Tuesday, August 8, 2023

The Lord of the Rings

Filthy little hobbitses! We hates it!

What's it about?

Tonight's nostalgic pic is "The Lord of the Rings" (Bakshi Productions, 1978). The wizard Gandalf the Grey (voiced by employs Frodo Baggins (voiced by Christopher Guard) on a quest to rid Middle Earth of the evil magical ring found by William Squire) his uncle, Bilbo Baggins (voiced by Norman Bird). Along the way, Frodo and his servant Samwise Gamgee (voiced by Michael Scholes) befriend all manner of heroes from across the land for an epic adventure. Will the hobbits be able to overcome hardship, defeat the orcs, avoid the ghastly Nazgul, outwit the insane Gollum, and destroy the ring of power? We never find out!

Some background

This is a theatrical "animated" movie, not produced by Rankin/Bass (the studio that made 1977's "The Hobbit") but rather animator and director Ralph Bakshi, a former Terrytoons employee who is otherwise best known for his X-rated 1972 animated movie "Fritz the Cat," which was so bad that the creator of the character of Fritz the Cat (Robert Crumb) killed the character off in retaliation for the movie. This sets the tone for what we're in for.

Pictured: My face when I realized that I was going to have to watch this again.

The good

Look, this film has its fans (including the New Line Cinema "Lord of the Rings" director Peter Jackson), and I can see why: There is craft put into many of the stills, and putting together a film (even an "animated" film) of this scale on this budget in 1978 was quite a triumph. A typical animated movie takes years to develop, and this "animated" movie went from preproduction to release in around two. Jackson even used some of Bakshi's scenes as inspiration for his own (the hobbits hiding from the black rider in the Shire is a prime example).

Looks a bit familiar.

There are voice actors even movie fans today will recognize among the cast, including the late John Hurt as Strider/Aragorn,
"Where are my paaaaants?!"

and Anthony "C-3PO" Daniels as the wood elf prince, Legolas.
"Frodo Deetoo, where are you?"

If you're a fan of this film, that's you're right and I don't want to infringe upon it, but as a person who has studied animation and a fan of the book I have to be honest with myself and I can't in good consciousness give it a pass. We good? Alright.
The establishing shots and most of the backgrounds are good. The rest of the movie...

The bad

I strongly dislike this film. One might even say that I hate it. This film tries so hard to stick to the source material and yet on so many levels just fails that I can't stand watching it. It is slightly more accurate to J.R.R. Tolkien's "The Lord of the Rings" trilogy of books than even Peter Jackson's magnum opus, but accuracy isn't always what you want in what is essentially a fantasy action film. Because of the limited budget and the director trying so hard to get the most bang for his buck, the story jumps around -- hard. I'm begging you, dear reader: DO NOT MAKE THIS YOUR INTRODUCITON TO "THE LORD OF THE RINGS." I cannot imagine attempting to follow this with no reference. The introduction uses shadows over a red canvas to tell the story of the ring before the film, which is okay, but right after that we jump to Bilbo's birthday party with no explanation.

It's like watching a play through a bloody shower curtain.

Then 17 years pass (just like the book, not the Peter Jackson film) and then Gandalf has Frodo take the ring to Rivendell while Gandalf journeys to Isengard to speak to the white wizard, Arrowman. Er, Saruman (sorry, the film seems a bit confused). Saruman very quickly and somehow very slowly turns on Gandalf (honestly I can't really describe the sensation of watching this horrible scene) and captures him.
Arrowman (in red) is not referred to as "The White," but inexplicably shouts "MANY COLORS" as he SLOWLY attacks.

The worse

The sharp-eyed among you might notice that I keep putting the word "animated" in quotations while referring to this "animated" film. This whole movie was rotoscoped, that is to say, the animators traced over live filmed actors rather than drawing characters from models. This goes a long way to explaining how this film was able to be made so quickly. The problem is, the majority of this movie isn't heroes fighting orcs or running across narrow bridges, it's people standing around and talking endlessly. When this happens, the director has the actors gesturing wildly and being more animated than normal people would be, which leads to some irritation.


Anyone who is familiar with little person actor Billy Barty (the guy was in literally hundreds of films and shows)
Bilbo Barty.

should know that he does a lot of the hobbit body work in this film, where he was instructed to clap stupidly and walk around awkwardly.
"Um... are you okay, Sam?" "YAAAY! ELVES!"

Combined with Michael Scholes… interesting voice work, it leads to what fans have come to call "Special-needs Samwise." To compound the problem, many scenes (especially scenes with multiple characters) are BARELY rotoscoped, looking more like the faintest pen work splashed over a badly filmed medieval movie.

Bakshi's penchant for swapping backgrounds behind characters on the screen might seem trippy to people who are watching the film high, but to the casual viewer it's headache-inducing and to any animators watching the film it looks like a cop-out for the bad rotoscoping. The Balrog, the most iconic and memorable monster in the entire series of books is LITERALLY just a guy wearing a lion mask, bear slippers, and paper mâché wings.
Director: "Don't damage dose wings! My daughta was up all night makin' 'em!"

It would be laughable if it wasn't so pathetic.

Ow, my ears

On top of the animation issues, the score by Leonard Rosenman is terrible. It's just random horns and orchestra music that sounds like it's from a 1950s western, completely forgettable with no coherent theme EXCEPT for when you do recognize a recurring theme (the hobbits' theme) which sounds like it was directly lifted from the credits to "Hogan's Heroes." I'm not even kidding about that.

The end question mark

You get no resolution with this film. This was obviously meant to be the first of two films, but Bakshi was so disappointed in the fan reaction that he never bothered with another. Apparently, even when New Line approached him to finish it in conjunction with the release of the Peter Jackson film he was angry that nobody told him they were making it and refused. So, Frodo and Sam meet Gollum (the worst Gollum ever put to film),

Worst. Gollum. Ever.

Gandalf saves Helm's Deep with the aid of the Rohirrim,
Quite literally the last scene in the film.

and Merry and Pippen
Pippen, Sam, and Merry. Er, Merry, Sam, and Pippen. Eh. It doesn't matter.

(who are barely in the film and nearly indistinguishable from one another -- mostly because they use the exact same animation model with different hair colors and sometimes their hair color is animated wrong) meet Treebeard, clap stupidly, and are never seen again.
Treebeard: Shows up from nowhere, goes nowhere.

Sorry, was I snoring?

The ending doesn't matter anyway for me, because I almost never see it -- I've usually nodded off before then. The third act (if you can call it that) is overloaded with barely animated men on horseback awkwardly fighting with barely animated men barely dressed as orcs. It mostly looks the same, isn't visually interesting, and by that time the story has pretty much ended.

It looks really bad when a painted over character is in front of what is essentially filmed actors.

Perfectly safe for everyone, because no one's paying attention

This film doesn't have any harsh language, no sexual content (odd, I would have expected Ralph Bakshi to have multiple shots of Galadriel's nipples showing through her dress -- again, not kidding),

"Okay Galadriel, take yer tawp awf!" "What?" "TAKE IT AAAAWF!"

but does have some violence and bloody on-screen deaths, so use caution if you watch with younger children. Just kidding -- they will have stopped paying attention and will be on their phones, tablets, or Nintendo Switches long before it gets to that point.
Again, "animated."

Where can you watch it?

This film is available to rent or buy on Amazon Prime, but doesn't seem to be available for streaming. I reviewed my DVD copy. If you've read the books and/or seen the Peter Jackson directed movies and you're still interested, check it out. If you haven't, please, please, please don't watch this terrible film.

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