The Lord of the Rings (1978)

(DISCLAIMER: This blog is not for profit. All images and footage used below are property of their respective companies unless stated otherwise. I do not claim ownership of this material. New to the blog? Start at the start with Snow White.)

My father was the one who introduced me to JRR Tolkien, giving me a dog-eared, well-thumbed chunk called The Lord of the Rings one summer when we were on holiday (I was maybe…eight, I guess? Pre-transformation anyway). I remember there was this weird picture on the cover of the Black Riders that looked sort of animated but also sort of not and I asked my father what it was from.
“That’s from the movie.” He said.
“There’s a movie?”
“Oh yeah. You have to see it.”
“Is it any good?”
“No. No, it’s awful.”
This was really the problem you had if you were a fantasy fan any time before the turn of the millennium:
We had no good movies.
Our brothers and sisters in the science fiction fandom had it pretty bad too of course, the vast majority of their movies were cheap schlock but at least they could point to a few straight up classics that even the hoity-toity critics had to admit were the real deal; Alien, 2001, Bladerunner.
Fantasy fans though? What did we have?
Truly, our cup ranneth over.

Truly, our cup ranneth over.

So if you were a fantasy fan in the seventies, eighties or nineties and you heard there was a Lord of the Rings movie, you had to see it even if it was terrible. Because it’s not exactly like you had a whole lot of options. The Lord of the Rings, the undisputed big swingin’ dick of the high fantasy genre, used to spend most of its time on lists of “unfilmable” books and with good reason. I can think of two periods in Hollywood history where a faithful film adaptation might have been possible. The first would be in the late fifties, when studios were creating gargantuan epics like Ben Hur and The Ten Commandments. The second would be now, the current era of movie history which (not coincidentally) was largely kick-started by Peter Jackson’s own Lord of the Rings trilogy. The current movie scene owes almost as much to The Lord of the Rings as the fantasy genre does. Planned trilogies, huge runtimes, massive battle scenes, copious amounts of CGI…so much of how movies are made, look and sound in the modern era can be laid at the feet of Peter Jackson (though we won’t hold that against him).
On the flipside, if I had to choose the worst possible time to try and make a Lord of the Rings movie (aside from, I dunno, the silent era) it would be the nineteen seventies. The seventies is often lauded as the greatest movie decade and it’s won that reputation for a slew of grungy, lo-fi, morally ambiguous classics. It was that kind of era (contrast that to 2001 when Jackson’s Fellowship of the Ring came out when everything seemed a good deal more black and white). So you have a decade where no one is really spending big money on movies anymore, epics are largely a thing of the past and the cultural zeitgeist is really not grokking a simple morality tale of noble heroes trying to defeat an evil lord of darkness who lives in a black spiky castle. Who (Who, I ask you?) would be a mad enough bastard to try and make a Lord of the Rings movie in the nineteen seventies?

When not animating, he keeps his drawing arm strong by wrasslin’ grizzlies.

Ralph Bakshi is one of the most famous (or at least notorious) American animators out there. Having made his bones in the Terrytoons studio (Heckle and Jeckle, Mighty Mouse and the like) he went on to create the animated adaptation of R. Crumb’s comic strip Fritz the Cat.
Oh sure. I'll review it. If you can tell me what I say to my wife when she walks in on me watching the scene where all the animals have a bathtub orgy.

Oh sure. I’ll review it. If you can tell me what I say to my wife when she walks in on me watching the scene where all the animals have a bathtub orgy.

By 1969 the movie rights to The Lord of the Rings had found their way to United Artist’s, where Stanley Kubrick and John Boorman both had a crack at adapting it, with Boorman turning in a 700 page script that no one at the studio could even understand. Bakshi, who’d been obsessed with the idea of doing an animated version of the story since the fifties begged UA for the chance to direct. Impressed by Bakshi’s passion, UA junked Boorman’s script and told Ralph to go do his own version.
Bakshi was a true Tolkien die-hard and, in stark contrast to Boorman who had altered characters and plot points willy-nilly, wanted to do a movie version of the book that was as faithful as possible. Bakshi firmly believed that Tolkien was a genius who could do no wrong.
My rebuttal.

My rebuttal.

I can respect fidelity to the source material (and if anyone ever decides to do a movie of The Hangman’s Daughter I’ll probably start respecting it a whole lot more) but ultimately I think this was the movie’s undoing. Being faithful to the text is all well and good if you have hundreds of millions of dollars and a New Zealand but if you’re trying to do the story in two moderately budgeted animated features (as was the plan) then you really need to start looking at the story with a gaze of grim determination and a pair of scissors clenched in one hand. Bakshi tried to fit as much of the book as possible into the movie and we’ll see further on the problems that this caused.
Bakshi made the decision to use rotoscoping, a technique he’d first used in his earlier animated feature Wizards as a way of saving money. Rotoscoping is about as old as animation itself and basically involves drawing and painting over live action footage to create an animated effect. This has the upside of giving you more realistic movement and it tends to be cheaper and less labor intensive than traditional cel animation. Despite this, rotoscoping has traditionally been used more as a tool than a style. There’s plenty of instances of rotoscoping in animated movies (Cruella De Ville’s Car, Edgar’s motorbike in The Aristocats, The Giant Mouse of Minsk in An American Tail) but it’s rare for it to be used for extended sequences and Bakshi’s Lord of the Rings represents probably the most extensive use of the technique in a feature film until Richard Linklater’s Waking Life in 2001 (and that was digital, rather than hand-drawn rotoscoping). Why is that? Well, part of the appeal of animation is that animated characters don’t move like real people and can be stretched or distorted or flattened however the animator pleases. Another reason (and a big part of why all the examples I listed above are inanimate objects or vehicles) is that living characters that are rotoscoped tend to have their home address in the Uncanny Valley. No one had ever tried to make a movie that was almost entirely rotoscoped.
So. Untested animation techniques. Impossible to adapt source material. Certainty of death. Small chance of success.
"What are we waiting for?"

“What are we waiting for?”

The first order of business for any LOTR adaptation is the table setting, and there is a TON to get through. You need to recap the main events of The Hobbit, explain who Sauron is, what the deal with the ring is and give some background to all the fantastical creatures we’re going to be seeing.

