During its heyday, Dungeons & Dragons crossed over into popular culture and became an inspiration for some while also being the subject of many negative news reports, books, and movies. Released in 1982 and starring some guy named Tom Hanks in his first leading role, Mazes and Monsters is a made-for-television movie that warns of the dangers of role playing games.Mazes and Monsters is about the titular and fictitious role-playing game. The game is very popular and has even infiltrated the lives of rich college students who miss class and get poor grades due to their obsession with the game. M&M is the story of four such students and the tragic consequences the game has on their lives.
All of the characters in M&M seem to have been created from default character sheets.. Robbie Wheeling’s (Hanks) parents are so stereotypical that it is almost parody. Every line spoken by his mother is melodramatic while his father is consistently angry. Kate (Wendy Crewson) has never been able to sustain a relationship her entire life and Daniel (David Wallace) is the good looking one of the bunch who is able to “make out” with any girl. Naturally, he is not just concerned with making out, but wants a sensitive girl he can talk to.
While the majority of the characters are generic, Jay Jay (Chris Makepeace) is downright offensive. The sixteen year old son of New York’s youngest publisher, he is still treated like a child by his overbearing mother. Jay Jay dreams of being an actor and wears silly hats in every scene he is in. Makepeace’s acting is horrendous making an already unlikable character torturous to watch.
There is no additional advancement to the characters in M&M. Robbie’s younger brother mysteriously disappeared one Halloween night while everyone else plays M&M to escape their horrible lives. The problem is, there is no reason to accept that their lives are that bad to begin with. All come from well to do families and only hints are given as to what is wrong with them. How weighty are Kate’s relationship problems? She easily gets involved in two serious ones over the course of the movie. She even nonchalantly comments about how she is still friends with her ex boyfriend. Is it that crazy that Jay Jay’s mother would worry about her sixteen year old genius son who is a sophomore in college? Daniel wants to program video games and his parents want him to get into computer programming, so what exactly is the problem?
The soundtrack in M&M is also odd. Instead of the triumphant horns or beating drums of battle you would expect to hear when dealing with fantasy, the viewer is presented with a steady barrage of yacht rock that would fit in any 1970s tale of love but is tragically out of place when it comes to wizards and warriors. Along with the soft tunes, a sexy saxophone solo ends some of the scenes.The disappointing thing about M&M is the ingredients are there for a story about a young man who is incapable of handling the loss of his brother and escapes into a fantasy world of his own creation. Is it a result of mental illness or simply an unwillingness to accept life’s ugliness? A better movie could have answered that question. There are even scenes in which we see the world through Robbie’s eyes providing a more sensitive look at how deep he has drawn into his own dungeon. Unfortunately, the movie-much like the hastily written book it is based on-chooses a more sensational and less creative approach.
Mazes and Monsters is an obvious attention drawing attempt that tried to cash in on the Dungeons & Dragons controversies of the early 1980s. The movies decides to ignore good storytelling opportunities and is barely mediocre.