A and A's Movie A Day

Watching movies until we run out.

Movie 572 – The Lord of the Rings (1978)

The Lord of the Rings (1978) – September 23rd, 2011

Following last night’s movie, we move on to a very differently done adaptation of Tolkien’s works. Instead of the very cartoonish style of Rankin and Bass, we have here the rotoscoped animation from Ralph Bakshi. I know it’s got a very mixed reputation and to be honest, I’m not really a zealot about it in either direction. That being said, I do like it. I vastly prefer the newer Peter Jackson version of the story, but I don’t dislike this. I will grant, however, that it is an odd taste and I am well aware that my opinion will not be shared by many others.

I first saw this movie long before I knew what rotoscoping was. I watched it and for some reason I really liked it, odd as it is, and so it remained in my head that it was something I enjoyed even long after the last time I’d seen it. Some years later I learned about rotoscoping and what it meant and how it was done. Personally, I think it’s fascinating and produces some very odd stuff. I don’t know if it was the best choice of medium for this particular story, but there are some bits and pieces that I think work very nicely. Oh, it’s far from perfect, and I have some very specific issues (such as the actor who played Gimli being only slightly shorter than the actors playing the humans and elves and this not being adjusted in post), but I don’t have any real hate for it.

The biggest issue I have with this movie is that while it does tell the story fairly well, it’s paced horribly. Part of it is that the original book is incredibly dense. Even the incredibly long special editions of the new versions are missing whole chunks of story and entire characters, so it’s no shock that the story is compressed more than a bit in this animated version and that certain things were lost. But add to that the odd choice to carry the story out of the first book and into the second and it just feels off.

I won’t go into detail about the story, since really, I don’t think I have to. The basic points are all ther. Bilbo Baggins decides to leave the Shire and handing over his home and the One Ring to his nephew, Frodo. Gandalf later realizes what the ring Frodo has actually is and sends him and his friends off to Rivendell. Once at Rivendell a fellowship of Gandalf, the four Hobbits, two men, an elf and a dwarf is formed to take the ring to Mordor to destroy it. Action ensues. But where the original book ends with Frodo and Sam parting ways with the rest of the fellowship after Boromir tries to take the ring, this movie continues. We follow Frodo and Sam and see them realize that Gollum has been following them, then we see them capture him to force him to be their guide to Mordor. We also follow the rest of the fellowship. We see Merry and Pippin meet up with Treebeard and remeet Gandalf and we travel to Rohan and see the confrontation between Gandalf and King Theoden. And finally we see the Battle of Helm’s Deep. Well, not finally. I believe the Frodo and Sam bit is the actual end of the movie.

Consider that for a moment. If you’re not terribly familiar with the original books it might not sound like a bad thing. After all, why not end with a big climactic battle? The trouble is that the big climactic battle is actually the big climactic battle from the first half of the second book in the trilogy. In the new versions it’s the climax of the second movie. Here it happens and then there’s no follow-up to it. I believe this was done in the hopes of making the trilogy into a pair of movies, each handling roughly a book and a half. But then the second movie never got made. Not by Bakshi, anyhow. This wasn’t a two movie deal or anything. So when it didn’t meet with critical raves the second proposed movie never got funded. Instead Rankin and Bass took up the reins again and we got tomorrow’s movie. Alas.

Here’s the thing: I think the semi-realistic, dreamlike and sometimes very dark animation style of the rotoscoping works. It’s a stylistic thing and somewhat a matter of taste, but I do find it interesting. Some day I’m going to have to go back and watch the movie far more carefully than I did this evening as I’m not sure if this was intentional or simply a side effect of the rotoscoping process, but there’s a tendency for the darker parts of the movie to have more texture left over from the original live action footage. And I can see how that could be used very interestingly indeed. The goblins and orcs, for example, tend to show up in darker lighting than the more heroic characters, so they end up with more artifacts from the live action, making them grittier and more shadowy. The heroes, on the other hand, are shown in brighter lighting, resulting in less texture and a more solid appearance. And I can see how this side effect of the process could be used artistically to portray the differences between the heroes and the villains. Unfortunately, I suspect not quite enough thought or effort went into it to achieve such a thing. Still, it’s one reason I really do like the rotoscoping.

There are quite a few changes made to the story, which is only to be expected. In this version it’s Legolas who meets them after Frodo is stabbed by one of the Nazgul. It’s actually supposed to be an elf named Glorfindel, who’s got a huge history associated with him from The Silmarillion but who is otherwise not really crucial to the story of Frodo and the fellowship. It makes perfect sense to me to have changes like that. What I’m not terribly fond of is the visual depictions of the humans in the movie. They’ve got a very barbaric quality to them, with both Aragorn and Boromir wearing tiny little tunics with no pants or leggings and Boromir wearing a helmet with horns on. The lack of pants had me giggling far too much, what with the “Gondor needs no pants” thing that came from the meme where key words in famous movie lines are replaced by the word “pants”. But it’s also bizarre to me. Apparently Aragorn is the Pantsless Ranger. Me? I’d want something on my legs if I was going mucking around in the woods in all seasons.

That being said, my issues with the movie are mostly small things. They’re certainly not enough to quash my enjoyment of it. It’s entirely possible that said enjoyment is driven by nostalgia, but watching it tonight with a more critical eye than I did when I was a kid, I still have to say I think it’s a solid movie. I don’t expect everyone to like it. I do expect that the animation style will turn some people off by its very nature. But I don’t really care. I just wish that the second movie had been made to follow this one and made by the same people. The dark semi-realism of the animation here is, in my opinion, far more suited to the story than the cartoonish goofiness of Rankin and Bass. But that’s a complaint for tomorrow.

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September 23, 2011 - Posted by | daily reviews | , , ,

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