Mazes and Monsters (1982) – By Jonathon Pernisek

 “Bound by a desire to play the fantasy game ‘Mazes and Monsters’ Robbie and his three college classmates decide to move the board game into the local legendary cavern. But when the game gets out of hand, Robbie begins to have visions and the line between fantasy and reality fuse into a harrowing adventure!”

The plot description is the first of many lies the makers of the Mazes and Monsters DVD would like you to believe, but like them all it is easily dismissed. First of all, how does “the line between fantasy and reality fuse?" One line cannot fuse with itself, you grammatically-challenged dopes. Then there’s the box art, which would have you believe the movie within involves Tom Hanks exploring ancient labyrinths and fighting dragons. Wrong! It’s actually nothing more than a drippy, message-based drama with almost no allusions to actual fantasy. Lastly, the DVD claims it was “digitally transferred,” which is easily the most offensive lie. This movie looks awful, with night scenes so washed out you can barely see the characters and enough scratches, blotches, and thick lines to almost blot out the action completely. No work was done on this transfer, and to say otherwise is just plain wrong.

Despite these shifty tactics, Mazes and Monsters proves to be mildly amusing because of its soap opera roots. Tom Hanks, then gaining popularity with his sitcom Bosom Buddies, plays Robbie, a transfer college student who upon arrival at his new alma matter is warned by his stern parents, “Don’t play that dreadful game! Stick to the books, son!” The game is, of course, the oh-so lame Mazes and Monsters, and Robbie is almost immediately drawn into it once more when he meets three enthusiasts.

There’s Kate, who’s too pretty to be playing this game; Daniel, who we are told time and again is extremely attractive despite the contrary; and Jay Jay, a sixteen-year-old who comes up with the idea to bring their game to life by playing it in the local (and FORBIDDEN) Pequod Caverns. None of these people are actual dorks, as even the young Jay Jay throws massive parties, so the fact that they play Mazes and Monsters is pretty laughable. Then again, I guess no one thought there’d be an audience for a movie about real dorks.

So the gang, seemingly with nothing better to do, dresses up in costumes they steal from the school’s drama department and head for the caverns, where they talk nonsense about magic and such. It’s not really nonsense for Robbie, however, who actually sees one of the monsters described by Jay Jay and has a panic attack. From there things only get worse, as Robbie quickly becomes his character and starts searching for “The Great Hall,” a mysterious goal which can only be found at “The Two Towers.” If you’re groaning at that last bit, you’ll roll your eyes when Jay Jay actually hears this phrase and remarks, “Hey, that’s Tolkien!” Yeah, it is, so why not come up with something more original?

To make matters even sappier, The Great Hall turns out to be Robbie’s brother, who vanished many years ago in an incident which has haunted the poor guy for years. His fragile mental state sends him reeling, and he winds up stumbling to New York City and nearly jumping off the World Trade Center. Get it now? Two Towers? Yeah, this is just plain goofy stuff. And all the while there’s romantic drivel out the wazoo. First there’s a hook-up between Kate and Robbie, but once he starts snowballing down Nutjob Hill he breaks up with her, which sends her to the supposedly “attractive” Daniel. Seriously, the movie brings up this point so many times it’s gold. “You know, I was always afraid to get involved with you… because you were so attractive,” says Kate during one particularly magical moment. Sheesh lady, you’re not a Mole Woman! Get some confidence!

So to keep the record straight, there are no actual mazes in Mazes and Monsters, and the only monster we see is a wonderfully bad guy in a rubber dragon suit, and the rest is pretty much made-for-television melodrama. Oddly enough, it’s the soap element that sends Jay Jay to the Pequod Caverns in the first place. Why? Because he thinks the caves would be a good place to commit suicide, but once he gets there this point is totally dropped because he thinks they would be a great place to play their game. Talk about a gigantic turn of events. You’d think a movie so willing to gloss over a suicidal character would end with everything happily resolved, but not so much. See, even though Robbie’s friends stop him from diving from the WTC, he’s left permanently cracked. Moments before the credits roll Kate’s voice is heard extolling the loss of innocence and death of hope, leaving me considerably depressed.

So what the hell is the lesson here? Playing games is bad if you’re three straws from being a fully made wicker basket? That’s about as much as I can guess, which to be taught in 1982 seems a bit weird. What with AIDS running rampant and cold war on everyone’s mind, couldn’t we have skipped the “let’s blame games for our children’s troubles” crap? Besides, this issue didn’t really explode until the age of Mortal Kombat and its peers, so what prompted this film? Research tells me it’s based on a book, but Lord knows I don’t read. Oh well, it’ll be just another mystery of the universe, I suppose. To wrap up, this is pretty silly fare, but don’t expect a freaking “harrowing adventure” like the lying liars would have you believe, unless you think young adults crying and facing social issues is really exciting.