Mazes and Monsters: Tom Hanks, Roleplayer (Review)

Wow. This is the kind of movie that sounds too fake to really exist, and yet here it is. 1982’s Mazes and Monsters is an example of how the media reacted to the rising popularity of Dungeons and Dragons in the 1970’s and 1980’s and was inspired by the disappearance of James Dallas Egbert III.

Long story short, a bunch of people pinned D&D for being a source of occultist/satanic beliefs in kids and was convinced that kids playing it would become incurably insane and lead them to either murder people, commit suicide, or get lost in the fantasy worlds they were playing in. You ever see Reefer Madness? It’s like that, but with dice.

Mazes and Monsters, naturally, takes this paranoia and tries to run with it, resulting in an uneven TV movie that has some great atmosphere in the third act, performances that are fine (and nothing more) and a theme/opening credits sequence that feels like the intro to Cheers smushed into the intro to The Golden Girls.

The most notable part about this movie is that it stars a young Tom Hanks in his first starring role, though you wouldn’t know about his incredible skills as an actor here due to an overly simplified and quick moving script. In a lot of ways, there are several missed opportunities in the film to explore mental illness and how trauma can affect people in different ways. Hanks’ character has some potential to be a genuinely great role for him, but Mazes and Monsters (foolishly) decides to scapegoat roleplaying games for Hanks’ problems, as opposed to discussing how the fictitious roleplaying game was actually an outlet for the character’s many repressed issues. While a game of M&M may have set Hanks’ character on a self-destructive path, his problems were there from the start and could have likely been taken care of by a psychologist/psychiatrist.

Ultimately, Mazes and Monsters is a fine/perfectly watchable movie. It doesn’t really excel at anything, nor does it outright fail at telling its story. This makes it somewhat hard to recommend to anyone outside of fans of roleplaying games that are looking for something to poke fun at with friends, or to diehard Tom Hanks fans. Even then, it’s dicey (no pun intended). While none of its scenes stuck out to me for being particularly good, there was some fun to be had in being able to talk about it with other people. The best part of watching this movie and getting to discuss it with my friends was how it served as the perfect segue into us trying to get into D&D ourselves.

Wanna hear more about Mazes and Monsters? Feel free to check out our podcast episode on the 1982 movie from your favorite podcast player! Alternatively, you could also watch/listen to our episode on the movie on Youtube!

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