Saturday, December 18, 2010

I Put On My Robe And Wizard Hat

I had no idea that I would get to do this so quickly, but I am getting to review a film that I have owned for a while and has sat on my “To Be Watched” pile for just as long. My first Made For TV film – again based on a book, only this time not the drug fuelled rantings of a madman. Originally released in 1981, the book Mazes and Monsters dealt with the disappearance of Michigan college student James Egbert III in the late 70s. Given the fear mongering of the media, especially when it came to something as “scary” as Dungeons and Dragons, the reports and hype surrounding his disappearance were inaccurate to say the least, with the game being held up as some sort of Satanic tool designed only to prey on the weak minded and “sway them from the lord” (sadly, this thinking still exists to this day).

In 1982, Steven Stern directed the film of the same name for the CBS network. Starring a young Tom Hanks, the movie version of the book looks to be an equally inaccurate portrayal of one man’s harrowing addiction to a pen and paper RPG. Let’s see just how inaccurate it is.

I think, given the subject matter and style, a straight up recounting of the film will be called for.

The film opens with what I presume is the aftermath of the last game of Mazes and Monsters. I wish I could tell, because the dialogue seems to have been recorded through several pillows. Here’s hoping the sound quality improves, or I’ll have to just make up a plot based on what is happening. There we go – better sound mix. And, our first scare tactic, just describing the game to the “shocked parents at home” (at least they got the portrayal of the media right, even if the reporter looks like George Kennedy).

And, the credits roll over the stirring Love Theme From Mazes and Monsters. No prizes for guessing where this movie takes place, though. Hmm, apparently, the film is a flashback from the opening scene. And thus, we meet our heroes: JJ, who is controlled by his mother (and if my mother decorated my room to look like One Flew Over The Cuckoo’s Nest, I would be nuts too) and has quite a fetching collection of hats; Kate, token girl and hater of her father’s new wife; Daniel, wannabe games designer and possessor of this film’s “parents who hate his dream” and new student Robbie (Tom Hanks), whose parents are over-controlling alcoholics and whose brother Hall, we later find out has disappeared (I blame Satan.....or the lure of Ohio). Robbie, being the central character of our ragtag bunch, of course, flunked out of his last school after getting obsessed by Mazes and Monsters – but, I’m sure that won’t have any bearing on the plot of this film. At all.

Robbie and JJ soon meet and bonds over, you guessed it, a mutual love of Mazes and Monsters. Only in the movies could the school geek have a fully attended party. Robbie and Kate meet and bond at the party; alas they are only level 9 (fucking n00bs). At least the gaming session is suitably soft focus, because that shows the sexualisation of it in their eyes....I guess. M&M provides the players with GIANT minis, and boring backstories – I can’t wait to play it. But what is this? Could love be forming between Robbie and Kate? Yes, yes it could. And it just gets stronger when Robbie reveals his horrible secret to her in a series of longing looks and soft focus nightmare scenes.

JJ seems to be the over-addict of the group, and also the token jealousness, since he likes Kate too (that’ll happen)...oh, that’s why he’s so socially fucked up, he’s apparently only 16. I guess every college needs a Doogie. And a kid who is plotting his suicide in “Forbidden Widow’s Peak with Caverns” (nice of them to name the place as such, I think). Meanwhile, while JJ learns that if you are going to kill yourself in an old abandoned series of caverns, you should leave a note saying where to find you, Robbie and Kate’s relationship hits a snag, when he asks her to move in together after what seems like 5 days.

Seems that JJ didn’t die, at least not in real life – all he did was kill off his character in game. So he can suggest a real life game of Mazes and Monsters with himself as Maze Controller...sure, that’ll end in fun and frivolity. And Robbie is the first one to jump in on this idea, thus setting the game in the now renamed Peaquad Caverns. It’s right about now that I wish this movie had a “Setting Up The Game” montage, instead of token black guy with skeleton. Soon, the weekend rolls around and our heroes, now cosplaying their little hearts out, head off to the caverns. Guys, all you are doing is LARPing in some caverns – silly early 80s. Am I wrong for wanting all these idiots to die down there? They are totally unprepared and have let JJ run off into the caverns alone, leaving them to explore the cavern system like some low rent Goonies.

