The Lord of the Rings (1978) [retro review]

“Oh, HOORAY!”

The Scoop: 1978 PG, directed by Ralph Bakshi and starring Christopher Guard, Anthony Daniels, and John Hurt

Tagline: From J.R.R. Tolkien’s Magical The Lord of the Rings Trilogy

Summary Capsule: Hobbits, wizards, elves, dwarves and humans re-enact The Breakfast Club in Middle-Earth

Justin’s Rating: So… um… yeah… so… if you have hair on the tops of your feet… you’re a hobbit then? Just askin’.

Justin’s Review: Are you a glutton for punishment? Do you take on the challenge of bad movie reviews by saying, “Ticket for one, please!”? Are your emotional scars covered up by fresher scars covered up by emotional scabs of films that are etched into the very nightmarish realms of your subconcious? Well, then, I double-dog dare ya to sit through the cinematic torture device of The Lord of the Rings

At first thought, the concept of immortalizing J.R.R. Tolkein’s fantasy masterpiece into film is a good one, and animation was probably the only viable option for the 70’s. However, the second the opening credits scroll and you’re treated to BAD SHADOW ACTING, you’ll know you’re in a world of hurt. I mean, when animators are so lazy as to not even employ their craft during key plot explanations, one does wonder how they made a living. I expect some collected unusually shaped cow chips.

After the bad shadow acting of the intro comes the bad animation and voice acting of the film. You might not think so at first. You might even think that there’s some quality to it, since everything’s so detailed and employs plenty of motion. But then, about a minute and a half into the film, you start craving a deep desire to down some Ritalin or Valium, because all of the characters are OVERanimated. You know how Saturday morning cartoons only employ animation if it’s absolutely necessary, so that until a superhero needs to fight, he or she remains absolutely still? This is the polar opposite of that. It’s as if the cartoonists got overexcited in every scene and started to animate dozens of parts of each character’s body, so that they end up looking like they’re possessed by epileptic midgets. Their hands fly and jerk and wave, their mouths and eyes and cheeks move independantly of one another, not to mention that everyone from Gandolf to the Hobbits look as if they’re ready to step into Saturday Night Fever if you just gave them some polyester. And if that’s not your taste, then hey, some of the characters are live action actors drawn over or tinted to give them this eerie pasty look (it’s easy to spot them, they’re the only ones that look 3D).

Frodo the Hobbit (something like dwarves with big feet) comes into the possession of the One Ring, a powerful little doodad that really doesn’t do anything but make you invisible. But his wizard friend Gandolf guides him on a quest to destroy it by practically marching into the enemy headquarters and dumping it into a volcano, and Frodo is the gullible type. Frodo looks like a young Luke Skywalker, only with hairier feet, and does the wide-eyes-in-shock thing well. He’s joined on his quest by friends Sam (the gayest little hobbit in the world who says things like, “Oh, hoooooray!”) and Pippin and Merry (aka “Biggs” and “Wedge”). He also picks up a buttload of extras along the way, pushing the overacting envelope even further, including Aragorn the American Indian, Legolas the “you’ll swear half the time he’s a she” elf, Boromir the Viking with his horny hat, and Gimli the apathetic dwarf.

The main problem, amongst the swarms of smaller inconsiderations, is that Tolkein’s 3-book epic is nearly impossible to scale down to a cartoon. Wait, did I say nearly impossible? I meant impossible. The first part of the movie takes its time setting up the plot and characters, but by the time they get to the Fellowship, the plot goes into hyperdrive. You’re hearing names and places and events shot at you like exposition machine gun fire, scenes start jumbling out of place, and there’s a desperate edge to the second half of the film. You can hear the filmmakers going, “Crap! We’re an hour and twenty minutes in, and we still have 700 pages of the books left to cover! CRAAAAAP!” So, why not, they just end the film somewhere in the middle of the second book’s storyline. That’s right, the film The Lord of the Rings is really just The Lord of Part of The Ring, But We’ll Get The Other Part Finished One of These Days. Truly idiotic. So thus, even if you’re a die-hard fan of the books and can stomach jerky animation, you’ll still be left in the lurch without the complete story.

Depending on your mood and appetite for masochism, The Lord of the Rings can be either completely unwatchable pig vomit, or one of the best movies to mock with friends. So break out your fantasy wardrobe and pretend this film never happened… never happened… never happened… .

Legolas, does the words "loose jeans" mean anything to you and your tights there?

Intermission!

  • The hideously bad silhouette acting during the intro segment
  • 17 years pass in the shire. And they show all of them.
  • Gandolf’s staff looks like the gastrointestinal tract stretched out and frozen
  • Gandolf’s one freaky looking mother! And his eyebrows look like dove wings
  • The funky wizard light show!
  • The Nazgul apparently double as zombie actors on the weekend
  • Frodo’s dance and song… clap along at home, kids!
  • Bad guy horses have glowing blue eyes… cool!
  • Many crowd scenes are live-action film that was tinted.
  • The Nazgul are live-action costumed actors filmed in photo-negative.
  • The river that the Nazgul fall in looks like a root beer float
  • Those psychadelic backdrops
  • Giant tentacles are considerate enough to close the doors
  • The slo-mo Orc
  • Aragorn, being chased by a horde of Orcs, stops and waves his sword around saying, “Come no closer!” And the orcs stop and gnash their teeth, outnumbered 1 to 30.
  • The Balrog wears moon boots
  • Fireworks rings… I want one!
  • This film covers only the first two books of Tolkien’s trilogy: “Fellowship of the Ring” and “The Two Towers.” Bakshi intended to produce a second film to finish the story, but those plans fell apart. Instead, producers Rankin and Bass, who made The Hobbit, made The Return of the King for TV.
  • Filmed with live actors in black-and-white and rotoscoped, each animation cel drawn over a film frame of an actor. The cast not only voiced the characters, they physically acted their roles in costume. Costumed extras and stuntpersons were also used.

Groovy Quotes

Gandalf: One ring to rule them all; one ring to find them. One ring to keep them all, and in the darkness bind them!

Boromir: Why do you speak of hiding and destroying?

Various Characters: Oh, HOORAY!

If you liked this movie, try these:

  • The Hobbit
  • The Return of the King
  • Fellowship of the Ring
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5 Comments

  1. I think this is more a case of looking back from 30 years of animation improvements and being spoiled by a big-budget CGI remake.

    For late seventies and early 80s independent animation, this looked good. Rotoscoping looks dated now, but only because they seriously refined motion capture for film and gaming. Coloring live action looks cheap, but back then you didn’t have things like computer-generated inbetweens, so all animation was a seriously time and labor-intensive pursuit. Animation has advanced tremendously in such a short time.

    It’s not Bakshi’s best at all, but I think it isn’t as horrible as you think. I’d recommend to try these though over the LOTR trilogy, as you’ve probably seen them if this interests you, and these are much better Ralph Bakshi films:

    -American Pop
    -Fire and Ice
    -Wizards

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