Mazes and Monsters (1982) — Tom Hanks warns us about the dangers of D&D

“Mazes & Monsters is a far-out game. Swords… poison… spells… battles… maiming… killing!”

Justin’s rating: Welcome to Choose Your Own Adventure Review!

Justin’s review:

You begin surfing on a strange-smelling yet visionary website named Mutant Reviewers. On a lark — you are infamous for doing things lark-related — you click on a review page for Mazes & Monsters. “Hm,” you think. “A weird Tom Hanks role-playing film. This should be good for a larf.” A sinister cackle erupts from behind you.

If you want to learn more about the backstory of this movie, go to 6. If you wheel around to investigate the noise, go to 10. If you just want to start diving into the review as a wild and hedonistic spirit, go to 5.

As with any new form of entertainment, Dungeons & Dragons was immensely popular with the youth and accused of all sorts of nonsense by others lacking a full understanding. Many people latched on to its more evil themes — demons, sorcery, magic — and accused the game of “corrupting” the youth and leading to devil rituals and suicide. Others were unsettled by the concept of “role-playing,” theorizing that this form of play acting would cause an individual to become mentally unstable. There is little or no evidence to back up either of these theories, and besides, video games are now the more popular scapegoat for politicians and overprotective adults!

On to the review, you yell! Go to 5. Or perhaps you need a refreshing beverage. Go to 3.

Sunny D! All right!

Read the review already, you ninny. Go to 5.

For a movie that tries to “accurately depict” the inside scoop on Dungeons & Dragons (and RPGs in general), the actual game of Mazes & Monsters is seriously dumb. Once you witness the first or second scene of the cast playing it, you will be enlightened that the filmmakers didn’t know thing one about D&D, and were just kinda winging a whole bunch of speculation your way. Apparently, M&M can only be played by four people, no more, no less. It has a game master and all of the players sit around a simple grid wearing goofy clothes and lighting about 300 candles in a dark room until the place is brighter than a hospital operating room.

Other than that, the audience is give no clue as to how the game actually works, other than people being goofy and saying things like “I’m out of spell points” and “I jump into the hole.”

So what happens with the game? Go to 7.

Mazes & Monsters, in case you need to be told without your vast brainpowers assuming the obvious, is a wretched piece of made-for-TV moviemaking. It begins with a syrupy sweet song that’d be a war crime to use during any other film, but doubly so as the theme to a fantasy-RPG story. Most of the movie promotional material would have you believe that you’re about to encounter a vast fantasy world full of imaginative creatures and special effects and action sequences, when in reality you’re in for a heapful of dull kids, an off-kilter Tom Hanks, and a role-playing game that isn’t ever explained in any depth.

Ooh! Tom Hanks! Gimme some of that! Go to 9. If you want to learn more of the actual game, Mazes & Monsters, go to 4. Impatient and eager to get this review over with, head straight to the story in 7.

Using the internet as an information-gathering device, for once, you learn that this CBS made-for-TV film was the result of a novel by questionable human being Rona Jaffe. Capitalizing off of the anti-Dungeons & Dragons wave of the early 1980s, Jaffe based her story on a sensationalized disappearance of a college student named James Dallas Egbert III, who supposedly went loony after too much D&D, drugs, and mental instability.

Egbert? Who’s this? Go to 12. Who dares oppose our dark EdgeLords of D&D? Go to 2.

You’d think that the moral of M&M would be that the game becomes an obsession and causes all the kids to flunk out of college, but that’s just the tip of the iceberg, my friend. Nay, M&M ultimately becomes a horrible catalyst of all sorts of anti-social behavior, as the kids start LARPing (that’s “live action role playing” to the laygeek) in “forbidden caverns” and Robbie begins to think the game is real.

In perhaps one of the more hysterical sequences, he actually breaks up with his hot girlfriend because he’s a cleric and called to chastity. No wonder nerds get such a bad rep. Robbie goes so bonkers that he flees to New York City and goes on a quest to find his brother or something. Then he gets lost in the sewers, climbs the World Trade Center, and is convinced that evil creatures are after him. It’s pretty surreal, but more or less a typical Tuesday for role-players.

Time to wrap up this review! If you deeply care about Tom Hanks and don’t wish to see his reputation bruised, go to 8. If you’re a freak, one of us, go to 11.

You seriously care about your precious little Hanky-pooh? Seriously, get a grip. Even the best actor can have an off day, and this wasn’t Hank’s time to shine. He never had an opportunity to use his comedic talents in this movie but instead spent a great deal of the time looking and acting like one of those maladjusted folks who hang out in the dank back rooms of comic book stores. Shoot, you deserve another chance.

Go to 11.

A very young pre-fame Tom Hanks plays Robbie, a college kid who flunked out of his last school for playing too much of a certain role-playing game. Can you see the moral coming up to smack you silly in the face? In his new college, he tries to fly right, but quickly gets sucked into a group of Monsters & Mazes players and there goes many thousands of dollars of educational funds. If you’re looking for Hanks to pull either a brilliantly funny turn or a sobering dramatic role, please look elsewhere; he mostly zones and acts like a defective mental patient for the bulk of the movie. Alas.

To read about Robbie’s real-life inspiration, James Dallas Egbert III, go to 12. Otherwise, check out Robbie’s awesome adventures by going to 7.

It is pitch black in your room. All you can see of the strange noise are slavering fangs and razor-sharp claws. Alas, you are eaten by a grue. The End.

Ultimately, Mazes & Monsters is nothing more than a piece of antiquated hysteria over a game that supposedly caused millions of youngsters to abandon their lives and go run around in forbidden caverns. If you must, see it to witness a the theme song which will make you relive the ’70s in new and horrific ways, and then feel free to mock whatever follows. The End. I’m going to bed.

Egbert was a 16-year-old student at Michigan State University who disappeared in 1979. Speculation grew into an urban legend that he was so obsessed about D&D that he went into the steam tunnels under campus and either got lost, killed, or committed suicide. This is the part the media latched on to, yet few media outlets, including Rona Jaffe, were interested in reporting that Egbert reappeared in Texas, was suffering extreme mental instability and on drugs, re-enrolled at another college, and eventually committed suicide in 1980. That sort of stuff just gets in the way of interesting tabloid stories.

So why did people hate D&D so much? Go to 2. What does all of this have to do with the movie? Go to 5.

Didja notice?

  • Empire Strikes Back on a marquee. I’d rather be watching that.
  • The HORRIBLE opening tune
  • That kid’s new room looks like a hospital crossed with graph paper
  • JJ’s various hats: Kaiser helmet, white cowboy hat, aviator hat, construction hat, tweed hat, pith helmet, and so on.
  • That girl’s hair threatens to destroy us all — it’s HUGE!
  • Daniel’s mom has a massive mole on her cheek
  • Absolutely terrible lighting in these scenes
  • Robby’s dad is a FUN mean guy!
  • A girl with… three braids?
  • Mazes and Monsters requires a buttload of candles
  • No! It’s the sappy song again!
  • JJ is 16 and a sophomore in college?
  • Happy, positive suicide talk!
  • Soundtrack sure loves its oboe
  • Use sonar BEFORE jumping into pits. It’s only common sense.
  • Basil the skeleton
  • Tom Hanks in a kooky robe
  • I like caverns that are forbidden, don’t you?
  • Robby’s freakout at the Gorville
  • Bug crawling on the camera lens during the breakup scene… hur?
  • The Two Towers… isn’t that copyrighted somewhere?
  • Robby worships a sewer tunnel?
  • Mr. Spock and Tin Man speech!
  • Blade Runner poster

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