Movies for Gamers Who Like Movies: Mazes & Monsters

Title Rona Jaffe’s “Mazes and Monsters”
Directed by: Steven Hilliard Stern
Genre: Drama?

Controversy is the spice of TV movies.  And as everyone knows: “The spice extends life, the spice expands consciousness, the spice is vital to space travel.”  One need look no further than Apollo 13 to see that this 1982 TV movie made it possible for Tom Hanks to travel into space.

I distinctly remember this movie from when it came out because it meshed so nicely with the anti D&D right-wing fundamentalism movement of the time.  This is a review of the movie, not of the era – but it is worth mentioning that the film itself does not blame gaming for what happens to Robbie, the protagonist.


Robbie is transferring to a new college after an incident at his previous college led to academic issues.  It seems that Robbie had some problems with time management at the old school.  Sadly, by the time the film is over Robbie will have issues with reality management.

Meanwhile, a group of gamers are trying to organize a new campaign for the upcoming semester.  They are a motley group led by boy-genius Jay Jay Brockway, who has a talking parrot.  The hot female gamer (a standard in any gaming group) is Kate Finch.  The stud who always gets the girl (another standard member of your basic archetypal game group) is Daniel.  What this group desperately needs is the “gets way too into the game and talks about himself in character” member of the group.

Robbie meets Jay Jay. Jay Jay is not a jet-plane. Nor is he a pilot, despite his WWI flight-gear.

Quicker than you can say “Wizard of Light,” Robbie is in the game.  All’s fine for a while.  Robbie seems to be hitting the books, exercising, eating and having a good time.  Nothing wrong with that.

But then Jay Jay starts feeling out of place and decides to kill himself.  (This is handled in such a light-hearted way you can’t help but wince if you know the “true” story behind this tale.)  Jay Jay’s solution is to go out to the old caverns to do it.  But when he goes there he realizes that the place is such fun that instead of suicide, he could setup a live-action RPG session.

These are the miniatures used in "M&M." What scale is that - 1977 Star Wars action figure size?

(They don’t dwell on it in the movie very much, but this is essentially a power-play by Jay Jay to force his way into the GM seat.  So instead of playing by 1000 candles in Daniel’s room, they end up LARPing by flashlight by trespassing in a cave.)

How can they even read their stats when the lights are this dim? (I had to seriously crank up the contrast here.)

The cave is all fun until Robbie starts to lose it and thinks that a real monster is after him.  (Probably not work that Mr. Hanks still includes in his reel.)

"By order of the town council" - Seriously? The town council sealed the caverns? Is that really in their power?

Oh, and Robbie and Kate have been having a great relationship (including nookie) when suddenly Robbie becomes celibate.  (Because his Cleric is celibate.)  Considering that Kate is a totally hot gamer, this can’t be a sign of strong mental stability…

Darkness is cheaper to film, apparently. There are convenience store security videos with better camera work.

It is only a short time before Robbie disappears.  The authorities think he’s been murdered by his gaming friends, or that he’s become lost in the dangerous cavern.  It is up to the rest of the game group to figure out the mystery and save Robbie.

The Scooby gang discusses the case of the missing Robbie.

Robbie left a clue – a hand-made map of a maze with the words “The Great Hall, The Two Towers.”  Somehow the intrepid gamers realize the meaning of this coded message and race off to save Robbie from a fate exactly equal to death.

If I bought a module with this map - I'd be totally pissed off.

In the end, Robbie lives – but will his life ever be the same as it was?

The MST3K Factor:

Did you ever play with the “Caption This” software that they used to use over at the Sci-Fi channel’s website?  This film would produce wonderful results there.  It might be good fodder for a night’s friendly banter, but I’d recommend utilizing it as part of a double-feature, and have this one go first.  I prefer my MST3K films to be less sappy than this.

The Action Factor:

No.  There isn’t any.  You’d be MUCH better off with the Dungeons & Dragons Cartoons than this film if you crave action.

Casting Couch:

Director: Steven Hilliard Stern – went on to direct such TV classics as “The Park is Mine” and “City Dump: The story of the 1951 CCNY basketball scandal.”

Robbie: Tom Hanks – continued to make movies for nearly 10 years after this, including such hits as Turner & Hooch andJoe Versus the Volcano.

