Tolkien spoof could be bad for your Elf

It has been described as the worst movie ever made, but a Swiss parody of the Oscar-winning Lord of the Rings trilogy has been playing to packed cinemas across the country since it opened 10 days ago—and is set to become Switzerland’s biggest box-office hit of the year.

The Ring Thing shamelessly draws its inspiration from Monty Python. Instead of Frodo it has Friedo, a bank employee who falls through the toilet of a Swiss aircraft while rehearsing his marriage proposal to his chilly boss, Heidi.

Friedo lands with his ring in the middle of the Alps, where he encounters a number of eccentric figures: Sauraus, an evil lord who wants to bake the world in Swiss fondue cheese; Almgandhi, a forgetful wizard; Schleimli, an evil green gnome in lederhosen; a drug-addicted elf princess called Grmpfli, and several farting elves. The dialogue is entirely in guttural Swiss German, a dialect that for most of the world remains incomprehensible.

The film has defied all expectations, attracting 30 000 Swiss cinemagoers in its first week.
‘It’s already the second biggest Swiss film of 2004. It has a huge release,’ a spokesperson for the production company said.

But is it funny? ‘Yes, it’s very funny. It’s a spoof. The concept is very amusing,’ he added.

Films made entirely in Swiss German are unusual, said producer Dominik Kaiser. ‘Swiss-German comedies tend to do well. Swiss humour is different from German humour. But there isn’t a lot of Swiss humour around,’ he admitted.

The film was shot and produced in less than a year, using the rugged mountains of eastern Switzerland to double for the epic New Zealand landscape of Peter Jackson’s Rings trilogy. (The Jackson films were ‘a bit long’, Kaiser complained.)

Several of the Swiss-German actors look like their Hollywood counterparts—especially Friedo, played by Edward Piccin, who is well known in Switzerland as a sitcom star. His resemblance to Frodo’s real avatar, Elijah Wood, is quite uncanny.

Swiss film critics have given The Ring Thing mixed reviews. Some have hailed it as Switzerland’s answer to Monty Python and the Holy Grail. Others, however, have pointed out that after half an hour or so the humour dries up—despite a good gag in which Lord Sauraus produces a ring made of Emmenthal cheese.

Monty Python and the Holy Grail has proved that you can make humour out of not very much,’ critic Bruno Amstutz noted, awarding the film two stars out of five. ‘The problem is that everything in The Ring Thing has already been done by Monty Python, only better. Its most charming moments are at the beginning, when a plane hanging by a thread is flying through cardboard clouds.’

Switzerland’s leading news magazine, Facts, expressed grudging admiration, but also speculated that it was the worst Swiss film ever made.

On Saturday Kaiser shrugged off the criticism. ‘This isn’t a surprise. Film critics in Switzerland like cultural movies. They don’t like dirty humour. There is a lot of silly stuff in our movie.’

The Ring Thing has attracted a surprising amount of international interest, including from mainstream distributor Buena Vista. It opens in Austria and Germany next year and there have been inquiries from the United States and Britain. ‘We first have to get some nice subtitles done,’ Kaiser said. - Guardian Unlimited Â

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