Saturday, 15 October 2011

The Lord of the Rings (1978)

Decades before Peter Jackson ever got the go-ahead to make a live action Lord of the Rings film trilogy, the director Ralph Bakshi made a serious attempt to adapt Tolkien's novel into a two-part animated feature. Unfortunately for him, the first part did poorly at the box office and got a lukewarm reception so the second part never materialised. As a result this film ends halfway through The Two Towers, right after the Battle of Helm's Deep. Judging from articles and reviews that I've read online I get the impression that this is a film that Tolkien fans either really like or really dislike.

I was expecting this film to be awful and I doubt I'll ever watch it again. Having said that the film does have its moments. The music is quite good in places and there's some nice voice acting, especially from John Hurt (Aragorn) and Anthony Daniels (Legolas). Those LOTR fans who are also Star Wars fans will know that Daniels also did the voice of C-3PO in those films : ) Another aspect that I did like about this film is that much of the dialogue is taken directly from Tolkien's novel and you can tell that the people who made this film had an affection for the story... but this affection for the story still didn't stop them from making a bad film though! This movie might not be awful but it's by no means a good adaptation.

I might as well start with the animation since that's probably the first thing that you'll notice about this movie. Bakshi combines traditional hand-drawn animation with rotoscoping - which is when animation is layered on top of scenes that use real life actors. Well, it's not done well. The rotoscoping is distracting and most of the characters look nothing like how they're supposed to in this movie. Just look at these pictures! Boromir looks like a Viking and Aragorn looks Native American! Elrond looks like a Roman! The Balrog looks totally stupid too and the Orcs look like the Sand People from Star Wars. And the Ringwraiths stagger around like zombies whenever they get off their horses. And Gimli is the same height as Legolas!

Aragorn and Boromir

There's some very choppy editing in this movie too. We get very rapid jumps from scene to scene and setting to setting. It moves at a much faster pace than the Jackson films. In fact I find it very odd that some LOTR fans think that this film is more accurate than the Peter Jackson films. Yes, some scenes in this film are more accurate but there's much less character development and they still leave out loads from the book. And Tolkien fans will want to scream when they continually mispronounce Saruman's name as "Aruman". His name is Saruman! The 'S' isn't silent! Apparently, the reason for Saruman's name change was because the film-makers were afraid that audience members might get his character confused with Sauron's. I suppose this is fair enough but why do they call him "Aruman" in some scenes and "Saruman" in others?! Have some consistency for goodness' sake!

I've already mentioned that there's little character development but I'll say it again. Not only do many of the characters look silly, the way that the film-makers have changed their character's personalities is silly too. The only characters that they manage to get right in this movie (in terms of appearance and personality) are Gollum, Legolas and Frodo. In fact I will admit that the way that they handle Frodo's character is, for me, the single redeeming feature of the movie. Don't get me wrong, I think Elijah Wood was perfectly cast in Jackson's LOTR trilogy and did a great job with the character. He was brave, innocent, kind and vulnerable. The only problem is that because of the script he was a little bit too vulnerable at times. In the scene where the Ringwraiths attack Weathertop, Wood's Frodo just drops his sword on the ground helplessly. When he gets chased by the Ringwraiths later on it's Arwen who saves him. In Bakshi's version, Frodo is slightly tougher and is therefore closer to Tolkien's book. He fights back in the Weathertop scene, and he actually tries to intimidate the Ringwraiths when he crosses the Ford of Bruinen despite being dangerously ill. Legolas looks as he should too and has an ethereal air about him. Gollum is done well in this version too although the character is better portrayed in Jackson's movies. Bakshi's version hints at Gollum's madness but Jackson's films did a much better job at showing the whole Smeagol-Gollum split personality thing.

Apart from these examples though, the film gets most of the characters wrong. Gandalf is far too manic and theatrical. They give him crazy, over-the-top hand gestures. Merry and Pippin's characters are cardboard cut-outs and have little to no personality. And oh Sam what did they do to you?! Samwise Gamgee is supposed to be brave, loyal and full of common sense. He's one of the most popular characters in the book. In this film he's extremely annoying and comes across as a complete weirdo! Treebeard's brief appearance in this film will also be very confusing to anyone who hasn't read the book. Oh, and the fight scenes are boring in this movie too.

Basically, Bakshi's film is watchable as a curiosity and if you're a die-hard LOTR fan then you might want to check it out. However, it's severely lacking in the quality of the Peter Jackson films - let alone Tolkien's book!

Rating: 2/5


Matilda Mi said...

I could write such a rant about this film! Okay I'll just say I almost cried because of Sam and I think Treebeard looks like a plucked chicken. Also, the song that the Lothlórien elves sing for Gandalf's "lament" sounds really cheerful! :D

Hannah said...

Do it! Write that rant for your own blog! I'd love to read it! : D

The way they handled Sam is by far the worst thing about this film for me. I can't really remember Gandalf's Lament - it's been a while since I last saw this film - but I'll take you word for it about it being too cheerful.