Welcome to part 2 of Ralph Bakshi Month. Last week we took a look at Wizards, a turning point in Bakshi’s career where he was leaning away from his crude early years and was dabbling in fantasy. The next step is what could be considered his most ambitious project: adapting the beloved Lord of the Rings series into film.
Ten years ago, filmmaker Peter Jackson revolutionized the way that fantasy movies were made with his groundbreaking adaptation of JRR Tolkein’s Lord of the Rings trilogy. To this day they are among my all time favorite movies and forever changed the way that I look at film. In fact, it’s been so successful that people who look back on Bakshi’s adaptation of the first two books from 1978 see it as a joke, both from a filmmaking and adaptation standpoint. But is all this hatred really justified? Well when you compare the two, theJacksonfilms had a lot more to work with, including much more advanced technology and CG and a nearly infinite budget. Bakshi wasn’t fortunate enough to have those resources, but he had just as much passion and ambition asJacksondid, even if all the odds were against him. Plus, both had the books as a direct referential point and both were dedicated to sticking to the book as possible. So how well was Bakshi able to do this?
Like I said before, a lot of people have been incredibly unkind to the movie it pales in comparison to the Jacksonmovies, but if you strip that away, it’s still a reasonably faithful adaptation despite some major cuts. When Bakshi took up the offer, he intended to cram all three books into one movie, an impossible task when you consider that the three separate Jacksonmovies were each three hours long and still had to make a few cuts. As a result, Bakshi was able to squeeze in most of The Fellowship of the Ring and half of The Two Towers in. (The rest was picked up by Rankin and Bass, but trust me, it’s not worth it.) But the parts that were lost such as theOldForest and Tom Bombadil, were never really that significant and didn’t move the plot along, so their loss was not a big one.
The animation is spectacular and very reminiscent of the drawings that Tolkein made to accompany his books. The imagery in his books is very specific and descriptive, so you’d have to put some serious effort into messing that up. The character designs themselves are kind of hit and miss. Some like Frodo and Gandalf look very authentic and believable, but others like Sam and Aragorn (especially Sam) were really weird looking. The same can be said for the voice acting, which was adequate for the most part (But again, Sam was way too cartoony and over the top.) with a few stand out performances from John Hurt and William Squire as Aragron and Gandalf respectively. Although I must admit that most of them can act really over the top at some points. Let’s just say that there’s a lot of unnecessary shout and finger wiggling. Then we get to the rotoscoping, which although can be distracting, work really well considering what they were used for. This was a time when every character had to be animated individually by hand, and since this was an expensive and time consuming process, Bakshi took this route to save time and money, and, as a result, makes things much more effective.
The biggest flaw of the movie, however, is the pacing. Like I said before, Bakshi tried to cram all three books into one movie, a herculean task that could never happen without someone going bankrupt. As you could probably guess, he wasn’t able to. But he was determined, and was able to get through a lot without skewering Tolkein’s image. Most of what he was able to get on paper was straight out of the book. Sure there’s a lot of over the top moments and some scenes don’t make a lot of sense, but what he got right, he got really right. What he got wrong, however, left big gaping holes that you could fly a 747 through. Once they got through The Fellowship of the Ring, they realized they still had to get through The Two Towers and only had a half hour to do so, so they decided to chop it in half and zoom through the half they kept like the Roadrunner on meth, and the audience is just left behind with a serious case of whiplash, wondering what the hell happened. Large portions are left in the dust and never explained, and the movie is never given a proper conclusion. That is until Rankin and Bass, the team behind 1972’s The Hobbit picked up where he left off and took a big steamy crap all over The Return of the King. And no, I’m not going to take a look at that train wreck, even if you paid me. …What? … I said I’m not going to do it… Look, if you want a review of it so bad, go ask Ben fromCanada. … Don’t you give that look!
So what it all comes down to is that while Lord of the Rings had its flaws, its heart was in the right place. While it’s not quite up to par with Tolkein’s epic orJackson’s adaptation, the spirit was still present and they were able to succeed in a lot of areas. When you consider the conditions and pressure Bakshi had to work with, it could’ve ended up a lot worse.
I give Lord of the Rings 7/10.