Max Magician and the Legend of the Rings (2002)
I'm all for people trying to make movies outside of the studio system hell, even just picking up a video camera and making a film demonstrates admirable ambition. But given the constraints of indie filmmaking, why do people still try to make what they envision as big-budget blockbusters?
And what, please tell me, WHAT would cause someone to believe they might be able to make something comparable to Lord of the Rings or Harry Potter on a shoestring budget?
Max Magician and the Legend of the Rings is completely atrocious. Even its slight value as a misguided attempt to cash in on LOTR and Harry Potter evaporates after five seconds of actually watching it. I was encouraged by the fake Enya theme music (clearly taken from a stock-music library CD) that accompanied the DVD's menu screen, but my enjoyment plummeted straight into dire depression as soon as I hit play.
It looks like it was shot on DV in a state park with a cast of dozens culled from the local Renaissance Faire because it was, as I discovered after an excruciating 85 minutes, when the credits finally rolled. A ramshackle "Making of Max Magician" featurette indicates that they actually shot this on 35mm, but if that's the case, they managed to make it look barely digital-video. The visual feel is akin to early-00s porn.
The inept photography isn't compensated for by the shrill overdubbed sound, pushed way to the forefront, making it impossible to pretend, even for one single frame, that the image and sound are anywhere near in sync. I've seen better looping on Mexican television.
As badly shot and constructed as it is, the pacing is just as much a complete failure, with long, drawn-out spaces between each spoken line, increasing the amateurishness factor a thousandfold. Perhaps the belabored pace was intended to stretch Max Magician to feature length, or perhaps they simply had no concept of having the actors do anything more than simply read the script aloud. They could have gotten a livelier reading by placing a microphone on Oliver Reed's whiskey-soaked grave.
The story makes Warriors of Virtue seem extraordinarily creative. They didn't even try, not in even the most superficial way, to do anything new or cool, or different, or even the slightest bit imaginative. It's another adolescent-discovers-a-magical-world, conquers-his-fears, and-returns-to-his-own-world-a-hero yarn. Max (whose non-presence actually made me crave The Wizard-era Fred Savage, simply so I could at least hate with passion) is the school nerd (the school has five people, from what I can tell). He is bullied until a mysterious groundskeeper gives him a book of magical spells. This transports him to "Bluebell Forest" (actually, a Maryland state park populated by the Society for Creative Anachronism), where he encounters a giggling, wisecracking mouse straight out of Dr. Doolittle 2, a rhyming troll who looks, sadly, like Joe Walsh, an elven princess with the acting chops of a high school drama nerd, and other assorted "medieval" archetypes.
These fair folks are at war with an evil overlord (who resides in a cavern in a different state park) whose henchman include a baldface ripoff of Wallace Shawn from The Princess Bride, and a dark knight who initially tries to articulate his lines, but gradually reverts to his thick Latino accent.
As Max went back and forth between this world and the "real world" (filmed in and around a bed & breakfast), I couldn't decide which world I disliked more. Perhaps my own, since I was the only one in any real danger.
Max's powers all come from reading spells out of the magic book, despite everyone encouraging him to "believe in himself." The "magic," incidentally, looked to me like demo effects from iMovie I hereby demand that the government restrict access to home movie editing equipment so that this holocaust can never happen again.
It doesn't help, either, that all the scenes seem to have been shot in one or two days at the state park hard to convey any sense of forboding evil when everyone's walking around in the bright sunshine on clearly marked footpaths. It makes the costumed evildoers look all the more silly to not be ensconced in darkness and/or fog (I'm not counting the iMovie "fog" effect used in several of the scenes).
The plot also mentions some hogwash about some magical rings and stones, but this is not developed much. Instead, the director tries to build momentum for a Helm's Deep-esque final battle between the two "armies," which consist of five or six people on either side. The climax of the film, ripped straight from Return of the King, finds Max re-animating an undead army with a spell of awakening. Cool, huh? Well, maybe it would have been, had the "army" been more than four people, their armor not so obviously constructed from soldered kitchen pots, and their centuries-old burial ground something a little more effortful than a pile of leaves.
Their resurrection reminded me of the scene from Ed Wood where Bela Lugosi has to jump into a shallow pond and wrestle with a rubber octopus to convey the illusion of a great struggle. Here, the director doesn't even try that hard he simply has Max say "Awesome!" So, uh, you can tell it's awesome. Since you can't tell by watching it.
A few moments later, I was reminded of that same Ed Wood scene again, as the evil overlord is finally thwarted by Max throwing about fifteen rubber mice onto his chest. The evil king squirms around, trying to make it look like the mice are crawling all over him, and then there's an iMovie wipe, and the king is gone. He's been turned into a mouse! And the wisecracking mouse, from before? He's been turned into a wisecracking Black Kid.
Max Magician is such complete shit from start to finish. I'm not sure whether my fucking brother Illusion Master has emerged as the unqualified champion of The Hot Potato Toss, for suckering me into watching such an odious pile of dogshit, or if I have, for bravely enduring it. I not only didn't fast-forward any of it, I watched all the credits and even looked at the DVD's bonus features, which included "deleted shots." Ugggghh! What kind of fucking masochist am I?!
I'm also not sure whether to quit the Toss outright, thereby admitting that I've finally been broken, or to go over to Illusion Master's house immediately and throttle the life out of him. I realize that murder is "wrong," but come on he made me watch Max Magician!
Initially I felt a little bad about picking on this movie, which, after all, is a movie so the filmmakers ought to be given some leeway on accomplishing anything with no budget, right? But Max Magician makes Monsturd seem extremely satisfying and appealing by comparison. And any spirit of benevolence I might have had was dashed by listening to about four minutes of the director's commentary track he and the writer congratulate each other so profusely, and evidence such enormous pride in the thing, that it's clear they are not willing to see this movie for what it is. Max Magician is nothing to be proud of; it's something to be executed for.
Review by La Fée