPG
Never rising above the low-level of a "Made-for" that this is, it's the sort of movie which Lance Kerwin, at the peak of his teen stardom, would have turned-down flat.
As a role-player myself I'm in the minority because I actually quite like this movie. Most gamers seem to dislike it as it negatively portrays the hobby, but I say look past that and watch what can be an entertaining drama. Sure it gets a little long winded once the main character goes a little nuts, but stick with it and you haven't wasted your viewing time. The acting is a little ropey but then thats what I expect from a TV movie, and everyone (even Tom Hanks) has to start somewhere. I have never seen the original book, but I'd certainly like to read it and see how it measures up.
A full-on smear campaign about the evils of Dungeons and Dragons, from the height of the parental outcry against the game. Funny and sad in the same context as Reefer Madness, it's akin to a long after-school special in the blunt, inelegant way it hammers away at its only point. An extremely young Tom Hanks, freshly released from his run on Bosom Buddies, cut his teeth on more serious material in this leading role. As the poor sap who nosedives into deep mental illness as a direct result of the game, his part is madly corny and he clearly had some growing pains to work through before becoming the dramatic juggernaut we'd all come to know a decade later. Badly produced, terribly acted, smug and boring and predictable to the final reveal, it's a living stereotype, the very essence of a bad made-for-TV movie.
*** This review may contain spoilers ***
The psychology of this movie is really weird to try and figure out. Its
often billed as an anti-RPG movie, but its really not that simple. Here
are come apparent contradictions that make me wonder just what (if
anything) they're trying to say about gaming.
They laboriously introduce all the characters home lives by way of introduction, all of them having parents who are divorced, alcoholic, and totally out of touch with their lives except for the times they're harshly pressuring them to succeed. Tom Hanks is arguably the worst off, having just failed out of another school and still dealing with a brother who disappeared and may be dead.
Its mentioned a couple of times that they play the game to work through problems in their real lives. And sure enough, at the end, when they go to see Robbie (Hanks), they're all happy and well-adjusted, embarking on their adult careers, problems solved, games put away (Daniel doesn't even want to design computer games any more), and even Robbie's mother, who's been constantly drunk and dissatisfied, is suddenly the Happy Homemaker, looking fresh and bright and arranging flowers.
Sure, JJ suddenly (and quite cheerfully it seems) decides to commit suicide, but the reason seems to be entirely because he's a lonely boy genius who can't get a date, and not because his character dies, as in the famous Jack Chick tract (which happens afterward anyways, and it almost seems like he does it on purpose so he can end Daniels game and get everyone to come play his. In fact, the prospect of live-action role playing in the caverns seems to be the only thing that saves him from killing himself!) And in what may be the coolest tableau scene in the whole movie, Kate, looking very fetching in chain mail, looks right at the camera and says something like, "The scariest monsters are the ones in our own minds."
The biggest fantasy element in this movie is the two muggers passing up the rich couple so they can rob the dirty, homeless-looking guy of his magic beans. The recurring theme (a "The Way We Were" for the 80s)might have been poignant at the end, but as a way to kick off a movie is downright depressing and seems out of place. And for one final mystery, our hero, wearing full Pardu regalia, has a psychotic break, becomes his character completely and embarks on his quest, so of course the first thing he does is change into 20-century street clothes.
So maybe the movie's irrational, but I guess its dealing with an irrational topic. In those days a circle of kids with dice and pencils was regarded as tainted and possibly possessed, and you could go insane if they spoke their mumbo-jumbo at you. The anti-game paranoia is pretty much summed up in the first scene, where the reporter asks the cop whats going on, the cop says a kids lost in the tunnels and there's a chance Mazes and Monsters is somehow involved. The reporter admits to being vaguely familiar with the game (although he allows his own children to play it), then turns to the camera and reels off a polished spiel that blames the game for everything and admits no possibility of another explanation. In the end, its no masterpiece, but interesting as made-for-TV movies go.
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