Saturday, September 4, 2010

MAZES AND MONSTERS (1982) - Tom Hanks is forced to overcome obstacles whilst traversing an endless, senseless terrain, just like life

Here is a real life example of the evil horrors of Dungeons and Dragons. Take notice of how lame and sedate the whole thing is.

It never really occurred to me to start playing Dungeons and Dragons as a kid. I already kept myself plenty busy with other dangerous addictions. For example, I might sniff a marker or two, not ventilate the room when working with airplane glue, and even rub my belly in reverse super fast (this last one never worked). D & D seemed super nerdy and overly complicated compared to my typical funtime activities. However, one thing in particular pushed me over the edge and into Gary Gygax’s world of sorcery, goblins, and abstinence, and that was multiple viewings of the film Mazes and Monsters, a true milestone in the Canadian after school special role playing game cautionary tale.

Yes, the real reason I started playing D & D was because I watched a cautionary tale trying to scare kids away from playing it at all. Apart from good old reverse psychology, there were several inadvertent ways that the movie made the game look awesome. First of all, the group plays in a dark room somewhere, surrounded by approximately 50,000 candles and filmed in soft lighting. To make it even more atmospheric, they later move the game to a cavern. This made the whole thing enticing to a young mind, taking this lame paper based game and placing it within an atmospherically rad location.

Another aspect that drew me in was the role playing love montage. The twitchy geek meets a woman both attractive and intelligent, and she invites him to play Mazes and Monsters (just Dungeons and Dragons renamed to avoid getting their asses sued out of Middle Earth), and they fall in love, relayed with a montage showing them playing the game, walking through the park, holding hands, etc., set to the tune of a Dionne Warwick-esque soft ballad. I would’ve expected something like Iron Maiden, but the song is pretty good nevertheless (if you’re into romance and shit).

You would expect that the two actors playing these parts to be nobodies who never went on to anything else, but no, we get Wendy Crewson and Tom Hanks. Wendy started her career off with this and another Canadian role playing cautionary tale (Skullduggery) and incredibly, managed to have a long and varied career, featured in many a big Hollywood film. Tom Hanks would use this film as a springboard to star in Bosom Buddies (admittedly the worst program ever made about titties), and also some oscar bait retard role. There was also some other movie he was in where he played some dude who was super sad about having full blown aids, and this somehow had something to do with Bruce Springsteen. I guess I should pay more attention.

Basically, Hanks turns into his wizard character from the game, and escapes to New York to search for his younger brother, who left the family several years prior. He stabs a mugger who he thinks is the Creature from the Black Lagoon, or maybe some other lizard man thing. I really should dust up on that Monster Manual. His caring gaming friends try to piece together his fractured psyche and locate him. Unfortunately, Hanks mental state cannot be saved, and he ends up perpetually living in his fantasy world, seeking out treasure while occasionally hurling magic missiles at nefarious hobgoblins. Say what you want about this mental approach to life, at least you don’t have to deal with the horrors of the real world.

Mazes and Monsters was adapted from a book of the same name, which was loosely based on a real case of a college student that played D & D and supposedly went crazy and fled campus. The film is primarily a sensationalized warning against the evil dangers of role playing games. This was a common theme in the eighties, along with the satanic panic nonsense. Christian fundamentalists warned us against these games, probably because magic was involved. Poor bastard Harry Potter got a similar treatment years later. Due to the success of all of these books and films, Harry already has to suffer through the longest schooling career since Bluto Blutarsky. What’s her face will no doubt be soon churning out a series a books called “Harry Potter – The Post Post Grad Academia years”. I guess you can’t get a job in magic unless you graduate with a PHD, masters, and 800 total credits. It’s sorta like D & D, now that I think about it.

However, pretending to be a character in a game does not correlate to a fractured psyche. Yes, many players may be socially awkward, have mental problems, etc. These are people excluded from the cool kids club, after all, so they get together and have fun, creating their own social network around a game. A player was much more likely to masturbate to an Iron Maiden record than stab somebody. Now that I think about it, that Dionne Warwick montage was altogether unrealistic. Few role players were female, and no romance was ever conceived around D & D through some soft rock bullshit. Maybe the score for Conan the Barbarian, or perhaps some Renaissance. So, even though the love montage in the film was total bullshit, lordy was it romantic.