These are called "horses". Remember that, it's going to be important.

These are called “horses”. Remember that, it’s going to be important.

Jackson pulled this off with epic battles, atmospheric narration and subtly effective visual storytelling. How did Bakshi tackle the problem of getting the audience up to speed with the story of Middle Earth?

Ah. The old "get the local am-dram troupe to dress up and stand behind a backlit sheet hession" technique.

Ah. The old “get the local am-dram troupe to dress up and stand behind a backlit sheet of hessian” technique.

 Okay, so you’re probably looking at that screenshot and saying “That don’t look like no animation to me” while idly fondling your switchblades so let me explain. LOTR is not actually a wholly animated film.

"Alright guys, he hasnt used us in years, we gotta make this count."

“Alright guys, he hasn’t used us in years, we gotta make this count.”

The movie combines some scenes that are rotoscoped with some that are simply “posterised” (recoloured so they sort of look animated) mixed in with a little traditional animation and some plain unadulterated live action. How does Bakshi integrate all these different visual styles without the movie seeming incredible disjointed and jarringly inconsistent?

So Gandalf (William Squire) tells us that the One Ring was forged by Sauron but then taken by Isildur when he defeated the Dark Lord in combat. But the ring, much like JoJo, kept trying to get back, get back, get back to where it once belonged and when Isildur was killed it fell into the hands of Sméagol, a hobbit. The ring cursed Sméagol with madness and terrible grammer, transforming him into Gollum who lived deep underground for decades until finally the ring was stolen from him by Bilbo Baggins. So as the movie begins Gandalf the Wizard is visiting Bilbo who is leaving the shire on his eleventy first birthday (seriously, the grammer is the first to go). At a party thrown in his honour, Bilbo trolls half the Shire by using the ring to disappear right in front of them. Gandalf confronts Bilbo at his home and demands that he leave the Ring to his nephew Frodo instead of taking it with him. Bilbo flies into a rage, saying that he won’t give up his “precious”.

redflag

Realising that maaaaaybe he’s gotten a little too attached to the ring, Bilbo hands it over to Gandalf and leaves the shire.

17 years pass and Gandalf comes back the shire and asks Frodo to hand over the ring so that he can examine it. He then throws it in the fire which reveals lettering written in the black speech of Mordor. In Peter Jackson’s movie Gandalf of course refused to speak the black speech in the shire. Bakshi’s Gandalf, however, does not believe in trigger warnings and loudly proclaims “Ash nazg durbatulûk, ash nazg gimbatul, ash nazg thrakatulûk agh burzum-ishi krimpatul.” which, according to my English/Black Speech phrasebook means “Could you please direct me to the nearest train station?”

Gandalf explains that the ring is…y’know…The Ring, and that Frodo needs to hightail it out of the Shire. They’re overheard by Frodo’s gardener Sam Gamgee who OH JESUS OH SWEET JESUS!

Joseph Merrick? Is that you?

Joseph Merrick? Is that you?

Okay, so let’s talk about this animation.

I hate it.

It’s really, really, really, really ugly and unpleasant to look at.

Ralph Bakshi is one of the most respected animators of all time, you say? Ummmmmmmmmm…nope, don’t care. This is ass. This is pure ass. Utter butt. That’s not to say there aren’t some very striking images in the movie, but that’s not what I’m talking about. I’m talking about the animation, and basically whenever something moves in this thing it looks horrible. Which is a bit of a handicap for a motion picture. Remember in The Thief and the Cobbler review where I mentioned how Richard Williams had absolutely insane standards for his animators and kept firing those that couldn’t make the grade? Honestly, I think Bakshi had the opposite problem. There seems to be almost no discipline being imposed here. Characters go wildly off model, continuity is poor at best…the rotoscoping can excuse some of that but there is some damn sloppy work going on here.

"Hey Ralph, do his eyes look a little weird to you?" "Ive already told you. I love you and everything you do is perfect." "I love you too, boss."

“Hey Ralph, do his eyes look a little weird to you?”
“I’ve already told you. I love you and everything you do is perfect.”
“I love you too, boss.”

Okay, so Gandalf tells Frodo and Sam to go to Rivendell and show the ring to the Elves. Meanwhile, Gandalf races on horseback to Isengard to consult with the head of his order.

Santa Claus!

Santa Claus!

No, this is actually supposed to be Saruman the White. Or Aruman. And I should warn you, if you are sensitive to stupidity this next paragraph is going to hurt. So the studio execs, who tend to credit audiences with about as much intelligence as a lobotomised yak, decided that the names “Saruman” and “Sauron” were too similar. The decision was made to change Saruman’s name to “Aruman”. But then the decision was made to change it back. So what’s the problem? Well…they didn’t manage to re-do all the dialogue, meaning that sometimes he’s called “Saruman” and sometimes he’s called “Aruman”.

Alice Facepalm

So, in their attempt to be less confusing, they ended up with a character with two different names. Truly, we often meet our destiny on the path we took to avoid it.

Alright so Gandalf tells (S)aruman that the ring has been found and that they need to get on that. (S)aruman responds that yeah, he was all about stopping Sauron but once he actually listened to what he had to say he actually made some really good points and basically that he’s switching to Team Evil. He tells Gandalf to fess up to where the ring is and when Gandalf tells him to screw off (S)aruman hits him with a Care Bear stare.

"I have a mangina! IM OL GREEEEEG!"

“I have a mangina! I’M OL’ GREEEEEG!”

Meanwhile, Sam and Frodo have left the Shire and have just been joined by Frodo’s cousins Merry and Pippin who kinda just show up out of nowhere. Merry and Pippin are also hobbits, but they can be easily distinguished from Frodo by that fact that his name is Frodo and their names are Merry and Pippin. Seriously though, all three are pretty much identical.

Also, you have no idea how much goddamn capering I had to sit through for you people

Also, you have no idea how much goddamn capering I had to sit through for you people

On the way they have to hide from a Ring Wraith and here the movie actually manages to put some points in the win column. Peter Jackson actually came to the story of the Lord of the Rings through this movie rather than the book and several scenes in his movies are homages to Bakshi’s, this being one of them. The scene where the four hobbits hide from the Ring Wraith is awesomely creepy for a few reasons. Firstly, the unsettling quality of the rotoscoped animation actually works in the movie’s favour for once as the Ring Wraith is genuinely unnerving. Also, unlike Jackson’s upright, striding Nazgul, Bakshi’s are hunched over, shambling ghouls. Also, while the score by Leonard Rosenman is pretty poor overall (and I’m not the only one to think so, Bakshi hated it too) the music is appropriately skin scrawling. It’s a very effective scene overall.

