So, after years of legal and logistical wrangling in which director Peter Jackson and New Line Cinema were suing each other over royalties from the Lord of the Rings movies and whether he'd direct the not-really-necessary The Hobbit, followed by Guillermo Del Toro signing on to direct and then dropping out again and Jackson finally signing on to direct what was only intended to be two movies -- whew! -- part one of the pointlessly three-part Hobbit saga is finally here. Just two more of them to go, and we can put it all behind us.
The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey only covers the first six chapters of J.R.R. Tolkien's book, and as our own Alan Scherstuhl discovered, you can read those chapters in less time than it takes to watch the movie. Or, you could read the Mad magazine parodies of the Lord of the Rings films, if you have 'em handy. Which I do, so I'll show you the highlights!
"The Ring and I: The Mad 'Lord of the Rings' Musical" Mad #210.
Much like how Mad's first James Bond riff was a musical, so its first crack at anything Tolkien-related was a musical, inasmuch as you can do a musical on paper. It was in the October 1979 issue, and was based largely on Ralph Bakshi's 1978 rotoscoped-eyesore The Lord of the Rings. I was five years old when that movie came out, and I was the only one in my family who wasn't a Tolkien nut, but they brought me along to the theater anyway. I'm still scarred from that particular moviegoing experience.
The opening song is based on a largely forgotten Mary Hopkin track.
Interestingly enough, the character names aren't parodized, probably because doing the songs is enough. (More on the question of parody names later.)
Big battle scene! Among the many jarring things about the Bakshi film is the fact that Aragorn is voiced by John Hurt, but looks like Javier Bardem in No Country for Old Men. (And No Country for Old Men wouldn't even exist for another 29 years!) A nice continuity shout-out by the writers is the reference to Legolas and Gimli's orc-killing contest from the book, which I don't recall actually being in the film.
Bakshi's film notoriously ends halfway through the The Two Towers, but the Mad Musical takes it through to the end, including the appearance of everyone's favorite giant killer spider Shelob as well as the eagle ex machina climax.
The Bakshi film proved quite conclusively that trying to make movies out of The Lord of the Rings was a bad, bad idea. At least, until ...
"Bored of the Rings: The Feeble Schtick of Ka-Ching!" Mad #416.
A lot can change in 23 years. Not only can film technology advance to the point that Tolkien's work can be faithfully translated to the screen, but Mad can also get a new crop of writers and artists, and start printing in color. Color! That's not what it was like when I was reading it growing up, and therefore it's not as good as it used to be!
On the other hand, I'm an adult now and my tastes have changed. So there's that. I'd hope that kids these days (kids these days!) are getting as much out of it as I did, but the fact that the magazine went quarterly a few years back means they probably aren't. It's also been argued that Cracked is now far more culturally relevant than Mad, and the argument mostly comes from Cracked. A counter-argument could be made that the Cracked name is now nothing more than a licensed brand and the site as it exists now is an unrelated reboot, while despite its flaws there's at least been a consistent vision to Mad that --
Right! We're here to talk about The Lord of the Rings! So, even though it's in color and written and drawn by people whom I don't have childhood attachments to and thus not as good as it used to be, I'm pleased that Mad continues its tradition of splash pages introducing the characters. The caricatures are a bit more, well, caricature-y than they once were, but damn if they don't nail Ian Holm's essence.
The fact that the movies are very, very long does not go unmentioned. In fact, it goes very mentioned, many times. And even though the rest of the magazine is in color, Sergio Aragones is still in the margins in black and white, same as he ever was.
When you think about, Sean Bean does die a lot, doesn't he? What's up with that?
Still, at least he got to sit the next two movies out.