As you probably know from reading my past blogs, Peter Jackson’s The Lord of the Rings is my favourite film trilogy of all time – and one of the most faithful adaptations of any book in my opinion. I actually also didn’t mind The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey either. Despite the fact that people have complained that it was too long and added too much to the story – I never had a problem with the length and felt that the stuff added to it was pretty decent. I mean, after all, it is still from Tolkien’s Legendarium, so it’s not like they made it up from thin air.
Indeed, The Lord of the Rings, was the major inspiration for my Draconica novels so I owe a lot to it. The films are widely considered to be classics of their time and are still talked about today. I honestly think that these films will stand the test of time as some of the best films ever made.
But what some of you may not know is that this is NOT the first attempt to bring The Lord of the Rings to the big screen. In 1978, Ralph Bakshi (a well renowed director of animated films – his most famous being Fritz the Cat and Cool World amongst others) took it upon himself to bring The Lord of the Rings to the big screen. Unfortunately, whilst it does have a cult following, it is generally considered to be a disappointment.
I do actually remember seeing this film when I was a kid – but can barely remember anything about it. So, on a trip to HMV (before they went into administration) I used some vouchers I won at work to purchase a boxed set of The Lord of the Rings trilogy and saw that the 1978 film was on special offer. So I brought it and watched it. And I have to say I was very disappointed with what I saw.
The movie uses a combination of animation and rotoscoping (basically, tracing over live footage with cell animation) to create a rather unique look for the time. I’ll get more into the animation later but I just want to cover the story first.
The film basically covers the first two books, starting with Bilbo’s party and ending with the battle of Helm’s Deep. However, being a two hour film, the story is heavily condensed and cuts out a large chunk of dialogue. Unfortunately, this makes the story feel rushed and doesn’t really give it any time to breathe or develop in my opinion. Unless you know the story of the book, you won’t understand what’s going on. Adding to the fact that the voice acting is sub-par to say the least (and considering it has heavy hitters like John Hurt and Anthony Daniels in the voice cast, that’s a disappointment) and the actors don’t really have much in the way of emotion to their delivery. It’s more a case of they’re reading their lines – and that’s it. Shame really.
You may think that because this is a condensed version then it’s a quick film, right? Wrong. Despite being a shortened version of the first two books, the pace is just sluggish, especially during the battle scenes, which feel drawn out and dull – with most of the footage being soldiers standing still or marching as opposed to actually fighting. Not only that, but usually they’re shot in the dark, or (in the case of the battle of Helm’s Deep) shot with a horrible red and blue lighting effect that makes it hard to see what’s going on. Whereas the battle scenes in the Peter Jackson films are epic and full of exciting action, the fight scenes in this film are just, well... boring. I fell asleep during the Battle of Helm’s Deep – which was supposed to be the exciting climax of this film.
Now, onto the animation. I said at the beginning of this review that this was kind of a new thing at the time and I did say that it gave it a unique look to it. But, I will have to put my hands up to this. Unique or not, the animation is, quite frankly, dreadful. Some may go with the whole “Well, for the time they were quite restricted with what they could do” speech and, yes, I will agree that the animation they had back then was fairly primitive compared to what we have now. But if you consider the Looney Tunes cartoons (which came out several decades BEFORE this film) had fluid animation and fast pacing, then you can’t really consider that an excuse. But I’m getting ahead of myself.
The animation in this film is just jerky and stiff. The movements don’t flow very well and the character designs are just ugly to look at. Gandalf looks ok, as does Aragorn and maybe Sauraman (named Auraman in this film for whatever reason), but the Hobbits just look overly chunky and, in some cases, highly camp and effeminate. Boromir looks like a Viking for some bizarre reason, Gimli looks like an outcast from Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs, and the orcs just look laughable – they look more like children in a Halloween party. The only characters that actually do look pretty cool are the Ringwraiths. The jerky animation actually helps add to the creepiness of their characters and they do actually look a lot more terrifying than the ones in Peter Jackson’s films. But otherwise, it’s just painful and tiring to watch.
As a film, it received mixed reaction, but generally most considered it a failure. As such, it never had a sequel and so was never finished. It’s a shame because this COULD have been a great movie – but for me, the overall movie just feels rushed with little time and attention put on it. Not only that, it’s just dull to watch and puts you to sleep – not a good sign.
However, I will say this for it, it did inspire Peter Jackson to attempt to make his own Lord of the Rings film (even shooting some scenes exactly like in the Bakshi film as a tribute). But in my eyes, what Bakshi did wrong, Jackson did right.
I’d like to say that Bakshi’s The Lord of the Rings is an underrated classic, but I’m afraid that, on this occasion, I can’t really recommend this film. If you’re a hardcore fan of Tolkien, then you may want to check this out for nostalgia purposes – or maybe as film study to compare this with the present day films. But otherwise, I’d give this one a miss, it is definitely NOT the one film to rule them all!