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The Lord of the Rings (1978) August 12, 2004

Posted by Dragan Antulov in Film Reviews.
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A Film Review

Copyright Dragan Antulov 1998

Sometimes, it takes a very strange course of events to lead somebody towards the literature or any other piece of art he appreciates. In my case, it all began in mid 1980-s, when I, like many of my classmates, got hold of my first home computer. Our parents believed that those new toys would help us in study. They were, naturally, wrong. Instead of solving mathematical problems or taking interest in technical studies, we were spending months in front of TV screens playing video games. One of the most popular was “Hobbit”, adventure game based on J.R.R. Tolkien’s novel. “Hobbit” was great intellectual challenge, and many of us borrowed the book from the school library only to get the clues to solve the game. Sadly, there wasn’t any need for the book’s sequel – famed fantasy epic “The Lord of the Rings”. The game was never made, except for parody called “Bored of the Rings”.

Despite that, I was actually intrigued when “The Lord of the Rings” was first aired on (then) former Yugoslav television, couple of years later. That wasn’t the first time I have ever seen adaptation of Tolkien on the small screen – one of the children’s theatres in Belgrade had their version of “Hobbit” aired (with some baby face man trying to pass as Gandalf). I also saw segments of “The Lord of the Rings” in a form of comic book. So, when I actually saw the movie, I felt somewhat familiar with the material – story about few brave heroes, members of the different mythical races, in the mission to stop the evil all-powerful sorcerer from taking control of Middle Earth. Unfortunately, due to circumstances outside of my control, I was forced to stop the viewing somewhere in the middle of the movie. Lucky for me, I had to wait only a year before the re-run, and finally I saw the whole thing. But, shortly after the closing credits I began to wonder “Is it all? First tale? It *must* be the sequel.”

A year later, when I finally added three books of Tolkien’s masterpiece to my collection, I began understanding why Ralph Bakshi’s THE LORD OF THE RINGS ended the way it ended. Seeing 1200 pages of text, able to keep me preoccupied for weeks and moths, I was again reminded of an old wisdom “Great books make mediocre movies, and vice versa”. It happens mostly because sometimes it is simply impossible to bring the rich content of hundreds or thousands of pages of the book in the hundred or less pages of the script. Film authors who try to capture book’s spirit on the screen usually fail, either by omitting too many important elements, or by stuffing material and making the movie unwatchable bore (David Lynch’s DUNE could be the nice example). Bakshi, although he somehow managed to condense the most important elements of the “Hobbit” into the first few minutes of the film, knew that he couldn’t turn entire Tolkien’s novel into two hour film, was forced to use only the first two books – “Fellowship of the Ring” and parts of “Two Towers”.

Another problem that should face any author ready to take Tolkien to the big screen is the high cost. With today’s CGI and special effects, Peter Jackson’s plans to make a feature film version aren’t so wild. Two decades ago, making an animated movie looked like the only alternative for producer Saul Zaentz. In doing so, he employed Ralph Bakshi, author of sometimes controversial animated movies, responsible for bringing adult content and sensibilities to this, until that time, almost entirely children’s genre.

Bakshi’s techniques in making this movie are somewhat similar to those employed in his WIZARDS – Sci-Fi/Fantasy epic he had made a year earlier – combination of animation with rotoscoped live footage. Here he used live actors and managed to combine them with the drawn characters, perhaps in order to make the events of the books more dramatic. That backfired a little – unlike Orcs, human characters seem a little bit too unrealistic, and many times, viewers are forced to be engaged in “who is who” game. Another thing, that might be a flaw, is amount of violence, especially bloodletting, which makes this film closer to BRAVEHEART or CONAN THE BARBARIAN than family entertainment. On the other hand, Tolkien’s original text, that was at times rather dark and adult, can be also be responsible for that.

Anyway, although inferior to the book, THE LORD OF THE RINGS is quite interesting and rather original attempt to bring literature masterpiece to the big screen. Although it mostly failed as a standalone cinematic entertainment, it served its purpose by intriguing viewers enough to yearn after more Tolkien, both on paper and on cinema.

Review written on April 19th 1998.

RATING: 6/10 (++)



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