We all have to start somewhere. Nobody begins at the top and rare is the case when greatness is achieved from the get-go. The fact of the matter is most of the time you've got to be the copy guy before you're the CEO. Acting is no different. While this article is not about him directly, I am going to be looking at an early step in the career of Tom Hanks. See, he's been my wife's favorite actor since I first met her, and that being the case I have learned a few things about how he got started. For example, his first movie was a low-budget horror film called "He Knows You're Alone." His first lead role though came in the early 80's, where he starred in a made-for-television adaption of Rona Jaffe's novel, "Mazes and Monsters." As the title of this article suggests, that is what we will be discussing today. Now, I am not the first person the web to talk about the this movie. It's has gone on to be something of a cult "classic," and I use the quotations because people seem to watch this to only laugh at how ridiculous it is. What surprises me is that to my knowledge, no one has talked about it here on retrojunk yet. Since it's been talked about plenty over the web, I will apologize in advance if I'm just white noise. I can say that while I agree this movie is bad, I will be kinder than most. If you have never seen this movie, the whole thing is on YouTube. Check it out after you're done reading. Now if everybody is ready, let's grab a torch and venture into the world of...
First off, there's a whole history of the novel being based off the true life death of a Dungeons and Dragons player. I won't get into that here, but I wanted to make it known for those who might be interested and were unaware of it. I also wanted to say that though this movie aired in 1982, a year before I was born, I actually do have a little bit of nostalgia for it. Allow me to explain. Somewhere around the years 1999-2000, my family had just got Direc-Tv. This is the first time I had more than just the ten or so local channels. My sister had also moved out so I finally had the house to myself when my parents went out. It was fun to browse through hundreds of channels and I got see some cool Anime's as well as films like the original Halloween for the first time. One night, I was on the couch browsing through the guide and I came across something called Mazes and Monsters. The name got my attention and I went to it. It hadn't been on too long and although it was cheesy, I thought it was interesting and I looked for it in the guide after that so I could watch the whole thing and I see what I missed. I eventually caught it again. Until I decided to write this article, I had not seen in since then but for whatever reason, I had not forgotten about it. Watching it again, my thoughts on it are the same, but I'll get to those. So what the heck is Mazes and Monsters, anyway?
Basically, Mazes and Monsters was a response to the parental and societal panic that came from Dungeons and Dragons back then. The big reason this movie is so laughed at is how wrong it got everything. Here is what it's about...
It wastes no time getting started. Right away we are greeted with the title and a blaring police siren.
The scene is some off-limits caves called Peyquod Caverns. A reporter informs us that a game of mazes and monsters has gotten out of hand and a college student has gone missing. From there we go back six months, where we are introduced to some very cheesy music and our cast of characters. First, there is Jay Jay.
As the pictures can show you, he has a thing for hats and wears them all in public with no apparent shame whatsoever. He's the most nerdy of the group and his mom is a bit of a kook who likes to redesign his room every so often. We are then introduced to Kate.
She wants to be a writer. Her parents are divorced and she is having trouble finding a steady boyfriend at school because she is so smart. You can't have feminism without men to hate now, can you? Next is Daniel.
Daniel wants to make computer games, much to the disapproval of his parents. They think his natural talent for computers would be better suited for more serious pursuits at MIT. He pouts a lot throughout the movie. After that, everybody arrives at Grant University. We learn that these three are friends and that they need a fourth player for their mazes and monsters game, someone who is level 9. Jay Jay puts a notice up on the bulletin board. This leads to Mr. Hanks himself, as Robbie.
As he is being dropped off, we learn that Robbie's mom drinks to get through the day and his dad is a stern jerk. But we also learn that this is Robbie's second attempt at college. Seems something happened before and when his parents say goodbye, he is warned not to play that awful game again...Can you say foreshadowing? After that, Jay Jay spots Robbie glancing at his notice for an M & M player and immediately introduces himself. Robbie politely turns down playing, but is invited to a party later anyway. He then meets Kate and there is instant attraction. She learns his M & M history and introduces Daniel to him. They beg him to join their group. He refuses several times but then finally agrees to play just one game with them.
I guess nobody ever told Robbie about peer pressure...After that, we cut to the four playing a game. Actually, we only see them introduce their characters. The scene ends when the game starts.
Daniel - Dungeon Master
Kate - Glacia, the fighter
Robbie - Pardue - the holy man
Jay Jay - Frelic - the sprite
Once it seems like things will get interesting, the actual gameplay isn't shown at all. Rather, we get a montage with the same cheesy song from the beginning. Robbie and Kate date and grow closer. They play more mazes and monsters. The study their subjects. Life seems pretty good for everybody. One night, Robbie shares with Kate that three years earlier, his brother, Hall, ran away from home on Halloween night to go to New York City. Robbie confesses to dream about him a lot and we see him have one. Sometime later, Daniel and Jay Jay are having a small heart-to-heart and plan the next M & M game. They pick a date and Jay Jay goes to talk to the others to verify. When he gets to Kate's room, Robbie answers. For some reason, this makes Jay Jay feel sad. He leaves without talking to Kate. This is the point where the movie starts to get ridiculous. Kate reveals that Jay Jay is only 16. He's a sophomore in college and something of a boy genius. This makes him feel lonely and seeing Robbie with Kate has prompted him to talk to his Myna bird about killing himself. He drives off to peyquod caverns in the middle of the night. He doesn't go through with it because the next scene is another game. Jay Jay's character dies, which means they can no longer play together because starting with a new character would take forever to catch up to the rest of them. Jay Jay gives everybody an idea to solve the problem. He will act as dungeon master and everybody will act out the game for real in the caverns. Everybody agrees. Jay Jay sets up a skeleton in the caverns to prepare and gets everybody costumes from the theater department.