Kate: Wendy Crewson – the clear break-out star of the film, she is the true star of the beloved Santa Clause movies.

Jay Jay: Chris Makepeace – Whatever happened to Chris Makepeace?  He was one of many people who overcame being Canadian to become a movie star.  Are the rumors that he tried to pay Adam Baldwin to be his real bodyguard to blame?  Or is it the curse of the Dillon brothers?  Who can say?  Not me.  I just hope that he fares better in the 21st century than the McKenzie brothers have.

Daniel : Daniel Wallace – The rumors that Daniel was thus called because Mr. Wallace couldn’t remember his name are untrue.  The character was called this because Mr. Wallace could not remember his character’s name.  Distinctions like that are what this film is all about.

Gorvil: Kevin Peter Hall – Yes, the actor who went on to play the Predator and Harry was in this film.  (Note to self: Predator is a better gaming movie than this one.)  His massive 7’2″ frame play the un-animated Orc stand-in.  (Now there is a gaming point for discussion – I’d argue that the Gorvil was an Orc stand-in.  Others might argue that it more resembled a D&DTroglodyte.  Either way – we’d all lose if we had to see the movie to make our points.)

Historical Importance:

Mazes & Monsters comes from a dark time in the history of gaming.  Oh, sure you might think that the current (1Q 2007) preponderance of video games and the closing of many gaming companies is a bit of a drag – but there was a time when people thought that playing RPGs was a fast-track to hell.  Why?  Mostly because people are idiots.

From the people who brought you “Rock & Roll is Satanic” came the tales of cultists who had learned their craft by playing D&D.  Click Here for a link to a 1988 article that may horrify non-gamers, but leaves most informed people staring at the article in disbelief.

The famous Dark Dungeons bible tract includes the same kind of belief – that the magic in the game is real.  Who can forget the chapter in the Malleus Maleficarum (the witch-hunter’s guide) on how magicians and witches use polyhedral dice and THAC0 in their never ending campaign against all that is good?

Oh, Jack Chick. Are you really a Chick?

And a part of that decade’s mythic anti-D&D stories included a tale known as “The Steam Tunnel Incident.”  I won’t recount the tale here (it is a sad story), but it might suffice to say that gaming was blamed for something that turned out to have a lot more to do with drugs, suicidal tendencies and repressed homosexual feelings.  But the version most people hear is that a group of college gamers got lost in some steam tunnels while LARPing.

That’s probably what Rona Jaffe heard about that made her think of writing the book upon which this film purports to be based.   Maybe.  Or it could be that she saw this totally awesome commercial for D&D the game:

Her movie’s version of gaming made at least as little sense as you’d think a movie about gaming from someone who doesn’t game would make.  Does that make sense?

Check out this link to hear two characters explain why reaching 9th level is so great.  (Keep in mind that according to Jack Chick you get real magical powers at 8th level, not 9.)

[Editor’s Note: There is a QuickTime clip here – level9.    If you’d prefer the Windows Media version, click here to download or view it.]

If that doesn’t clear things up, neither will some mud.

But, another weird historical aspect of the film is the location of its ungripping, actionless climax.  Yes, back in 1988 you could just park your VW right in front of the World Trade Center and run inside.  Despite the furor about the dangers of D&D it turned out that the real danger wasn’t kids playing games, but religious extremism.  Irony, you are a complete bastard.

No, the Two Towers wasn't a reference to the Peter Jackson film! In 1982 you could just park in the lobby.

Gaming Relevance:

None.  I mean that.  Except that they show some people playing what is supposed to be an RPG – you’re really not going to learn anything about gaming from this film.  At all.

Lessons Learned:

In the early 1980s you could get a movie made about anything.  Sure there was a hit book behind this – but what if they’d taken the money the used to make this film and instead they’d produced a film that was enjoyable.  Wow, think what the world might be like today!


I found this movie in the bargain bin for $2.99.  I hope somebody buys something off my website so I can get that money back!

The haunting ending you'll never forget...

Negatives about Mazes & Monsters – The Movie:

  • It was made.
  • I watched it.
  • I can’t get a refund on my time.

Positives about D&D – The Movie:

  • The box looks cool.
  • (There is neither Dragon nor Maze in the film – Buyer Be Warned)

About the Author

I am "The Management."