Wednesday, May 5, 2010

Mazes & Monsters

Like Reefer Madness, Mazes and Monsters is obviously meant to be a cautionary tale, but is centered on such a flawed and silly premise that its message is just laughable.

Reefer Madness is a little more interesting in most ways due to it's overwhelming jazz-era kitschiness, but Mazes and Monsters makes up for it as well as it can by starring Tom Hanks.

While I actually posted the cover image from the VHS version that I watched, as it turns out the DVD cover art is even weirder.

Contains: A hedge-maze (not in the movie), a dragon-monster (not in the movie),
and a Tom Hanks from the future (not in the movie).

The movie starts off showing us a few home-life vignettes of our characters. Actually, scratch that, the movie starts off with very long scenes of taxis set to the first song of the awful soundtrack. After that though, introductions.

First, there's silly hat guy. He's wearing something ridiculous in every scene. In his first scene, a man outside his building compliments him on this "hat," but it's the last time anyone even mentions the crazy nonsense he keeps on his head.

Next we meet our token girl-gamer. She has a quick scene which only serves as a setup for her to complain that she "can't be herself," to which her mother tells her to "use her imagination." Sounds like this girl's psyche is ripe for a satanic Dungeons & Dragons reprogramming.

Our next character is a wholesome generic jock type. His hidden depravity is shown by his unwillingness to enroll in the classes in "computers" that his parents suggest, and his suggestion that he'd prefer to take classes about making games... on computers... instead.
The parents are of course outraged.

We finally meet Tom Hanks, sort of. Mostly he just sits in the back while his parents argue about how drunk his mother is.

Funny-hat shows up for school wearing a cowboy hat and quickly meets up with the girl, who he apparently already knows. As an aside, although the film is shot on a college campus and in urban cityscapes, I'm pretty sure this is the only scene that contains a black person in the whole movie, so watch out for that. Anyway, these kids apparently play Dunge... er... Mazes & Monsters regularly along with jock-guy, but at the moment they're stuck looking for a fourth player. This is where Tom comes in. All of them end up at some sort of tuxedo party (with funny-hat wearing a yellow hard hat). And they quickly convince Tom to play with them.

Finally the next scene actually introduces us to the Mazes and the Monsters. The players all gather around a boardgame and light lots of candles. This game ends almost immediately. The movie says that it's because one of the characters has died, but I think it's because there's candle wax oozing all over their boardgame.

That, along with the terrible soundtrack that kicks in again here,
is enough to end any party.

We get a couple of minutes of "college life" montage, hat-guy is passingly referred to as both a college sophomore and a 16 year-old, and then we're back to their next game. This time they decide to step it up a notch, so hat-guy puts on his safari hat and they invent LARPing. They "borrow" costumes from the theater department and head to some nearby caverns. As soon as they make it down there Tom decides to go off on his own.

Since his character is a healer, this makes perfect sense.

Everyone bumbles around a bit, mostly uneventfully, but as soon as Tom gets nearly out of earshot, he runs into a "Gorvil." After a lot of screaming, he ends up killing it with his sword.

About the time of this odd little hallucination, we start to realize that Tom's actually a little bit insane. Things start falling apart for him pretty quickly after this. He almost never completely breaks from his "Bardeux" character and he pretty much spends the rest of the movie either as Bardeux or just sad/confused.

Pictured: Sad / Confused
Note the sad mouth that's so confused that it starts looking happy again...
the undecided popped/unpopped collar...
This guy's obviously had too many RPGs.

They all leave the "maze" for the night, then Tom goes home to commune with the great glowing hallway. The hallway gives him a new quest, to head to Tolkien's "Two Towers," so he breaks up with his girlfriend, and sets off for New York to go to the World Trade Center.

Once he finally gets to NY, he first decides to wander the alleys for a while. Of course, soon enough he runs into a gang member, confuses him with another one of those Gorvil monsters, and stabs him with his "sword" too.

Now that Tom has hallucinated and killed someone, the next important anti-drug-propaganda analogue is going to the top of a building and trying to fly. So he heads to the top of the World Trade Center to do that. His friends find him up there and convince him that he doesn't have enough points for his flying spells, so he comes back down instead.

Nothing seems to happen as a result of Tom having stabbed that guy, so Tom's just taken back to his parents' place, and everyone goes back to their lives. Some time later the 3 friends go back to visit Tom and find him still stuck as Bardeux, presumably forever.

It's obvious that the ending is meant to be a somber look at a sad and serious situation, but the whole premise is so ridiculous that it doesn't even come close. The moral of the movie is supposed to be that role-playing games are evil, will take over your impressionable children, and can only get them hurt or killed. Unfortunately for the movie, this idea is so silly that to even make it work in the story the character has to be given a serious preexisting mental-illness to make any of the things that happen remotely plausible... and that of course cancels out any point the movie could have hoped to make.

This thing is basically a failure all around, but Tom Hanks' trademark likability really works wonders for the film, so it ends up not being completely unwatchable. You will need to keep your mute button readied for that soundtrack though...

I didn't see a trailer on Youtube, but this is probably better:

1 comment:

  1. Wow, this thing finally made it to a legitimate DVD release? My wife is a die-hard Hanks fanatic, so years back I dropped a few hard-earned bucks and purchased a Japanese DVD boot ripped from a Canadian VHS. It shipped from Mexico.

    Turns out the story behind the DVD was more interesting than the movie...