They manage to escape from the wraith and arrive in Bree to wait for Gandalf. The scene in The Prancing Pony is weird because it’s mostly posterised with the exception of the hobbits, who are still rotoscoped which makes it seem less like the hobbits have come from the Shire and more like they escaped from Toon Town. Merry (Pippin?) leaves the table to go out for a smoke and is discovered by the Dark Riders who are looking for Frodo. As they are nightmarish wraiths of pure malevolence they of course…send him to sleep with some blue gas and then…just…leave him there. Seriously, they just walk off.

You fiends! He could catch a chill!

You fiends! He could catch a chill!

Like in most pubs, it is the tradition in the Prancing Pony to make the shortest patron dance and sing for the amusement of the local drunks. Frodo gets roped into performing a song and accidentally ends up turning invisible in front of the stunned patrons. Frodo’s confronted in his room by a ranger named Strider (John Hurt), who tells him that he’s also waiting for Gandalf who still hasn’t shown up. Pippin (Merry?) bursts in to tell Frodo that he saw the Dark Riders and that they attacked him with a nap. Strider tells Frodo that he isn’t safe at the inn and that they need to find somewhere else to stay. He then also does something kinda weird by telling them that he’s called Aragorn son of Arathorn even though he just introduced himself as Strider. So why even bother with the Strider alias? In the book the reveal happens later, and is a twist where the hobbits learn that Strider is actually the long-lost king of Gondor.
"Pah! Gondor has no king. Gondor needs no king."

“Pah! Gondor has no king. Gondor needs no king.”

Sarcastic Map of Wartime Europe? Why are you dressed like that?
"I’m cos-playing as Middle Earth. Duh."

“I’m cos-playing as Middle Earth. Duh.”

The hobbits and Strider give the riders the slip and when they make camp Aragorn tells them a campside story about an elven princess who forswore immortality to love a human being, at which point Same and Frodo smile and gaze lovingly into each other’s eyes and then cuddle because sweet Eru Ilúvatar if you thought Jackson shipped Sam and Frodo pretty hard you ain’t seen nothing. I wouldn’t be surprised if Bakshi shot a scene of them picking out curtains but had to cut it for time. The riders attack again and stab Frodo with a morgul blade which starts to slowly kill him. As they flee the riders Frodo is seperated from the rest and is chased by the ring wraiths as far as a river in a scene that lasts about as long as an Ancient Egyptian dynasty and is saved when the river suddenly swells and washes the riders away.  On the way, the party also encounters a beautiful Elven princess on a white horse with long blonde hair…
Oh, my mistake. Hello Legolas.

Oh, my mistake. Hello Legolas.

Frodo passes out and we now see him lying in a bed in Rivendell, tossing in his sleep and crying “No! No! Never!”
"Alright, you win! DESTINY! DESTINY! NO ESCAPING THAT FOR ME!"

“Alright, you win! DESTINY! DESTINY! NO ESCAPING THAT FOR ME!”

When he wakes, Gandalf is there and explains why he wasn’t able to meet him at Rivendell and that he was able to escape from Saruman’s prison with the help of a giant eagle.

The eagle disguised itself as Galdalf s wife and slipped him a file during a "conjugal visit".

The eagle disguised itself as Galdalf’s wife and slipped him a file during a “conjugal visit”.

Gandalf tells Frodo that the War of the Ring has now begun and that a council has been called to decide what to do with the ring. And then, weirdly, Frodo turns and looks directly at the camera.

"Well viewer, what do YOU think I should do?"

“Well viewer, what do YOU think I should do?”

At the council are Aragorn, Gandalf, Frodo, the Elf King Elrond, the Dwarf Gimli, Legolas and Boromir, son of the steward of Gondor, who in this version considerately wears one of those horned helmets that makes it really, really easy for your enemies to grab hold and de-core your throat like an apple. Boromir shows common sense the equal of his taste in hats when he suggests that instead of destroying Sauron’s ring they should use it against him.

One does not simply play "stop hitting yourself" with the Lord of Mordor. It is folly.

One does not simply play “stop hitting yourself” with the Lord of Mordor. It is folly.

Gandalf says that their only chance is to do something so stupid that Sauron would never expect them to do it, namely to go into the Mordor on foot and drop the ring into the fires of Mount Doom.

Named of course after its discoverer, Percy Doom.

Named of course after its discoverer, Percy Doom.

 Frodo is chosen for Operation Orcbait, along with Sam, Pippin, Merry, Boromir, Aragorn, Gandalf, Legolas and Gimli in accordance with Middle Earth legislation on diversity in hiring practices and they set off.

A snowstorm forces them to take a diversion through the mines of Moria where they’re attacked by goblins. As if that wasn’t bad enough, things really go down the khrapper (if you’ll pardon my Dwarvish) when a Balrog appears and chases them through the mines. What’s hilarious is that instead of any buildup the Balrog just kind of appears from behind the goblins who are all like “Holy shit, we have a Balrog?! Since when?!”

Anyway, Gandalf holds the Balrog off while the rest escape. The Balrog falls into the ravine but pulls Gandalf along with him who yells “Fly, you fools!” to the fellowship before falling into darkness.

What did he mean by that? Who can say?

What did he mean by that? Who can say…

 Once outside Frodo says that they have no hope of succeeding without Gandalf and Aragorn says “Then we must do without hope. There is always vengeance.” which is what I told my wife when we applied for a mortgage (really though, it works for any situation).

Aragorn makes the decision to go to Lothlorien, which Boromir is not happy about because he doesn’t trust its Queen, Galadriel. We cut to Lothlorien where Galadriel welcomes the Fellowship and tells them that she’s heard that Gandalf bit the big one and that she “sorrows” for them.

She just used "sorrow" as a verb. Truly she is a witch of terrible power.

She just used “sorrow” as a verb and frankly Sauron is starting to look like the lesser of two evils.

