Reefer Madness For The Roleplaying Generation
T. Dissinger | Jacksonville, AL USA | 11/03/2005
(4 out of 5 stars)
"This 1982 made-for-tv movie was made during the period when D&D started to get attention and is a delightful expoitation cheesefest made by folks who have NO idea what the heck the game or the people who play it are about. Tom Hanks is great in an early role as a gamer gone over the edge of reality. Yes, this movie is stupid and insulting to folks who enjoy roleplaying games, but it is a FUN kind of stupid and worth a look when you and your friends have "bad movie night" at your house. It is rather fun to see gaming exploited in a cautionary tale that makes it look like the next great plaugue that will assasinate America's youth. Worse than crack you know. Recommended."
A time capsule of idiocy, for sure, but not much else...
danger ex machina | Philadelphia, PA | 01/11/2007
(2 out of 5 stars)
"On August 15, 1979, a troubled child prodigy named James Egbert slipped into the steam tunnels beneath Michigan State University with a pocket full of 'ludes. And lo, an urban legend was born. You see, James had occasionally played Dungeons & Dragons some time before enrolling at Michigan, and his oblivious parents along with a news media hungry for scandal latched on to the idea that the fantasy world of role playing had driven him to suicide. The reality was Egbert wasn't dead, or even lost in the tunnels, but hiding at various locations in fear of his folks. The truth rarely matters in such circumstances, though, does it? Soon word of other suicides by teenagers who played D&D began popping up like dandelions in April, and a new hysteria had gripped America. Anti-gaming advocacy groups were formed. Chick tracts were published. The makers of the game even began to change some of their manuals to avoid controversy. And just before the madness peaked (around 1983), Rona Jaffe published a fictionalized warning of the sinister power of RPGs, "Mazes and Monsters", based loosely on James Egbert's story. This film was a television movie adapted from the novel, and is notable today mostly for starring a young Tom Hanks.
Now, before I get started, I'm not a gamer. I've never played an RPG in my life to be honest. However, I know how the 'fear and consumption' media works and a little bit of digging will turn up studies that prove the suicide rate among gamers is lower than the national average. And anything reguritated by the Falwell crowd is automatically suspect to begin with, right? This isn't the usual "incredibly strange film" that occupies my late nights. But when you spend money on a movie, even a few bucks, even if it was a year or two ago, don't you kinda feel obligated to watch it if for nothing else than to justify that you got something, anything, for that wasted cash? Ditto, amigo.
905 Studios is the party responsible for "Mazes and Monsters" DVD debut. This disc doesn't give me much hope for the quality of "Death Wish Club", a truly strange film that 905 is allegedly releasing soon. There are no extras, and the transfer isn't very good. "M&M" centers around four university students who decide to play a live action game in the caverns around their school. During one of these sessions, Hanks character goes nuts. "Bardu" dreams that his long lost brother is calling him to Manhattan, so he breaks up with his girlfriend (he's a cleric, after all!) and takes off. Well, everyone thinks he's missing in the caverns, and his fellow gamers lie to the police so they won't be expelled. Finally, Hanks snaps out of it for a moment after knifing a mugger, and the gang comes to get him. The final scenes show "Bardu" hopelessly and forever immersed in his character as the heartbroken friends decide to play one last campaign with him on his folks estate.
As propaganda, "Mazes and Monsters" fails on every level. It's not even that entertaining as kitsch like "Reefer Madness" or "Safety Belt For Susie". Lord knows that theme song gives Debbie Boone some competition in the ghastly department. Maybe someone who games and was a wee tyke (like me) during the time it was made might find it amusing as a time capsule of an era they were too young to remember. I tend to doubt it has much replay value even then. A much better purchase for you wizards and paladins out there (and even us boring folks who don't game or read comics ;) is the 5-disc set of the D&D toon that ran on CBS. Not only is that series entertaining, but BCI threw in the kitchen sink as far as extras. There's even a D&D compatable manual included. As for 905, let's hope a truly DVD worthy piece of junk like "Death Wish Club" gets the justice it deserves. I'm not expecting Criterion quality, but c'mon guys, you can do much better than this."
A passable time-filler....really nothing more...
Kenneth M. Pizzi | San Mateo, CA United States | 07/09/2007
(2 out of 5 stars)
"Before Tom Hanks joined Hollywood's A-list, the actor starred in a comedy series called "Bosom Buddies" on ABC and several forgettable made-for-tv dramas like this one, "Mazes and Monsters" created to capitalize on the "Dungeons and Dragons" hysteria and bad press the game received during the early 80's. Despite a fairly good cast, mostly in cameo roles (Anne Francis, Murray Hamilton, Lloyd Bochner, Susan Strasberg) and Chris Makespeace ("My Bodyguard"), and a interesting premise about a college student who retreats into a fantasy world depicted by the game itself; his character "Pardu," the vehicle of his quest for the "Great Hall" (subconscious guilt over his brother's death) and the "Two Towers"--a "quest" that takes him from the bowels of NYC's subway system to the World Trade Center.
Adapted from the Rona Jaffe novel of the same name, the film has some good scenes, but tends to drag in the middle. And the love interest between Hank's character and the female lead seems rather forced and artificial only to move the plodding storyline along. (After Hank's character leaves her for his "quest," she immediately takes up with the other male member from this quartet of gameplayers.)
The movie serves no real purpose but to show, albeit negatively, that "D & D" players are nothing more than your brighter-than-average talented misfits that never "fit in" who dream and manufacture their own world of monsters, heroes, heroines, and far off places. The parents too are mere cardboard cutouts of the same tired cliche: Robbie's mother is an alcoholic, Jay-Jay's mother is a vapid interior decorator who changes his room every semester. The ending of the film, however, was unexpected and helps dispel some of the bad reputation most, if not all, made-for-tv movies have earned over the years. This transfer to DVD is rather poor and a very bad transfer overall. I bought mine for $3.99 at Ross Dress for Less.
The most telling and effective scene occurs at the end of the film when Robbie's friends visit the protagonist at his home (apparently on leave from the university and recovering from a nervous breakdown); we think he is recovered and ready to join his friends back in school next semester, but alas, he only sees them as the fictional characters they portrayed on a gameboard--his idyllic backyard the setting for yet another adventure.
Hanks does his best given the limited material and script he had to work with (he had done pretty much only comedy at this point) but it's a solid reading that would provide this actor with a springboard to a distinguished acting career and several Academy Award winning performances to follow."