The “mockbuster” is an fascinating entity: a low-budget imitation of a famous movie. Major Hollywood films have print and advertising budgets in the hundreds of millions, and just like harmless moths copy the markings of venomous wasps, a fraud can exploit this publicity blitz without spending a cent in advertising. A rising tide lifts all boats, but it also lifts turds.
Mockbusters are frequently surrealist masterpieces without intending to be. They try so hard to be safe and generic and familiar that they always end up being creepy, amusing, freakish, and pathetic. You might say that mockbusters follow the rules so hard that they break them.
2002’s Max Magician and the Legend of the Rings is an archetypal mockbuster. It wears its can’t-fail concept on its sleeve (or rather, it’s cover): Lord of the Rings was making money, Harry Potter was making money, so if you combined them in one movie, you’d make money squared. Money times money. Hopefully it worked, because the director clearly had crack debt times crack debt.
What he didn’t have, apparently, was a budget, actors, set designers, producers, or writers. Nobody involved in the movie seems to know what they’re doing, and some actually appear to be held on set at gunpoint. But you make a movie with the crew you have, not the crew you wish you had.
The result is an experience that has to be seen to be believed: a disastrous collage of fantasy cliches presented with a well intentioned “will this do?” attitude.
The story: a young amateur magician called Max Majeck finds a doorway to a fantasy world under attack by a guy in a shitty Halloween costume. Max saves the day by reading incantations out of a magic book, which contains devastating spells such as “slowly levitate a few sticks of wood” and “cause several mice to appear on the villain’s shirt”. Watch out, Stephen Strange.
Everything is bungled with consummate ineptness. The fantasy realm is clearly just the woods outside someone’s house. The movie introduces an old, wise mentor to provide plot exposition, forgets about him, introduces a second old, wise mentor, and then forgets about him. There’s a character called “Mr Tim”, and he refers to his wife as “Mrs Tim” because they couldn’t be bothered to come up with a woman’s name.
Like any watchable bad movie, it assails you with badness in every direction at once, disarraying your ability to process it. There are elves. They have pig ears. The pig ears don’t match their skin tone. The queen of the elves is played by the same actress who plays Max’s mom. She has an incongruous Midwestern accent.
The audio should be singled out, as it’s exceptionally bad. The music is laughably inappropriate, and probably came from a free stock library. Huge swathes of the dialog is ADR’d, suggesting that their original audio got spoiled somehow. They must have rewritten the dialog at this stage, too, because the lips rarely match the voices.
I do have to correct some misunderstandings the internet has about Max Magician. The first is the claim (featured on imdb) that “There are no rings.” No, there are rings in this movie. Mr Tim’s book references magic rings. Dagda steals a green ring from Queen Belphobe.
The second is that it’s just a ripoff of Lord of the Rings and Harry Potter. That undersells the film’s ambition. It also rips off The Chronicles of Narnia (talking mouse character + children travelling between worlds), The Neverending Story (an enchanted book), and Jim Henson’s Labyrinth (the goblins-bickering-in-the-closet scene at the end.)
It’s nevertheless good “make fun of bad movies” fodder. You would do well to go into Max Magician armed with a few basic facts about it’s production, such as the fact that the weapons are literally pool noodles. Or that the talking mouse Crimbil is actually portrayed by two different mice after the first got eaten by a snake. (You can notice this on-screen because the two mice don’t quite match in color: OG Crimbil is slightly gray, while Emergency Backup Crimbil is slightly brown. Can you identify which Crimbil appears in which scene? Make a drinking game out of it. )
Mockbusters are designed to be disposable. Strangely, this one picked up a second life after pop culture commentary Youtube channel Red Letter Media tried (and failed) to review it. Their video was corrupt and displayed 86 minutes of static. I think my video’s corrupt, too. It displays 86 minutes of shitty movie.
(Ironically, “mockbuster” is itself a linguistic mockbuster, riding on the fame of two prior words – mockery, and blockbuster – to achieve its affect.)