One of the weird things about this movie is what Bakshi chooses to emphasise and what he just allows kinda happen without comment. For example, the scene where Galadriel shows them The Mirror of Galadriel, which she actually calls The Mirror of Galadriel instead of just “my mirror”. Frodo looks in the mirror and sees THE FRICKIN’ EYE OF SAURON staring right back at him but it’s not really treated like a big deal at all. The eye is just there and there’s no ominous musical cue. Hell, the damn crickets on the soundtrack keep on chirruping and while Frodo clearly notices it he doesn’t really seem all that shocked or scared. Honestly, I feel kinda bad for Sauron.

"Cmoooooon...pay attention to me!"

“C’moooooon…pay attention to me!”

Frodo then offers to give Galadriel the One Ring. I’m trying to not compare this movie to Jackson’s all the time because as I’ve already said Jackson had access to resources and technology and New Zealands that Bakshi could only dream of but I think it’s fair to compare this scene in both versions. In Jackson’s, Frodo offers the ring and Galadriel very nearly accepts it, turning dark-eyed and booming voiced and proclaiming that she will become a Dark Queen and that all shall love her and despair before recovering her senses and shakenly realising how close she came to the Abyss. It’s a thrilling scene, and quite unsettling, and shows very clearly why Frodo has to be the one to bear the ring because the great and powerful are too easily corrupted. In Bakshi’s version, there’s never any indication that Galadriel is even remotely tempted to take the ring and she just laughs off the notion with a giggle and a little dance (please make the capering stop) which is doubly odd because the dialogue is pretty much identical in both versions. The only difference is that in Bakshi’s she seems like she’s being horribly sarcastic:

"Oh sure. In the place of a Dark Lord you would have a Queen. Suuuure. Not dark but beautiful and terrible as the Morn. As if."

“Oh suuure. In the place of a Dark Lord you would have a Queen. Not dark but beautiful and terrible as the Morn. As if.”

After some relaxing capering the Fellowship departs from Lothlorien. They sail down the river and Aragorn tells them that the time has come to decide which way they’re going to go, either to Minas Tirith to use the ring to help Gondor like Boromir wants, or to go East into Mordor to try and destroy the ring. Aragorn says “I am not Gandalf.”

New spittake

“You’re NOT?!”

He also says that if Gandalf had a plan for how they were to get into Mordor, he never told him.

"I mean, if only he had given us a clue! Just one little clue!"

“I mean, if only he had given us a clue! Just one little clue!”

Alright, so up until this point the movie has been…passable. Ugly, weird, oddly directed and unevenly acted but still very faithful to Tolkien’s story and characters which are strong enough to earn a lot of goodwill. But it’s around this point that Bakshi glances at his watch and howls “OH MY LORD IS THAT THE TIME???!” and the movie suddenly becomes a madcap rush to the finish line. The problem is that Bakshi was trying to tell the entire story in two movies instead of the more logical three. So whereas Peter Jackson had three hours to cover one book, Bakshi has two hours to cover one and a half and the movie just collapses into an unseemly hullabaloo.
No, that's a hoola Baloo.

No, that’s a hula Baloo.

It goes like this.
"No! Dont wanna!"

“Frodo! Give me the ring”

"Dont wanna!"

“Don’t wanna!”

"What have I done?"

“What have I done?”

"Screw this noise! Were going to Mordor!"

“Screw this noise! Were going to Mordor!”

"Oh no! Orc picnic!"

“Oh no! Orc picnic!”

"Its...just a...flesh wound..."

“It’s…just a…flesh wound…”

"Looks like were done for, Merry." "Im Pippin, youre Merry." "Actually? Im pretty bummed right now."

“Looks like we’re done for, Merry.”
“I’m Pippin, you’re Merry.”
“Actually? I’m pretty bummed right now.”

"Im back, baby."

“I’m back, baby.”

Gandalf, Aragorn, Legolas and Gimli make their way to Rohan which is ruled by the Rohirrim, a proud warrior race who ride creatures called horses.
I told you to remember this stuff.

I told you to remember this stuff.

Rohan is ruled by Théoden but recently he has fallen ill and the kingdom is effectively ruled by his advisor Gríma Womrtongue who is secretly in the pay of (S)aruman and who has allowed orcs to move through Rohan unmolested but Théoden’s nephew Éomer and his warriors have been attacking the orcs which has led Gríma to brand him an outlaw but Saruman is planning a huge attack against the Rohirrim so Gandalf has to convince them to retreat to the stone fort of Helm’s Deep and we learn all this in like one minute’s narration from Gandalf which makes it a tad difficult to follow what’s going on and near impossible to frickin’ care. They arrive in Rohan and Gandalf exposes Gríma who runs off and Théoden thanks him and introduces him to his “sister-daughter” Eowyn.

You.. you mean your niece, right? RIGHT?!

You…you mean your niece, right? Right?

Meanwhile in Mordor, Sam and Frodo are attacked by Gollum (Peter Woodthorpe) but manage to capture him. They spare his life and in return he swears to take them into Mordor. Now, Gollum is by far my favourite of Tolkien’s characters (something I appear to have passed on genetically).
Mini-Mouse LOVES "Funny Baby".

Mini-Mouse LOVES “Funny Baby”.

Woodthorpe’s Gollum is by far the best thing in this movie. He gives a very distinctive vocal performance that’s radically different from Andy Serkis while still feeling very “right” for the character. It’s not really surprising that the BBC got him to reprise the role when they were doing their radio adaptation.
Back in Rohan, the Orcs arrive en masse and march towards Helm’s Deep. Singing. Okay, well, while that may seem a little out of character for the forces of evil, there is textual precedent for goblins singing in The Hobbit so I’ll allow it. But I can’t actually figure out what they’re saying. I can catch the occasional “Sauron” or “Mordor” but other than that…it doesn’t seem to be black speech or Elvish or…
Ah. Okay. So it turns out that composer Leonard Rosenman just made up some nonsense words for the Orcs to sing.
‘Cos you know, when I think of Tolkien, I think of just randomly making up fake languages without any thought or reflection.
That’s what he was all about.
That was ol’ J.R.R. to a T.
If the man was spinning in his grave any faster he’d turn into Wonder Woman.

