The Lord of the Rings by JRR Tolkien is hailed as one of the best literary series of the last century. In the 60 years since Tolkien wrote the books that make up the trilogy, The Fellowship of the Ring, The Two Towers and The Return of the King, millions of people have read and enjoyed them. They chronicle Frodo Baggins's attempt to return the master ring of the Dark Lord to its place of creation and destroy it. Therefore, it was only a matter of time that a film would be made to try and show the scope of the books on film, and in 1979 it happened.
Directed by Ralph Bakshi, the film was meant to be the first of two films, which covered the entire span of the book. The film was animated, with exciting new animation techniques being brought forward to enrich the experience. At two-and-a-half hours in length, it was truly an epic achievement, but it never received the recognition it richly deserved and is now known as the definitive version of trying to put The Lord of the Rings into a different medium.
The proposed sequel was never made. There are several rumoured reasons for doing this, and one of the most popular is that Bakshi started making the first film before he had bought the rights to the third book. When he failed to get them, he was faced with finishing the film at a suitable place or cancelling the film all together. The result was a classic piece of cinema with, in parts, magnificent animation and one of the best feature-length animations of all time.
However, the film has always been heavily denigrated and dismissed by purists who try comparing it to the literary original. The critics also criticise the way bits were left out and the lack of characterisation and character development
Creating Adventures in Middle Earth
One of the main problems that hardcore fans can't handle is the fact that the film ends halfway through the second book. Bakshi had wanted to call the film The Lord of the Rings Part One. However, the producers said that the audience wouldn't come to see half a film and decided to release it without the 'Part One'. When audiences left the cinema confused and outraged because they thought they were going to see a animation covering the three books, the producers realised their mistake, and quickly changed the title back to the original.
Another reason that the film wasn't the classic that it yearned to be was because of the animation techniques used. Some of the animation was considered sloppy and was not up to usual 'Disney standard'. Some argue that some of the characters look too similar to each other (for example the orcs looking too similar to the Ringwraiths who pursue Frodo throughout the story).
At the time the cartoon was released, there was no CGI1 for animators to work with, so Bakshi combines traditional animation techniques with the painting over of actual actors to give the film a more realistic tone. At times this works magnificently, as with the initial meeting between Frodo and Gandalf to discuss the One Ring where Gandalf's blue cloak itself is simply marvellous because it moves more realistically than anything animated previously. Other times, like Frodo doing a dance inside an inn while painted-over actors cheer him on didn't work as well. Again, though, at the time this was cutting-edge animation.
The technique of rotorscope (using real actors and then tracing over them to make them look like animations) was never the most aesthetically pleasing technique, but it still remains a weird and inspired idea. Even this did not stop Bakshi from portraying a more realistic Middle Earth than had ever been shown before.
One of the films major strengths is the voice acting. The highlight is John Hurt's portrayal of Aragorn, which, in the opinion of some, is one of the best pieces of voice acting in cinema history. Also, William Squire puts in an awe-inspiring performance as Gandalf. Peter Woodthorpe's portrayal of Gollum, a role he revived a few years later for BBC Radio's exhaustive 13-hour dramatisation, is now known as the definitive representation of Gollum. Andre Morrel, although having the small part as Elrond, also delivers a powerful performance. The other players include Christopher Guard as Frodo and Anthony 'C-3PO' Daniels as Legolas.
Another mistake was the marketing of the film. The film was marketed generally for children. However, this definitely is not a Disney cartoon - one that all the family can sit and watch - and should not be viewed by children under ten years of age without adult supervision. This is due to some of the violent fight scenes, and moments involving the Ringwraiths might really give children nightmares.
Why Can't You Just Sit and Watch It?
Due to several mistakes, Bakshi's version of The Lord of the Rings is more cult film than mainstream. Even though 20 years have passed since its first screening, there exists still the faction of people who think the film is a classic and those who hate it.
One of those who hates the film has a web site that nit-picks over every bit of the it, providing constant criticism and smart comments, and in the words of some, destroying a classic piece of cinema.
In 1980 the film The Return of the King was released. It starred Orson Bean, John Huston and Roddy McDowell and was directed by Arthur Rankin Jr and Jules Bass, the team behind the animated version of The Hobbit2. It picked up the story from were The Lord of the Rings left off; however, the animation techniques are somewhat different, and a totally different voice cast was used. Although this finished off the trilogy, it was nowhere as good as its predecessor.