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Legacy Review

Mazes and Monsters (1982)

Of all the moral panics from the last half century, Dungeons and Dragons is one of the most inexplicable to me. As far as I can tell from a brief Wikipedia dive, two kids who happened to play D&D were involved in tragic deaths about ten years apart. And that’s it. It makes as much sense as demonizing toaster ovens. (Though I suppose toaster ovens don’t involve pretending to be elves and rolling dice to kill imaginary orcs.)

Mazes and Monsters — the TV movie starring vehicle for a young Tom Hanks (his first starring role) — turns that D&D panic into a self-serious psychodrama. Its complete lack of understanding of D&D and LARPing is hilarious. The movie makes the game seem like a satanic cabal, with candle-lit rooms and hoods and half-whispered fantasy words.

The production values are slightly better than I would have expected for a TV movie, and the cast is surprisingly engaging. But that’s a pretty low bar; the premise and script are completely ludicrous.

The movie’s most memorable moments are so-bad-its-good hamminess. Hanks is delightful as someone going through a psychotic episode. I’m not sure he consciously knows that this material is camp, but it’s over-the-top bliss nonetheless.

I won’t sugar-coat it: This is a bad movie, with long boring stretches and an off-putting air of self-righteousness. But the moments of absurdity — goofy fantasy costumes, a World Trade Center suicide attempt, Hanks cry-shouting about a dead brother — have some gonzo charm.

Is It Good?

Not Good (2/8)

Note: This review was originally published elsewhere. Please excuse brevity or inconsistencies in style. If you have questions or feedback, please leave a comment or contact me.


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