A Review by Noah Antwiler
The title really grabs your attention, doesn't it? It grabbed mine when I saw it as a kid prowling the aisles of my local video rental store. I was about eight years old, just exposed to Tolkien and freshly initiated into gaming by my older brother. I immersed myself in the books (even if I didn't understand half of it at that age), I watched the terrible cartoon, and I sought out anything in the fantasy/adventure genre I could find. You can imagine how much of a no-brainer it was for me to spot a title on the shelf like The Dungeonmaster and think "now here's a Dungeons & Dragons movie." I wonder how many of you thought the same thing. Of course it's a gamer movie; it's called the Dungeonmaster. It might as well have carried the Gygax Seal of Approval. Isn't that term copyrighted or something? You can't just slap that phrase on a hideously bad sci-fi turd that has nothing to do with dungeons or the hard-working administrators who master them. Can you?
Apparently you can, because The Dungeonmaster is such a movie. It has nothing to do with swords or sorcery, no princesses or warriors, just a lot of bad costumes and an irrational hatred of little people. There's not a single sword to be found in the whole movie. Heck, there aren't even any dungeons in it. And it's bad. You have no idea how bad. You might think you want to check it out for a laugh or to fill out your collection. You don't, and you can't. Only the dedicated and the foolhardy will be able to seek this movie out because you can only find it on VHS. Netflix won't help you. You can find every season of The Golden Girls on DVD but you won't find The Dungeonmaster. That should tell you something. When they sent a copy to Skywalker Ranch to be digitally remastered, the lead engineer managed to eat four interns before the project was scrapped.
The Dungeonmaster is essentially a Tron rip-off with seven—yes, seven directors. It's the story of a modern super-nerd named Paul, "Cyrez's ace troubleshooter." Paul is a hyper-intelligent stud who makes the Blue Beetle seem like Sir Bedivere when it comes to inventing stuff. He's also athletic and wears highly upsetting red shorts as he jogs home every day. He's invented weird techno-magic horn-rimmed glasses that somehow wirelessly manipulate traffic signals and a talking wristwatch. His glasses also allow him to wirelessly hack ATMs and remotely link up to his 80s-era plunker of a PC back at home miles away. But it's not any ordinary PC, it happens to be named CAL (not at all a knockoff of 2001's HAL), a sentient A.I. that is capable of summary, abstract thought, and remote manipulation of information long before the Internet was in full swing!
Paul also has a hot girlfriend (uh huh) named Gwen who rather perceptively fears that Paul cares more about his computer more than he does about her. If Paul is any kind of real nerd, this is probably true. But we don't dwell much on this because suddenly Gwen and Paul are teleported to a strange alien landscape where Bull from Night Court (Richard Moll) takes the lady prisoner and issues Paul a challenge. Bull calls himself Mastema, probably a better name for a skin condition than an evil archmage. He tells Paul that he's all-powerful and immortal and as such, he's rather bored. There aren't any worthy challenges anymore, he says, nobody with his level of awesome power, but he thinks he's found a worthy opponent in Paul and his super-science.
He draws a sword and knights Paul, renaming him "X-CaliBR8" for no real reason that I can understand other than it's a thinly-stretched pun and the kind of thing that sounds witty to a 10-year-old trying to think of a cool X-Box Live login name. He challenges Paul to a series of seven challenges if he ever wants to escape alive with his girlfriend, and gives him a suit of techno-armor (gray pads that look like something my mom might have made) and turns his computer into a weaponized bracer. Mastema thinks awfully small, if you ask me. Why bother accosting innocent computer nerds? Why give him a weapon he could later use to destroy you? If you're so powerful and unstoppable, just take over the world or something. Wouldn't facing the world's militaries head-on be a worthy test of his powers?
With the setup out of the way, the movie has less structure than an episode of The Mighty Morphin' Power Rangers. Mastema teleports Paul to one of his trials, Paul kills everything, teleports back. Then they engage in a brief pissing contest of "witty" banter, Mastema gets mad, teleports him to the next trial. Repeated seven times. This is the gist of it:
"I got laserz! pew pew pew!"
"You totally got lucky."
"Well you're a jerk!"
The first challenge put before X-CaliBR8 is to chase a pair of thieving midgets who steal his computer. Get used to this concept, because apparently the writers of The Dungeonmaster hate and fear little people, and think they're craven, thieving, evil little gnomes who should be vaporized on sight. Then he runs across a twenty-storey-tall stone golem with a huge gem set in its forehead that might as well be a neon sign reading "SHOOT HERE." Paul tinkers with his bracer and shoots a kill-ray out of his hand that destroys the construct. He can do that with a computer because he's really smart.