If the man was spinning in his grave any faster he’d turn into Wonder Woman.

Gandalf runs off because he has something super serious to take care of and basically leaves the defenders of Helm’s Deep to fend for themselves. They’re quickly overrun by the Orcs and have to take refuge in some caves. Théoden asks Aragorn to ride out with him in a desperate, heroic last stand and dude I’m sorry you were introduced like five minutes ago it’s kind of hard for me to get invested.
But then, when all seems lost Gandalf arrives with Éomer bringing reinsforcements and they beat the Orcs the end.
No seriously, that’s the end of the movie. That’s your satisfying conclusion.
Allow me to explain.
***
I already mentioned that Bakshi’s plan was to do two movies covering the events of The Lord of the Rings and wanted to call this movie Part 1. But United Artists reasoned that no one would go see a movie that was only half the story without being duped and so deliberately released the movie under the title The Lord of the Rings, implying that this was the whole book in one movie (Bakshi was absolutely furious about this incidentally). Despite these shenanigans, and contrary to what you might think, this movie was actually a pretty major hit, making $30 Million on a $4 Million budget. Weirdly though, United Artists refused to make a sequel which seems downright bizarre today. Here you have a movie that’s returned massively on your original investment with a story that is positively crying out for completion. Why wouldn’t you make a sequel? If I had to guess, I’d say UA were just leery of the whole concept of multi-part movie story-telling. After all, if you don’t think people are going to see the first half of a story, why would you think they’d go see the second? Especially since people who hadn’t caught the first movie in theatres didn’t really have other options to see it (home video was still just becoming a thing).
So that’s Ralph Bakshi’s Lord of the Rings, weird, unfinished and in the final analysis not really all that good.
I will now diminish, and go into the West. See you next time.
Scoring
Animation: 03/20
Interesting and experimental, but the problem with experiments is that most of them fail. Awful continuity, weird, ugly character designs and discordant, clashing visual tones. Just a mess.
Leads: 03/20
Stupid capering hobbitses we hates them forever.
Villain: 05/20
The two most defining characteristics of Saruman the White: 1) He wears white. 2) He is named Saruman. They failed at both.
Supporting Characters: 13/20
The movie’s takes on Gandalf, Gollum, Boromir and Aragorn are all pretty effective.
Music: 06/20
Finally, something Bakshi and I agree on.
FINAL SCORE: 30%
NEXT UPDATE: 22 January 2015
NEXT TIME: Sigh.
Y’all ready for this?
 Space_jam
Neil Sharpson aka the Unshaved Mouse is a playwright, blogger and comic book writer based in Dublin. A new movie review goes up every second Thursday, and he is also serialising his novel, The Hangman’s Daughter, with a new chapter every Saturday. Today’s review was made possible by the very kind donation of Lurking Lurker. Lurk on, you crazy diamond.

73 comments

  1. Would you believe that I haven’t seen the live-action LotR (and Hobbit) movies? They came out at a time in my youth when I was hesitant to try anything new, and even now I’ve never gotten around to it. But I have seen this movie, and yeah it’s pretty mediocre. I wonder if I’ll ever get around to watching the Jackson movies.

  2. I remember seeing this movie and boy is it weird! Probably my favorite scene (personally) in this movie, just for how, for a lack of a better term, weird it is, is when Gandalf says “Fool of a Took! Throw yourself in next time!” and then he stutters and curses as he walks away. It seemed to me like he was saying afterwards “Fool of a dick!” followed by more cursing. But that’s just me.

    I guess Peter Jackson did get inspired by this movie to make a better one (or should I say ‘better ones’) himself one day. And he sure did. Though I guess now he’s considered an average director following his Hobbit movies. I read the book, and I enjoyed them, but I do see where people have complaints with them.

    Look forward to your Space Jam review!

      1. Yeah I agree. It was also quite predictable: Attacked by orcs? Hmm haven’t seen Legolas in a while – Oh no wait there he is!

      2. Like I said: I can see why, but I did enjoy the last 20-30 minutes of the second movie. I thought Smaug was great and Benedict Cumberbatch really got into character and made Smaug intimidating. But that’s just my opinion.

        If you haven’t seen the third film yet, then considering your thoughts on the second film, you might think even more so with the third film. But I’ll let you be the judge.

  3. Great review, Mouse. I have never forced myself to sit through this thing in its entirety. The bits I’ve seen of it are so horrendous I don’t dare try to kill myself with a full viewing. Thank you for your amazing sacrifice!

    I’d almost be curious to know what you think of Jackson’s films, including his Hobbit trilogy, even in just a paragraph-long nutshell overview. (I tried hard to not state that like a demand, just an idea…)

    I am enchanted AND terrified at the idea of you reviewing Space Jam next. *shiver*

    1. I loved the first Hobbit movie and the second started strong but as soon as Smaug the Magnificently Stupid entered the picture it all fell apart. I stopped counting the times Smaug could have killed Bilbo or the dwarves and simply refused. The giant molten statue was insane and the way the script flailed desperately trying to find a reason for Smaug to attack the town was just embaressing. It felt like a play where one actor has forgotten a crucial line and the other has to cover “What’s that you say? I should ATTACK THE TOWN? Okay, I’m going now to ATTACK THE TOWN!”

      1. Thank goodness, we seem to still be on the same wavelength. 🙂 I really like Hobbit 1, and I enjoyed Hobbit 2 a bunch, but sadly, that’s where the trilogy’s big flaws began to properly become obnoxious to me. Mary Sue Elf that hijacks the story with a pointless love triangle, too much focus on the return of Sauron (which creates a mess of continuity questions with LOTR), and poor Bilbo starts to become more and more of a bit player in his own story. However, I unreservedly adore Smaug in the film. But I totally get your annoyance with his Bond Villain Stupidity going overboard.

        I hope you see the third film, if only for the sake of conclusion. I personally was rather let down by it in a lot of ways.

      2. I also loved the first Hobbit movie. I think the second one fell apart as soon as the elves showed up, because the Dwarves are useless in comparison. I thought the attack on an injured Filli was the perfect time for Ori to be the hero, but instead he is nearly useless in the background. I just treated every scenes with Smaug the magnificently stupid as a comedy. The second one killed my interest in the third one until my siblings get it on hom media (I will still not be in a hurry then). In short it was like “House of Hades” of movies for me.