Finally, after a series of really, really boring tasks which end with the trio of players splitting up (??!?!?!), Robbie loses all sense of reality, starts thinking he actually IS his character and slays a hallucination beast. The next while is spent showing just how removed from reality Robbie has become – talking like a holy man, levelling up (with the help of a deep Tom Hanks voice talking to him in his dreams, mentioning things like The Two Towers and The Great Hall), splitting with Kate to preserve his celibacy – the usual stuff. Which apparently allows Daniel to make his move on her, however Priest Robbie doesn’t care and is just fracturing from reality ever further.

I don’t know what it is about the music in this film, but the way it’s mixed gives it a really annoying echo-y quality, like someone is talking on the radio while the radio is on in the background. If the film was any better, I would say it would be distracting, but thankfully we are dealing with a near 30 year old made of TV film, so it’s all good. Meanwhile, Lisa has somehow found herself lost in those darn carverns again, while looking for Daniel. What is it about those kids and those caverns – do they ALL want to end up split from reality? Looks like Daniel is getting a little too into the game and wanted to cheat and find the treasure. But all he got was a kiss, so I guess he did win after all. Which means that the rest of us lose.

It’s Halloween, and you know what that means? Public domain costumes and in house “rock” music, that’s what. But, in what was basically a throwaway line, we have the films funniest moment – whereby JJ, upon being asked who he dressed as, says “Noel Coward”. Well, I thought it was funny...STOP JUDGING ME! Robbie (who I will now be calling Pardeux, after his character), however, doesn’t find pleasure in the party and takes off to go be priest-like somewhere else. And elsewhere he goes, taking off to the so-called Two Towers and The Great Hall – which hold the secret of his character and his ability to level up. The rest of the gang, understandably, realise that Pardeux is gone and do the obvious thing – phone his mother to needlessly worry her. Or it would, if she wasn’t drunk off her ass.

The gang then start snooping  around his room and briefly think that he might be cheating on them with another group, because there are apparently rival Mazes and Monsters crew at this university (SIGN ME UP!!). JJ, being the wacky funster, posits that Pardeux got killed by a maniac – as any good friend would. So, they all head off to the caverns....AGAIN, to look for him. I bet he’s not there – c’mon; NYC, Two Towers, early 80s, where else can he be? That’s right – Bridgeport, CT. Lord knows the cops aren’t any help in this matter, so the gang drop some hints to get the cops actually involved. That doesn’t stop them from throwing him under the bus at the slightest opportunity – jerks.

The main cop seems to have a hate on for Mazes and Monsters, and is speaking for all the concerned parents everywhere. The gang, however, have scoured the caverns to remove all traces of the game...or at least, their traces. This brings us to the first scene of the movie, replayed almost in its entirety - only this time, with slightly better audio and the addition of JJ and Daniel dropping off a crucial clue into a car. A conveniently supplied map. But still, no body – as stated by the head cop, to the gang. Along with “we don’t have the slightest idea where he is”, which instantly puts him two rungs above Mitchell for “Most Irresponsible TV Cop Ever”.

JJ, using his sweet mapmaking skills, recreates the map, thus allowing the gang to go into Scooby Doo mode (and JJ to wear his deerstalker).  Lisa, finally remembering what Robbie told her about his brother, puts it all together and realises that The Great Hall isn’t a place, it’s his damn brother. And, of course, The Two Towers are the Twin Towers – because, like I said, Pardeux is in Bridgeport...I mean, NYC. And he’s stumbling around like he’s the damn Keymaster – at least until some no good street toughs chase him down an alley. Then he kills them, thinking they are more hallucination beasts. Which is enough to snap him out of being Pardeux long enough to call Lisa and let her know where he is.

Alas, this lucidity doesn’t last for long and Pardeux runs the hell away, into the “caverns” of the NYC subway system. While he wanders around them, losing all sense of reality again, we get treated to original opening footage of Taxi (and, I swear, half of it was not even NYC but rather Chicago). And, just to show how cracked Pardeux is, we get treated to as scene where he meets a homeless guy who convinces him he is the King of France. All this is, though, is way to get Pardeux to the Twin Towers, which leads to Pardeux stumbling around like Keymaster again.

And, because this is a Tom Hanks film, they all meet up on the Observation Deck. Alas, it is too late for Robbie, who has to be talked into not jumping from the top. The gang rescue Robbie, and we jump to three months later where it is implied that Robbie still thinks he is Pardeux and is permanently stuck thinking so. Alas, the perfect opportunity for some WSD was left wanting, whereby Robbie could have winked at the camera.

My god this film was boring, but not as ridiculously inaccurate as I hoped. I was hoping it would be a Chick Tract come to life, alas, it was just a telemovie.

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