In 1978, Ralph Bakshi directed The Lord of the Rings, based on the books written fifty years earlier by J.R.R. Tolkien. It wasn’t a big box office success, it was butchered by critics, and it’s not even a real cult movie because only a few people today appreciate this film. Since I’m one of them, I decided to dedicate a post to this completely crazy, visionary and, I admit, a little confused animated film (but there are understandable reasons for that).
I think it’s not necessary to waste words on the story. More or less, this two hours long movie covers the events narrated in the first two books of Tolkien’s trilogy, and this isn’t what Bakshi wanted! There’s actually some irony behind this: Bakshi wanted to make three films, one for each book, and he hadn’t approved John Boorman’s idea of summarizing the whole trilogy in an hour and forty minutes film (that project never saw the light). Unfortunately, however, the producers fought against Bakshi and won, so the director had to collapse the first two chapters into a single film whose sequel never came out due to poor box office results.
Why wasn’t this movie particularly successful? Well, first of all forty years ago fantasy films didn’t do well in general. And then it’s not an easy watch, but we’ll get there… As mentioned above, I love this film, although I can see its obvious defects. The cuts imposed by the production are evident as they are sometimes abrupt and ruin the narrative of the story.
There’s little time to introduce the characters, entire parts are missing from the discussions of the Council of Elrond and during the initial part of the journey of The Fellowship of the Ring, the narrator appears randomly during the film to make up for the lack of key scenes eliminated for reasons of time (and still many things remain unclear)… A certain positive predisposition is needed to get over all these issues.
Furthermore, the film was criticized for the lack of a coherent aesthetic of the images: Bakshi used various techniques, from pure animation to rotoscoping (a kind of drawing on film shot with real actors), and he played a lot with light and smoke tricks a lot. Sometimes the movie gets very psychedelic! These effects are absolutely mesmerizing for me, but I understand that for many the result is less than optimal. There are also some errors due to hasty cuts such as the use of the names Saruman and Aruman to address Isengard’s white wizard, but these are small details. I would say that I’m done with the criticisms which, I repeat, I don’t buy at all.
Instead, let me explain why in my opinion Bakshi’s work is the best existing version of Tolkien’s story (I said it!). It only seems fair to say that Peter Jackson got a lot of inspiration from this animated film: by his own admission, the New Zealand director was first exposed to The Lord of the Rings thanks to Bakshi’s film, not Tolkien’s books! In fact, he paid homage to the animated feature more than once in his films: just think of the scene of the meeting with the Nazgul on the road just outside the Shire, or the night at Brea, or even the spectacular prologue. More in general, many narrative choices are exactly the same in the two versions! Jackson took a lot from what Bakshi did, a good reason to respect the 1978 animated movie.
Then, let’s talk about the soundtrack: composed by Leonard Rosenman, it’s as epic and memorable as that of Howard Shore! And as for the cast, although the only famous voice is perhaps that of John Hurt playing Aragorn, the whole voice acting work is great.
But it’s the images that make this film unforgettable for me: the battle scenes (mostly shot with the rotoscope technique) are amazing, the traditional animation is well done, and the more psychedelic parts are perfect to represent the magic of Middle-earth. And everything would have worked even better had Bakshi managed to hire Led Zeppelin for the soundtrack as he dreamed of doing!
I am left with the only regret of not being able to see the three films of The Lord of the Rings as imagined by Ralph Bakshi. Whenever I look at this brutally cut film, I enjoy its poetry, its images, its music, its vitality, but at the same time I can’t help but think about what it could’ve been if the director’s vision had been supported by the producers. Too bad, but at least we have something that I’m never tired of rewatching! Ciao!
PS: ok, ok, I admit that it’s silly for the archers of Rohan not to take shelter behind the battlements of the walls at Helm’s Deep when the orcs shoot their arrows…
- The movie trailer on Youtube
- The movie page on Internet Movie DataBase
- Movie review on A phuulish fellow
- Movie review on Hande’s blog
- Movie review on Feeling animated
- Movie review on Sometimes I lie awake at night
- Movie review on A bloke’s blog
- Movie review on Decent films
- Movie review on Unshaved mouse
- Movie review on It came from…
- Interview with Ralph Bakshi on It came from…