  4. I have generally a very low opinion of Bakshi’s work. I don’t care what anyone says, I think he is a at best passable animator and awful director who only managed to raise to some fame by being contrary and going for the shock effect.

    I also think that rotoscoping is to traditional animation what motion capture is to CGI…it can work, but it can never work on it’s own, and it doesn’t work as a short-cut.

    Urgh…Space Jam? Your donators really wanted to punish you, right?

      1. Nobody requested something long the lines of “The Adventures of Prince Achmed”, “Paprika” or “Watership Down” by chance? You know, movies really worth talking about which deserve a higher exposure?

  5. Uhg… I really don’t like this movie. I grew up with the Peter Jackson movies (I first saw Fellowship when I was 13) and didn’t see this animated adaptation until a few months after I’d seen Return of the King in theaters. I was… disappointed, to say the least. In addition to the ugly animation and character designs and the disjointed pacing, I HATE what they did to Sam. Sam is my favorite character in the Peter Jackson movies and Sean Astin’s performance is one of my favorite things in the films. Here they make him into a bumbling idiot who gets in the way rather than the bravest, most loyal hobbit ever.

    Space Jam next time, eh? Well, I’m one of the five percent of people who actually liked that movie, so I look forward to it. (Honestly my fondness for it is almost completely due to nostalgia)

  6. I honestly don’t know why it was so hard to come up with a good animated LOTR film when Disney and Toei had already made some very rad epic animated movies. Just look at Sleeping Beauty, The Tale of the White Serpent, Fantasia or Hols: Prince of the Sun which animated many different fantastic creatures in vast fantastic landscapes. Granted, none of them seems to have whole armies fighting with each other, but this can be simplified, so it really is weird that Ralph Bakshi is the only one to have come up with an animated adaptation of Tolkien’s work.

    1. If there’s one thing that I always thought of, it’s what if Hayo Miyazaki wanted to try his hands at tackling an adaption of The Hobbit. Think about it: Tolkien’s adventure with the imagination and animation from Miyazaki would combine to make into something wonderful. After all, it seemed that he was starting to get interested in adapting western literature (Howel’s Moving Castle or Tales From Earthsea (I know it was his son, he wanted to do so when he was younger)) so something like The Hobbit would have been great to try out. Then again, more than likely Christopher Tolkien would probably dislike it as much as how he’s disliked Peter Jackson’s adaptions, so who knows.

      1. He’d probably invent a female redhead hobbit (kind of like San or Nausicaa) who falls in love with Bilbo or at least with some other main character. Seriously, I don’t recall a single female character in the book other than Bilbo’s ancestors who are dead anyway.

    2. This was made in the dark ages not the golden age like those ones (Tv tropes eras, not Mouse’s eras). It had smaller budgets even without accounting for inflation. Hard to believe I am now defending this movie.

    3. Far from defending Bakshi, but Disney had to lay off a lot of staff over Sleeping Beauty despite it being one of the most successful movies of the year simply because it was so expensive, there was no way that it would make the cost back during the initial run. And big battles? Back then, without the advanced computertechnology they used in the 1990s? No way.
      Also, most animation companies prefer simple stories, with less characters.

  7. Hilarious review! It coincided with my viewing of Battle of the Five Armies, so I’m on a bit of a Tolkien kick this week. I enjoy how you explain a bit of the movie’s background; knowing its context is always interesting. I knew about the rotoscoping, but not the posterization. No wonder it looked so jarring. Almost as jarring as the Hobbits’ 70’s perms.

  8. So, I kind of jumped the gun on this one on your last review. I genuinely like some of the weird experimentation stuff in it and thought it was great at atmosphere.
    Things I liked:
    Frodo – much less of a wimp
    The animation on Gandalf’s hands in the “is it secret” scene
    The Nazgul scene
    Most of the Nazgul scenes really
    That long ride and escape
    Gollum’s voice ( I hadn’t realised he was the same actor in the BBC version – he really is very good!)

    I didn’t like Sam’s animation but, I got more used to it as we went on.

    From Jackson’s trilogy I didn’t like Galadriel’s scene I felt it was over the top.

    I got the impression from the book that the Balrog was a surprise to the Goblins and that they fled before it as well. It was apparently fast asleep until Pippin woke him.

    It’s a shame he didn’t finish it. The animated Return of the King isn’t great. (See I have some arbitrary standards!)

  9. Another great review! I’ve never seen this, and I haven’t seen the live action ones. What is Space Jam, if anyone could tell me? (Also, I have been lurking and occasionally leaving comments in old posts for literally MONTHS, and have decided to be a real commenter.)

  10. “If the man was spinning in his grave any faster he’d turn into Wonder Woman.” MY GOD, MOUSE! I laughed so hard with this review that I woke up a Balrog in the deeps of the world! It has become my favourite of your reviews! I’ve seen this movie dubbed in YouTube with hilarious comments but you defeated them as Jackson defeated Bakshi. And since this is related to Tolkien, I will give my opinion of Middle-earth entertainment here. :3 I watched Jackson’s LotR movies since I was a child, and my favourite has always been Fellowship. But four years ago I read The Hobbit and I ADORED it (it’s still my favourite book, I may be a child at heart), but when I continued with the LotR books I didn’t love them as much because I already kinda knew the story. And my opinion about Jackson’s The Hobbit films:
    The first one is amazing, my favourite of all the Middle-earth films, it is so like the book that I want to cry of joy.
    The second one is disappointed, it added so much stuff and some of the characters from the book (like Beorn) were ruined in comparison to the originals. And we didn’t get as much time with the relationship of the heroes of the story: Bilbo and the dwarves. Some things were good, but it wasn’t enough. (And don’t let me start to talk about all the good scenes removed from the cinema version).
    The third one was great, it wasn’t as good as the first one, but I think that it was a nice end to our journey through Middle-earth, New Zeland. It still had to continue with the errors from the second film, but it fixed a lot of things.

    1. “I’ve seen this movie dubbed in YouTube with hilarious comments but you defeated them as Jackson defeated Bakshi.”

      You aren’t by chance referring to this are you?

      Oh 2009 nostalgia, save me now!

