Review: ‘Lord of the Rings Original Animated Classic’
Ralph Bakshi has been a visionary filmmaker and animator, whose ambitions always seemed larger than his talent. After cutting his teeth at Terry Toons, he talked his way into running Paramount’s dying animation arm before moving on to work such as the ABC Saturday morning [[[Spider-Man]]] series. He finally gained recognition when he set out to make feature-length films, beginning with the X-rated [[[Fritz the Cat]]].
Bakshi’s tastes have always run towards edgy fare and he’s produced animated film son subjects Walt Disney or Don Bluth would never have approached, such as [[[American Pop]]] and [[[Hey Good Lookin]]]’ and for that he deserves credit. Unfortunately, in just about every case, the projects have been flawed, largely because not enough money was spent on the animation or the story so they never felt finished.
In the 1970s Bakshi was in the right place at the right time when he managed to get the rights to adapt J.R.R. Tolkien’s [[[Lord of the Rings]]], a project that had previously stymied filmmakers such as Stanley Kubrick and John Boorman. He set about to create a new look for Middle-earth by using the rotoscope technique, to shoot large portions of the film as live-action and then provide the footage to his animators to essentially trace.
The results arrive Tuesday as Warner Home Video releases a combo pack edition containing Blu-ray, DVD and digital copy discs, the same day it also debuts the Peter Jackson trilogy on Blu-ray.
Tolkien fan Chris Conkling was first hired to do research then was given a shot at writing the first screenplay which oddly decided to tell most of the story in flashback from Merry’s point of view. Bakshi wisely shelved it and brought in fantasy master Peter S. Beagle to rewrite the script. Beagle, of [[[The Last Unicorn]]] fame, followed Bakshi’s instructions to preserve as much of Tolkien as was possible.
What’s interesting is how Beagle and Jackson made many of the same decisions regarding what to drop or change. While there was a huge cry about the absence of Tom Bombadil in the live-action film, he’s also gone in Bakshi’s film and no one screamed in those pre-Internet days. They also both chose to have the Ringwraiths themselves seen attacking the seemingly slumbering hobbits at Bree.
Beagle’s script is devoid of the sense of the end of an era. The elves
are not leaving for the West, although Galadriel makes mention of it.
The return of Sauron and corruption of Saruman are treated like everyday
events not harbingers of doom. The tensions between races is also
absent here while Gandalf is made to be an overly dramatic ham actor,
chewing the cel paint for all its worth.
The movie ends at the battle in Helm’s Deep, a fine place to end what
was envisioned as a two-part adaptation. And despite the film costing $4
million and earning $30 million, Bakshi had worn out his welcome at
United Artists and the rights languished until Jackson arrived.
Bakshi was faithful to the spirit of the novel and it was interesting to
see how much of the original dialogue made it into both filmed
adaptations. Where Bakshi utterly failed was to properly integrate his
foregrounds and backgrounds into something consistent and attractive.
All too often we see the foreground animated figures moving about set
against static backgrounds in a tone and style that does not match the
figure animation at all. Nor do the backgrounds, said to be inspired by
the works of painters Howard Pyle and N. C. Wyeth, help differentiate
the varied lands that make up Middle-earth.
The inconsistency continues to the main figures as well so sometimes it
appears they are really well done pieces of animation and then they go
into action and we’re then watching barely covered live-action figures
moving across the screen. This is particularly true for the Ringwraiths
and the Orcs and all the battle sequences. From a design standpoint, the
hobbits look pretty good if a little tall. Samwise is also depicted
with all the stereotypical sidekick buffoon tricks. Aragorn’s face
reminds me of a John Buscema Conan but his body is too scrawny to work
for me and the Viking look to Boromir doesn’t fit at all.
Additionally, the voices by and large are not distinctive enough to help
separate one from another. There’s little actual emotion in their
dialogue unless they’re being histrionic but it’s interesting to see
early work from John Hurt and a pre-[[[Star Wars]]] Anthony Daniels.
Leonard Roseman’s score was so generic that it robbed the film of what
little scope and epic feel it had. While Bakshi may have wanted Led
Zeppelin, that wouldn’t have worked either. Then again, most film scores
of the decade were fairly nondescript until John Williams scored that
George Lucas space fantasy and changed the game.
The movie was clearly not given loving addition as the transfer looks
untouched and therefore dirty in spots. The sound is fine, though.
The sole extra on the disc is [[[Forging Through the Darkness]]], a
thirty minute look at the production of the film. Bakshi and his
children seem largely defensive about his career and dealings with the
studios, making it somewhat uncomfortable to watch. Chris McDonnell, who
recently produced a book on Bakshi (and subsequently designed my [[[Wonder Woman]]] book) nicely helps put things into perspective. Too much time, though, is wasted using archival footage about the animation process and business, none of which has anything to do with Bakshi himself. Also, his retelling of events omits key details and it’s telling that Conkling
is the only writer on screen. Beagle’s own story is well worth including
The film has ranked by Time Out as the 36th greatest animated
film, and it also reached 90th on Online Film Critics Society’s list. It
has its fans and followers but watching it again for the first time
since I watched it in 1978, the movie is flawed at best, its animation,
barely hidden rotoscoping and poor visual effects robs the film of its