Wednesday, December 20, 2023

Hidden Details

Because of my post about the limited pop cultural footprint of Dungeons & Dragons as a game, several readers pointed me toward the image below, which I've enlarged as much as I could. It's a still from the 1986 Jim Henson-directed, George Lucas-produced, and Terry Jones-penned fantasy movie, Labyrinth. 

In case it's not clear from the image above, there's a copy – seemingly still in shrinkwrap – of the 1981 David Cook/Steve Marsh Expert Set on a bookshelf in the film. I've admittedly not seen the movie recently, but I suspect this is a blink-and-you'll-miss-it moment rather than something that's given any prominence. Certainly, no one in the movie plays D&D or even references it in any way, so I'm not at all convinced that it's particularly relevant to the point of my earlier post. I imagine it's more likely a case that someone on Labyrinth's production team thought the box "looked cool" and then placed it on the set. I doubt anyone before the advent of high-resolution home video even noticed it; I certainly didn't.

I wouldn't be surprised to discover that there are other movies and TV shows from the 1980s that feature, as background details, Dungeons & Dragons and RPG-related paraphernalia. However, I don't believe their number would be very large, or else they'd be better known. I know that, when I was a kid, I made a big deal out of even the flimsiest connections to my beloved hobby. If there are more instances like this out there, they must be very well hidden indeed.


  1. There's a long tradition in Hollywood of set dressers slipping things into shots without approval or even the awareness of the director. Think it might have started during Prohibition, where there was a tendency for, ah, objectors to sneak bottles of alcohol into the background, and sometimes references to their favorite speakeasy. That's really the most likely explanation if it wasn't "officially" intended to be there. Plenty of D&D fans in the movie industry in 1981.

    Lot easier to get away with back in the days before technology made it effortless to remove or obscure unwanted images during editing. Re-shooting a scene to "vanish" something spotted in post wasn't going to happen most of the time, which accounts for quite a few bloopers involving stray coffee cups and the like.

  2. In this scene, Sarah (the protagonist) wakes up, thinking she's back home and her adventures in the Labyrinth were all a dream. It turns out to be a trap to sort of emotionally bury her under the weight of her childhood memories. In her room, we can see lots of things that inspired the plot or the design of the film: the Labyrinth game, an M.C. Escher poster, several Maurice Sendak books, a wind-up ballerina toy, etc. The D&D box is definitely there as something that inspired aspects of the film.

    That scene is available here:

  3. Notably, in the early bedroom scenes in the book (I watched the film again prior to reviewing the RPG), there is a copy of the Judge Dredd board game on the shelf. It is easy to spot with its chrome yellow box colour.

  4. At the beginning of ET, Elliot's older brother and his friends are playing D&D.

    1. Yes, this was huge and this was exactly the time I was getting into D&D. I remember seeing the movie in the theatre and thinking it would be cool to play that game with a group of people.
      I think the pop culture footprint was definitely there and recognized by kids of the era.

  5. The inclusion of the game is part of the movie. In a nod to the Wizard of Oz, the objects in Sarah's bedroom all reflect locations or characters of the magical realm. I think D&D reflects the "oubliette."

  6. Sarah is exactly the sort of kid who'd play D&D, so it seems like a deliberate choice. The film even opens with her acting out her own fantasy adventure by herself in the park.


    It's not an 80's film (2001, based on a 1998 play), but in Hedwig and the Angry Inch there's a Mentzer Basic and/or Expert set shown in the bedroom of teenage Tommy Speck (later, rockstar Tommy Gnosis). When introduced in the film, he's specifically described as "Dungeons and Dragons obsessed".

  7. This is definitely a deliberate detail. Sarah is obsessed with fantasy fiction.

    It also makes sense that the game would still he shrink-wrapped in its box, sadly. I doubt Sarah has many friends who would play D&D with her.

  8. (Never saw the film) What hits me with such impact is the absolutely distinctive color and tone of the box. It isn't Camaro Z28 Chevy blue, it isn't Prudential/Merrill Lynch Blue, it isn't New York Times blue, it isn't Tiffany, Cartier, Bulgari, it isn't like like any album cover I can recall (Pyromania-ish, maybe?) or any Playboy getup or any poster I can ever recall. It is totally singular in my mind: in the absence of the lettering I would still know that box. Expletive. Now I'm thinking about the red box . . .