All this boneheaded sensationalism that is intended as a warning ends up becoming an endorsement. It just makes the whole game cool, and fattens Gary Gygax’s bank account in the process. Oh wait, he’s dead now. I guess it fattens the checks that go to whoever is in on his will. I don’t really know anything about Gary, but I get the feeling that he might be the kind of guy that made his dog (probably named Merlin or Frothdor the Paladin) to be his sole benefactor. I hope not. Dogs are fucking terrible with money. Just like myself, really.

The only potential danger I can spot is if a player creates a character who reaches the maximum level of “immortal”, at which point they are pretty much godlike. Keep in mind that D & D takes a long time to play, and therefore it would take many years of regular playing to even achieve this. However, I could maybe see some D & D nerd becoming a “god” of sorts and letting this go to his head. He’s never kissed a girl, people make fun of him for his taped glasses (buy a new pair, dorkface), and the few friends he does have are as lame as he is. He has conquered D & D in a sense (although there is no final goal in the game), and quests considered insurmountable to most players are just avenues to show off his extreme powers.

Dungeon Master: You have successfully raped and pillaged your way through the entire city for no good reason, with no mere mortal strong enough to stop you. All of a sudden, 1200 frost giants come upon you, out for their yearly “don’t let the ice mountains melt" marathon run. They look at you, and become angered at your powerfully coiffed hair, and decide to attack. How will you precede?

Immortal Wizard: Fools! I cast my annihilation blast spell at these mere peons.

Dungeon Master (rolling die): The spell is successful! Every single Frost Giant is turned to ash. You are victorious!


The wizard attempts to punch the dungeon master in the face, but misses and falls off of his chair. Suddenly, an evil wench approaches.

Mother: Billy! What’s with all the noise? Could you please keep it down? Your father and I are trying to watch Wheel of Fortune. Also, I finished your laundry, so if you could please put it away.

Immortal Wizard: Yes, mother.

So, in closing, Mazes and Monsters, despite the dubious motives behind it's creation, is a thoroughly lovely made for T.V. approximation of a social phenomenon, buoyed by surprisingly wonderful performances (except when Tom Hanks gets super twitchy and what have you). It's a childhood favorite, yet remains a pleasure to revisit. It's beauty is of the humble and simple sort, laughed at by the cynical hipsters who demand that life be a joke at all times (I am excluding the Tom Hanks character arc and ludicrous ending in this discussion, for the record). Laugh as you will at the quaint honesty of a life of fantasy and warm human relationships, but I hath assembled an army of warriors to defeat you. To those that believe that life is but a joke, I aim to rape and pillage and destroy you with all of the weapons I have at my disposal, and I don't mean guns.


  1. I tried D&D once....
    The same kid who tried to get me into anime wanted me to try it. I just couldn't do it. It made me feel like an asshole.

    I prefer my RPGs to be on a TV screen...with a video game console involved.

  2. Tabletop RPG's aren't for everyone. You need intellect and creativity, not just thumbs and eyeballs needed for video games.

    By the way, Gary Gygax unfortunately lost the rights to D&D in the 80's and therefore lived a very modest life. His children never benefitted monetarily from his works and if there was a will his wife burned it. It's OK because we got the important stuff - the time with Dad and great memories. And his DNA (^_^)

  3. In my early adolescence, shortly after I discovered D&D, I was asked to watch this, by some parental or church authority figure. I don't clearly recall. I kind of remember watching it broadcast on network television; perhaps it was a VHS tape. I do remember realizing what They Who Had Asked Me To Watch were up to, which made me even more determined to engage in the disapproved behavior. Reverse psychology indeed.

  4. @Andrew
    I didn't play it very much, and I did prefer (mostly) the old school computerized versions (like Bard's Tale, etc.)

    My point was just that the anti-D&D hysteria only seemed to make it more popular. That's unfortunate that he lost the rights; like I said, I didn't really know anything about him. Well, thank you for clarifying.

    I repeatedly watched the movie on TV, but of my own accord. I don't remember any authority figure mentioning D&D to me.

    Tangental, but when I was in junior high, they held a school assembly in the cafeteria to warn against the evils of watching Married With Children! Amusingly, I was wearing a Married With Children T-shirt at the time :) That's the one example that sticks out in my mind.

  5. There was a dude who gave everyone at my school tapes on his satanic rockin roll lectures, any devoted about 5 minutes telling a story about a kid whos mom threw away his dungeons and dragons books and the family allegedly heard them screaming devilish swears and screams from the trash that story... We tried see if it might work but I guess the intent was lacking...