      1. Oh, yes! I was talking about that dub! Although, when I watched it, the whole movie was one entire video. 😄 The Nostalgia is strong with this one.

  11. Before I get wrapped up in giving my thoughts on Lord of the Rings, let me first say that Fritz the Cat is awful. Like, really unspeakably awful. It’s unpleasant to look at, the characters are unpleasant, the attitudes towards sex and drugs are unpleasant. It’s just terrible, only noteworthy because it was the first X rated animated film. Bad, bad film.

    OK, LotR. I haven’t seen this movie (though I have seen the animated Hobbit, which is mostly OK) but I would like to for the simple fact that it’s Lord of the Rings. Because I love Lord of the Rings. To be more specific, I love Jackson’s Lord of the Rings movies, the trilogy as a whole ranks among my ten all time favorite films. As far as the books go, I find them to be kind of a drag to read because of the whole “stop every two pages for 10 pages of songs and poems written about the events that just happened” thing (I much prefer the briskly paced Hobbit book) but I still love the world and the characters that Tolkien created so much. In particular, Eowyn, Merry, and Pippin are just completely and utterly fantastic, especially in Jackson’s trilogy. Those three are absolutely my favorite part of the films (well, them and the HOLY JESUS GOD AMAZING score which I listen to on a regular basis). I mean really, Jackson’s movies are just about as perfect as we could have possibly hoped for. Absolutely incredible.

  12. I remember Nostalgia Critic reviewing this in one of his Old vs. New episodes, and he actually seemed to like it a fair bit. At least, on the points of comparisons. The final orc march done in all red, did seem pretty cool to 14-year-old me back then.

    Dammit, I’d thought about becoming your archrival in reviewing by going through all the Looney Tunes movies, but since you’ve beaten me to the punch…

    … you leave me no choice but to go take the lower road: review all the DTV Disney sequels.

    I’ve got my will written out and everything. Don’t try to stop me.

  13. No remarks on Gandalf’s interpretive dance of “one Ring to rule them all”?

    That was one thing the reviewer on the Flying Moose page touched on (http://flyingmoose.org/tolksarc/bakshi/bakshi.htm)…that the characters are overly given to exaggerated gestures and expressions, when subtler, more understated work would get the emotions across much better. (The only time Bakshi really hits this note is, as the Nostalgia Critic points out, the scene where Gimli discovers the tomb of Balin…in the live-action version, he breaks down in tears, while in the Bakshi version, he simply and silently bows his head and walks away for a moment to compose himself.)

    But I agree with everyone that the worst disservice was done to Sam. Another online essay I read somewhere compared the types of heroism we see in LOTR. Aragorn was more of the classical-mythology type of hero–he was born and bred for heroism. Frodo was more the modern-type hero…he did what he had to do but was severely damaged by it. Sam was the kind of hero you find in unexpected places…the quiet, unassuming folk who, driven by loyalty and love, are capable of great things when the occasion calls.

    I don’t think Bakshi’s Sam would, had the story hit that point, be convincing in that wonderful scene: “Then let us be rid of it! Once and for all! Come on, Mr. Frodo…I can’t carry it for you…BUT I CAN CARRY YOU!”

    That’s the moment that Samwise Gamgee becomes not only my favorite character in LOTR, but the goddamn HERO of the saga.

  14. By the way, I have seen Fritz the Cat. Jesus Christ, it was so cringeworthy. The bathtub orgy was hard enough to watch, but there’s also a scene where two guys hold this pig lady down with chains and rape her. I’m sure there’s other horrific stuff I’ve forgotten. The whole time I was watching it, I had one hand hand on the door to make sure nobody would come in while I was watching it, and my other hand on the power button so I could turn off the TV if someone managed to get in.

    Also, the first scene of the movie is three construction workers hanging out on the building they’re making (you know, that old gag), then one of them pisses while still on top. And that was probably the tamest thing about it.

  15. Great review once again Mouse! I happen to think Tom Bombadil is one of my favorite characters from the novel, however. That time he drove the barrow-wights away by singing was priceless. He’s just too absurd in a pleasant way for me not to like him. He’s like those Mary Sue characters you see in a fanfiction that just seems to pop out of nowhere, kind of like a BLAM. The only difference is he was entertaining enough for me to overlook it, especially since I read the short story The Adventures of Tom Bombadil.

    Which inspires me to ask, have you ever read Tales From the Perilous Realms? There are a lot of entertaining short stories collected in that book. One of Tolkien’s more obscure works, but it ‘s a great read.

  16. Heyho.
    I enjoyed your reviews since i found out about your blog on thatguywiththeglasses.
    Again this review was a lot of fun but i have to disagree with you about one thing. I think you’re a bit too harsh regarding the music. I admit for the casual soundtrack listener Leonard Rosenman may be rather difficult to enjoy. But in case of this movie i think he was the best choice.
    His style is much less romantic and upbeat as for example are the styles of John Williams or James Horner but so is the animation style. It clearly differs from something like Disney or Ghibli and I’m not talking about the character animation. I agree that’s crap for the most part. What I find myself liking are the backgrounds in many scenes because their uncommon style creates an otherwordly strange atmosphere. Rosenman’s music helps to intensify this atmosphere to a high degree when a typical Williams-Score would probably seem out of place (Williams has scored only one animated feature in his career but I wanted to use a familiar example).
    In the scene that lasts about as long as an Ancient Egyptian dynasty the crescendo and decrescendo of the eerie choir creates an overall haunting feeling. Then finally Frodo’s horse starts to run, the rest of the orchestra kicks in and exciting chase music is developing.
    Another great scene: At the gate of Moria Gandalf eventually solves the riddle, the gate opens and we get a kick-ass but also ominous fanfare. Suddenly the kraken appears and startling action scoring takes over.
    Rosenman’s choice to just invent words for the orcs to sing (sometimes it’s just his name backwards) was really an inconsiderate decision. About that i totally agree with you.
    But if you can manage to ignore the words once you’ll listen to battle music of epic scale:
    https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=fr8yZFHKFoo2″ just listen from 56:58 to 58:20.
    Raging choral and orchestral madness at its finest. Gives me goosebumps every time.
    You’ve probably recognized i adore this score and I’m not the only one. Lord of the Rings is widely considered one of Rosenman’s best works. Bakshi didn’t like it but I believe he wouldn’t have liked any traditional orchestral score no matter who would have been the composer. As far as i know he wanted a Hard Rock soundtrack which admittedly could have been awesome.
    But that never happened and know we’ve got an orchestral score which is not immediately accessible, just like the movie. However unlike the movie it’s a sophisticated fine piece of art and if you give it a chance maybe you’ll appreciate it more for what it is and wants to accomplish.
    If I haven’t changed your mind that’s fine. As long as you gave thought about what i wrote I’m happy.
    BTW: In the german dub (S)aruman is always Saruman.^^

  17. Hey, I know this is totally irrelevant, but if you made a list of Disney movies ranking them based on YOUR opinions entirely, accounting for all weird dislikes *cough* BEAUTY AND THE BEAST *cough*, what would it look like?