At this point, seeing these college students play their characters like children playing make believe is really stupid, and it's impossible not to at least chuckle at them, even if they are just playing a game. But then something happens that sets up the entire second half of the movie. Jay Jay, who is hiding while giving the other players instructions, loudly cries out "A monster, a Gorvul!!" This is supposed to be fun and heighten the game for everybody, but it has a profound effect on Robbie. The three have split up to find the treasure that Jay Jay hid, and when the announcement is made about the Gorvul, Robbie is alone and totally freaks out.
Turns out Robbie has little trouble distinguishing fantasy and reality, and he starts screaming because he believes a monster is really coming for him. In fact, he thinks he sees one and yells for help while he prepares to slay the beast.
I know, right? Anyway, everybody shows up to see what's wrong. Robbie announces he has killed the gorvul, and everybody just laughs, thinking he was playing along. They leave the caves, everybody talking about how much fun it was, but Robbie seems to still be in character. In fact, he remains in character for a long time after that and the other three notice he has been acting strange. Meanwhile, Robbie has been having dreams where his is visited by the Great Hall, who through crappy effects sequences tells him that to be holy, he must walk alone.
He breaks up with Kate and starts making a weird sort of map of his own. He dreams more about Hall, and is finally told that he must meet Hall at the Two Towers to become one with him.
Meanwhile, Kate and Daniel get together, and continue to discuss with Jay Jay all of Robbie's strange behavior. Then on Halloween Night, Hall tells Robbie the time has come, and Robbie disappears. The gang looks for him, and it comes down to them filing a missing persons report. They deny playing together, but inform the detective that he played, and that he liked the caverns.
The detective does a search and we are brought back the where the movie started. He thinks that Robbie was murdered. The gang doesn't lose hope and finds Robbie's map while searching his room.
While all this is going, Robbie has in fact headed to New York, where he still believes he is Pardue, and we're treated to terrible saxophone background music. He is accosted by two muggers who chase him into an alley. He thinks they are Gorvuls, though, and he stabs one of them.
When he leaves the alley, he sees a reflection of himself with a bloody knife and this knocks him back to his senses. He finds a phone booth and calls Kate, telling her he is in New York, that he thinks he has killed somebody, and he is really scared. She gives him the address to Jay Jay's apartment and tells him to wait for them there. He tries to do this, but then sees the muggers again and runs for it into the subway. This makes him lose his mind again, and he thinks the subway tunnels are a maze and the roaring subway train is a dragon. He meets a hobo down there and asks for directions to the two towers. The rest of the gang go to Jay Jay's, find he is not there, and after some deliberating, come to the painfully obvious conclusion that the Two Towers is not the book, but the world trade center. The Great Hall is just Robbie's mind reflecting on his brother.
From there, it's a race to get there and stop Robbie from throwing himself off of the towers, which he thinks will join him to the Great Hall. They find on the roof, and try to get his attention, but he only responds when they call out to him as Pardue.
It's kind of anti-climatic from there. They tell him it as all a game and this brings him back to his senses. Or so it seems... Flash forward a couple months later and Kate, Jay Jay, and Daniel are driving. They have moved on. Jay Jay has become head of the theater arts department. Daniel has started computer work. And Kate is writing a novel about all their experiences with Mazes and Monsters. They talk about Robbie not coming back to school, but with the help of a doctor, he should be ok. Turns out they are going to visit him. His mom leads them to the backyard where Robbie is sitting by a lake. Much to their disappointment, he greats them all by their character names. Turns out he has lost his mind completely. It's actually pretty sad and in the end, they all agree to go with him, to play the game one last time.
We get some sad narration, and credits roll. As you can guess, this not what anyone could call a "good" movie. It's cheesy, has plenty of bad acting, it's characters are morons, and it's anti Dungeons and Dragon warning is hilariously stupid. However, I have to be honest; I kinda like this movie. I know it's hokey, but I have always found it enjoyable. I think a lot of that is because of Tom Hanks. History has shown that he is a darn fine actor, and he completely gives himself to this script, silly as it is. For me, it is his performance that lets me separate this movie from it's "message" and enjoy it as a cheesy, B-grade tale of a nice kid that loses his mind. ;) Six years after this, Hanks would go on to make Big, a true classic that also gave him his first Oscar nod. As far as this movie goes, you can actually get this on an official DVD, which proves that it has garnered enough interest to warrant one. The cover for it is really bad though...
If you have never seen this before, you should see it at least once. It's silly, but interesting enough to hold your attention to the end. Like said earlier, the whole thing is on YouTube, which is how I watched it again for this article. And that's all. Hope you all enjoyed it. Until next time, stay retro folks. Thanks for reading.