The second trial sends Paul to some kind of underworld where he's insulted by a goblin (yet another little person!) who I'm led to believe is Lord of Hell. The goblin conjures up a vision of Paul as a zombie, somehow hoping to demoralize him to death or something. Paul actually looks pretty shaken by this vision but perseveres, declaring "I reject your reality and substitute my own!" Awfully relativistic and self-deluding way of looking at the world, but anything that works for the MythBusters works for me. Then Paul just zaps everything with his kill-ray. This happens to be his answer out of every one of these trials. I just wonder what takes him so long to think of it every time.
Mastema gets irritated and summons a cartoon dragon to attack, so Paul creates his own techno-cartoon dragon. The dragons stare at each other instead of doing anything interesting, then vanish. Then Mastema challenges him to an impromptu jam-contest to see who has the meanest licks. He plays some terrible discordant howls and shrieking (basically Jane's Addiction) while Paul counters with crummy generic 80s synth-rock mp3s, which even at its worst with Europe's "The Final Countdown" was better than anything Jane's Addiction has ever done. Defeated, Mastema teleports Paul to his next trial which is, I'm not kidding, a W.A.S.P. concert. The challenge is simply to endure a set from W.A.S.P. while trying to deal with festival seating. Paul zaps everyone in the name of good taste. At least the headlines tomorrow will be interesting: "W.A.S.P. murdered, town throws parade." Remarkably, this scene does not involve the wholesale slaughter of little people.
I've lost track of how many challenges we've endured at this point, but the next one involves our heroes being sent to another cave, this one full of statues of various historical figures that become animated and attack, including Jack the Ripper, the Wolfman, Chubby Samurai Man, and Albert Einstein. Paul zaps some of them, destroying the rest with an ice grenade. Huh?
Spooked by Paul's ability to pull ice grenades out of his ass, Mastema tries to talk Paul into surrendering the contest by offering him gold ("Deal... or No Deal?"), power, a chance to nail 3 chicks at the same time, and hardest to resist of all, a Sony Playstation. But no sale. Paul wants his next challenge. He gets sent to the big city where he learns that Mastema has put Gwen directly into the clutches of a serial killer who preys on unsuccessful dancers. Ordinarily Paul would just waste 'em with his kill-ray but he gets caught by the cops. I guess there's an A.P.B. out for some blond square-head who caused an entire band to spontaneously combust three minutes ago. But not to worry, he manages to escape from the police by mashing the "Melt Handcuffs" key on his computer (seriously) and saves Gwen just in time.
The next challenge puts Paul back into a cave where a goblin throws rocks at him. These challenges are getting less impressive. For an all-powerful wizard Mastema doesn't exactly put much thought into his death-traps. Most of them boil down to caves and angry dwarves who steal your stuff.
The final trial is the oddest one of all: they're sent to an airplane graveyard where they're assaulted by sandpeople and their Nazi Jawa. Take a moment to picture that. It doesn't take much creativity to figure out what Paul does about it, either. He blasts them all into ash except for the Nazi Jawa who chases them around in his battle buggy, equipped with laser cannons. If this really was a D&D adventure I'd venture that the Dungeon Master desperately needs new medication. Or much less medication. I haven't seen anything this weird and stupid since I read the Castle Greyhawk module.
Needless to say, Paul prevails by dishing out a healthy dose of electronic death to any midget who dares oppose him, and defeats all of Mastema's trials. Mastema actually seems willing to accept defeat and ready to let them go, but Paul seems anxious to pick a fight. He says if Mastema's problem is boredom there are better ways of relieving it than seven lame, repetitive trials. Why, nothing's a challenge when you have total power over life and death, is it? Why not settle things without sissy magic spells and alternate realities in a good old-fashioned fistfight?
Believe it or not, Mastema agrees! If only Paul had thought of this to begin with I wouldn't have had to suffer through this movie. What kind of wizard agrees to settle a dispute in a brawl? I know Richard Moll is a big guy, but a wizard's THAC0 table utterly sucks. Unsurprisingly, Mastema gets his big ass kicked and thrown into a fiery gorge.
There's nothing more to the movie. Seven directors and not one of them could come up with an ending. Barely even a moment between Paul and Gwen where they look at each other and wonder "well that was pretty f#*!ed up." I was hoping to see Mastema retire from the Dungeon Master business to become a bailiff, or Paul decide to stop being such an underachiever and finally design the ultimate artificial intelligence called SKYNET.
You'd be better off just buying the first season of Night Court for twenty bucks instead of hunting down The Dungeonmaster. Heck, you'd do better just to rent Tron or Cloak & Dagger, and how often can anyone say that? Let's just forget the movie exists entirely. Call it rejecting this reality and substituting your own.