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Mazes and Monsters
by J.R. Antrim

Imagine my surprise when I saw Mazes and Monsters at the local video store. On the cover were four fantasy-style warriors, and one of them looked like — could it be? Yes! Tom Hanks, in a swords and sorcery movie from the 80s?

Not quite.

The film opens as cops rush to the Pequod caverns, where a reporter explains that a missing university student was the "victim of a seemingly innocent game — Mazes and Monsters. It's kind of a psychodrama you might say, where these people deal with problems in their lives by acting them out." It all sounds a little fishy to me. If most roleplayers dealt with their real life problems in-game, there would be a lot more Quests to Defeat the Crippling Fear of Women.

Flashback to Jay Jay, a college bound fifteen year old sociopath with an affinity for funny hats. Maybe I'm understating that last part a bit — the man wears a different hat every twenty seconds. Jay Jay wants to be a comedian when he grows up, but other than the hat thing, he never does or says anything even remotely funny. So I guess he wants to grow up to be a comedian like Chris Rock.

Jay Jay even wears a congo hat while they play
Mazes and Monsters. What a jerk!

Jay Jay starts a Mazes and Monsters campaign with his friends Daniel and Kate. But they still need one more player...

The many sides of Tom Hanks.
Enter Tom Hanks. His parents warn him to cut out that roleplay business. He listens to them, at least until Kate uses her feminine wiles to convince him to play. ("We're not fanatics," she promises.) This scene is the first clue that Mazes and Monsters treats roleplaying less like a game than an addiction. It's like something straight out of an after school special — which isn't too surprising, considering it was made for CBS.

Not long after their game begins, Jay Jay considers suicide. He wants it to be memorable, so he explores the nearby Pequod Caverns, looking for the perfect spot. Unfortunately, Jay Jay's weasely life is saved when he realizes the Caverns would make a better live action roleplay site than a tomb.

Of course, they're already involved in a campaign. So Jay Jay gets his character killed in an obvious trap, ruining the game for everyone. (Tom Hank's character, a holy man named Pardue, can't save him. "I'm all out of points!") Rather than roll up a new character, Jay Jay suggests that they end Daniel's campaign and begin a new one in the Pequod Caverns. "And naturally, I'll be the maze controller."

If he had tried to pull that with my friends, we would have shoved a hundred sided dice up his ass. But the others agree, and before you know it, Kate, Daniel and Tom Hanks are wandering the caverns, bumping into frightening traps, like a skeleton with a flashlight shoved in its mouth.

"Hi, I'm the Gorvil. But you can call me Grover."
Hanks gets separated from the others, and as he listens to Jay Jay's echoing description of a monster, he hallucinates a real live Gorvil. Hanks FREAKS THE HELL OUT. Unbeknownst to his friends, the encounter has snapped Hank's fragile grasp on reality. Afterwards he refuses to break character, even on the ride home, proving there really is something more annoying than Jay Jay's hat collection.

Hanks starts calling himself Pardue (after his character) and breaks up with Kate because, as a Holy Man, he can no longer make love to her. "I can't believe this is happening!" Kate says."This is just like last time. This is deja vu!"

This is just like last time. Implying that she's had multiple boyfriends who become monks and could no longer have sex with her. You know, maybe — just maybe — the problem isn't Mazes and Monsters. Or maybe they weren't really monks.

"Yo. Somebody call a plumber?"
In a dream, Hanks sees a wizard named The Great Hall at the end of a tunnel, which is quite obviously a sewer pipe. Hall tells him to seek the "Two Towers." That night, he disappears. The only clue left behind is a game map with the words "Great Hall" and the "Two Towers."

Hank's friends finally realize something is wrong and call the police.

Daniel: What do you think happened?
Lieutenant Martini: One of the players Robbie plays with got carried away and killed him.
Daniel: That's kind of far out.
Lt. Martini: Mazes and Monsters is a far out game.

No, Mazes and Monsters is two hours of anti-roleplay propaganda disguised as a swords and sorcery flick. It's like hiding Reefer Madness in a Cheech and Chong box. They're attracting an audience only to patronize them.

Hanks learned the hard way that you don't just shove cheese in somebody's face and expect them NOT to turn into a Gorvil.
Anyway, Hanks wanders around New York city in a jazz daze. (If you don't know what a jazz daze is, it looks an awful lot like this). When a thug demands his pouch of spells, Hanks imagines that he's being mugged by the Gorvil and stabs him. Shocked from his fugue state, Hanks places a frantic call to Kate, telling her that he has blood on his knife and that he's in New York. Amazingly, Tom Hanks can actually pull scenes like this off, and as he sobs on the phone, it's more than a little creepy.

After approximately six weeks, our heroes realize that the "Two Towers" are the Twin Towers and stop Hanks from "joining the great Hall" — by jumping off the World Trade Center. (Hanks plans to use his magic to fly, so he's not suicidal, just really stupid. His magic NEVER worked, not when Jay Jay's character died, not during his two battles against the Gorvil, and probably not this time, either.) Teary reunion, fade to black. At least this thing has a happy ending, right? Wrong.

Three months later...

Mmmph! Mmmmph! MMMMMPH!
Everyone has stopped playing Mazes and Monsters. Even Daniel is happy to give up his dream of being a game programmer. They go to visit Hanks, who is resting at his mother's estate. Hanks greets them by their character names. Looks like his prognosis was a bit optimisitic — he still thinks he's Pardue the Holy Man. Hank's friends nurture his psychosis with one last Mazes and Monsters game, as Kate's melodramatic voice over closes the movie:

"And so, we played the game again. One last time. It didn't matter that there were no monsters — Pardue saw the monsters. We did not. We saw nothing but the death of hope, and the loss of our friend."

The message is clear: Imagination is dangerous. Do as your parents say. Beware the pointy dice. Mazes and Monsters will drive you mad, I tell you! Mad!!

Movie clips

These Windows Media files are compressed enough so that even poor little dialup users like me can enjoy 'em.

Jay Jay's interested in more than Tom Hank's Longsword +2, if you know what I mean.
"Mazes and Monsters is a far out game."
Jay Jay proves he can act by acting like he can't act. Of course, that doesn't explain the rest of his performance.
"I am the maze controller, the god of this universe I have created. The absolute authority. Only I know the perilous course which you are about to take. Your fate... is in my hands."
Our college educated heroes try to solve the mystery of the Two Towers. The expression on Sherlock's face is freaking priceless.

- J.R. Antrim was a crazed, celibate holy man for twenty years before anyone noticed.

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