    Also, cool review. (That guy’s eyes did look really funny, but then I couldn’t draw eyes any better, BUT THEN there’s a reason I didn’t take an Art GCSE, go figure). This movie seems kind of faily, just to say.

  18. I recognize the movies flaws but I still think it is interesting and don’t find the animation as awful as you do. It’s not as good as Jackson but I like the take on the story. Oh well.

  19. You know, for once I agree with you completely on this movie, Mouse. My dad was showing this hideous cartoon to my brother soon after “Two Towers” came out, just because my brother was curious about it. So dad let him see what little the fantasy and sci-fi crowd had to watch 40-some years ago.

    I didn’t see it with them, but I happened to be doing something in the other room and caught brief glimpses of it while walking back and forth through the room. (The family room was a high-traffic area in that particular house, so you really couldn’t go anywhere without passing through it).

    What little I DID see made me extremely grateful Peter Jackson put so much effort into the 2000-2005 trilogy. They’re among some of my fave live-action movies.

    The technique you’re describing and the animation style is something I saw in both “Wizards” and “Fire and Ice,” two movies I am glad I never watched more than once. If you ever get the chance, Mouse, I will not object to you totally trashing those two movies with their own reviews. The only thing is, I’d have to send you some brain bleach once you were done with the reviews, just to maintain your sanity, hehe.

  20. Don’t think I ever got to see this one. I did see the Hobbit movie done by the same people, but not the Lord of the Rings. I actually didn’t see that for quite a bit. I was one of those guys who was introduced to the Hobbit first (my dad read the book to me when I was a kid). Also, yay, more dramatic irony! Fritz got to the top on the Deathmatch (spoilers? Sorry). Speaking of cats, why did you bring the torches and pitchforks brigade in on the live action reveal instead of angry cat? And why am I even asking, clearly it’s because cats are jerks that prey upon unsuspecting fowl and should be slighted for it. Cursed felines.

    I’m with you on the Hangman’s Daughter adaptation. I’ll have a bone to pick with any script writer who leaves out any of Virgil’s brilliant snarks. That description with the determined holding of the scisors made me picture a mohel. Oy. Cool for bringing up Waking Live, that movie was all kinds of awesome.

    Wait, the Ring messes up hwo you count? Ok, my theory is that the Ring is in France now, look at how they count. Wait… The ring got tosed int oa hellishly blazing volcano… When people say “go to France” they mean “go to Hell”…… It’s all making sense! …I know to much now, don’t I?

    1. “The Hobbit movie done by the same people”? Do you mean the Rankin-Bass TV special? That wasn’t bad at all compared to this; they made a fair effort at putting some of the songs from the book into the show and I think overall it was quite good and relatively faithful to the book. There was also a God-awful short version of the Hobbit that was made, essentially, because the person holding the movie rights was contractually obligate to release SOMETHING or relinquish the rights, but that was by yet another team and was essentially “”The Ken Burns Effect: The Movie, Based on a Mistaken Reading of the Blurb on the Back Cover of The Hobbit”

      1. Ahh, the dreaded make-a-feature-to-keep-the-work-in-your-clutches rule. The bane of Peter Parker amongst other things.

  21. The Aruman bit kind of reminds me of some of the parts in THD when Sariel’s original name got kept. Hopefully you’ll have a better editor than this movie. And Europe’s cosplay moment was hilarious. So was your description of your kid’s liking Gollum. I can relate, I think he was my favourite in the Hobbit and the Jackson trilogy. Though I seem to remember in the cartoon movie wondering why the animators made him look like a turtle mutated by sewer water.

    Hang on, is singing something forces of evil don’t do? I say if you want to play the bad guys, you’ve got to Be Prepared to make for exceptions. And… That ended abruptly. Is that really it? I thought I saw a clip for the latter movie’s climax on Nostalgia Ckich’s video. Is my memory messed up? Maybe it is, the trauma of being devoured might do taht. You’ll have to excuse my tyops, I’m sending this from inside a cat and it’s rather dark in here.

  22. “Merry and Pippin are also hobbits, but they can be easily distinguished from Frodo by that fact that his name is Frodo and their names are Merry and Pippin.” And then there’s Sam, who can be easily distinguished from the other hobbits by the fact that he appears to not actually be a hobbit, but rather some kind of diminutive troll.

    I first read Lord of the Rings a couple of years before this movie came out. Did I have some high hopes? You betcha. A few little twinges over Bakshi being the director, but definitely high hopes. And then … we got this. I was never really sure what happened to Part II; i sort of always assumed the Tolkien estate saw it and said “oh HELL no; let’s give the rights to the last book to Messrs. Rankin and Bass; we weren’t completely thrilled about their version of the Hobbit but at least it wasn’t a total embarrassment.”

    You’re a better man than I, Mouse; you managed to get through this without segueing into how much better the TV specials were in pretty much every respect. Cheap TV animation with lots of recycling, and still better. The hobbits had weird character designs, but certainly no worse than Sam in this movie, and there were some kick-ass songs to boot (Where There’s a Whip There’s a Way is the answer to “Do the forces of evil sing?” Yes. Yes they do. They sing things like Where There’s a Whip There’s a Way.)

    1. Also, with the number of references and the fact that they’re currently Disney(and have been for years), you should review the Star Wars movies. All of them. Even the Prequels(and especially the newer movies like Rogue One and The Force Awakens).

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