A and A's Movie A Day

Watching movies until we run out.

Movie 573 – The Return of the King (1980)

placeholderThe Return of the King (1980) – September 24th, 2011

Where do I even begin? I’d seen this ages ago and unlike the other two animated adaptations, this one just didn’t stick with me. I had vague memories of songs and unpleasantness and that was about it. Now I know, I must have blocked it out of disappointment. It’s a truly sad conclusion to the animated trio of movies and I’m going to have to watch the new version of the last book several times to get this thing out of my head. And while I’m more than happy to re-watch the new adaptations any time, it’s a sad state of affairs when one is watching them to clear out the memory of Meriadoc Brandybuck as voiced by Casey Kasem. Never should one have to wonder if Merry is going to say “zoinks,” though I suppose Hobbits do tend to smoke a lot so there is that to consider.

We really only bought this because it seemed silly to have the animated versions of The Hobbit and The Lord of the Rings and not the conclusion. I don’t know, now, why that was so silly. We should have known better, really. Andy had a much clearer memory of it than I did and we still purchased it. Maybe he likes it better than I do. All I can say is that about five minutes in I started to tune out. Why? Because it became apparent that this movie was picking up from The Hobbit, character designs, singing and all. And while that style worked okay in a story that was intended for a younger audience, and the songs in that were taken from Tolkien’s writing, I honestly think it is terribly ill-suited to this story. And these songs? No. Not Tolkien. No.

It’s an odd sort of follow-up, having to deal with the strange pacing of the Bakshi movie that preceded it. After all, the last one ended in the middle of The Two Towers, with Helm’s Deep dealt with but the travels of Sam, Frodo and Gollum only just beginning. And on the flip side, since they had all that stuff from The Hobbit this version picks up from that too. I mean, why bother actually animating what was going on in this story when they could make flashback montages? Apparently it was always intended to be made as a sequel to The Hobbit, regardless of the Bakshi film, which I just find bizarre. Sure, let’s omit the entire first two books. That sounds like a grand idea.

There are some events in this one from the second book, but for the most part it is an extremely truncated version of The Return of the King. It’s heavily narrated and contains quite a few songs, making it feel more like an animated musical Cliff Notes version of the book as opposed to an actual adaptation. I’d go over the plot, but like I said, I tuned out. I know things happened, but I don’t really care. And I don’t think the movie much cared either, given the aforementioned narration. I do recall that a lot of time was spent on Sam carrying the One Ring and considering what he might do with it, making the world one huge garden full of beautiful plants. So instead of a Dark Lord they would have a Gardener? Not dark, but green and bountiful as the harvest? Riotous as the vines and stronger than the roots? All shall weed and despair? Whatever. I rolled my eyes whenever the movie tried to make it this big damn hero moment.

The movie does seem to focus mainly on the Sam and Frodo aspect of the story, but there are bits from the rest as well. The battle at Minas Tirith and Denethor’s madness and all that is indeed in there, but it has so much less impact in this movie than it should because there’s no real lead-in to it all. Who gives a damn that Eowyn pulls off her helmet and reveals herself to be a woman when facing down the Witch King in the Battle of Pelenor Fields when we weren’t ever really given any time with her prior to that? The whole Gondor aspect of the plot feels so much less for the lack of time spent on it. And this isn’t a long movie at all. It’s under 100 minutes all told, so the lack of details and plot was clearly intentional. Someone decreed that they didn’t matter so much and weren’t connected to The Hobbit so they didn’t have footage to do flashbacks from so they’re not there.

I just can’t bring myself to take this movie seriously. The songs alone would disqualify it but then there’s the goofy looking character design and the complete lack of several major characters and plot points. And yet they kept in things like the Mouth of Sauron. Come on, the Mouth of Sauron is supposed to be scary, as are the Orcs. How am I supposed to take either one seriously when they’re done by Rankin and Bass? I just can’t do it. Maybe if I could have forced myself to keep my attention on the screen I’d have found more positives to say about the movie, but I couldn’t. And that should be damning enough, really.

September 24, 2011 Posted by | daily reviews | , , , | Leave a comment

The Return of the King (1980)

September 24, 2011

The Return of the King (1980)

How can such a short movie seem so interminable?

After Ralph Bakshi’s strange rotoscoped Lord of the Rings movie ends abruptly after the battle at Helm’s Deep there was a need for a conclusion to the series. This movie, produced by Rankin and Bass like the Hobbit made for TV movie that came before it, is that conclusion. What’s bizarre about this movie is that it tries to follow up on the Bakshi movie, but it is also a sort of sequel to the Rankin/Bass Hobbit. It might have made more sense if they had re-made the first two books in the style of the Hobbit before moving on to this one, but I suppose there were rights issues, and it had only been a couple years since the theatrical animated Lord of the Rings film. So this movie attempts to be a sequel to the Hobbit that assumes knowledge at least of the happenings in the first two Lord of the Rings books but does not directly follow on to the Bakshi film.

The result of this odd choice is that this movie has to spend a LOT of time explaining what’s going on. We’re eased into the action by a lengthy prologue that takes place in the house of Elrond after all the events of the great war of the ring. The movie is told in flashback as the story of how Frodo lost his finger and the one ring as related to Bilbo. I suppose that from a story-telling perspective it’s slightly preferable to just a lengthy voice-over (although there are plenty of those later on) but it does somewhat eliminate any tension in the story since we know at the start how things are going to end up.

This movie also suffers from the problem the Hobbit film had, which is that the action scenes are necessarily truncated by budgetary restrictions. It’s not nearly as pronounced here as in the Hobbit, but it is still clear that the large epic battle at Minas Tirith cannot be fully realized in animated form. Oh, there are a lot of scenes of battle and carnage, but they all feel.. somewhat elided. We get to see little highlights of the battle, but for the blow-by-blow we must rely on the narration provided by Gandalf, who explains most of what’s going on.

All this narration and the prologue, and the internal monologues of the characters combine to make this a dreadfully exposition filled movie. I’d say there’s probably more exposition than actual dialog, which makes the movie rather tedious to watch. It is the ultimate example of telling instead of showing.

Then there are the songs. The songs in the animated Hobbit movie, constant as they are, at least for the most part use Tolkien’s words. These songs were written by producer Jules Bass, and they are not very well written at that. The male chorus constantly singing about the ring bearer/the ring wearer are just another form of exposition, really, in an already exposition heavy movie. This is the movie that has the song about “Frodo of the Nine Fingers” and the famous “Where there’s a Whip There is a Way” song. The incessant singing is irritating and insipid.

I will say that the animation in this movie is significantly better, in my opinion, than that in yesterday’s film. It shows its Japanese anime roots rather more than the Hobbit did, (Such as the glowing hero pose that Sam strikes while bearing the ring) but it’s a significant step up from that film. I enjoyed seeing the character design from the Hobbit movie brought over to this deeper, more expansive story. As a movie, however, this leaves much to be desired. Amanda commented as we watched it that it felt like an abridged book on tape of the Return of the King with some animation added in. I’m very glad that Peter Jackson gifted the world with his absolutely stellar live action trilogy based on the same books, because as soon as we were done watching this we put his Fellowship of the Ring in to fulfill our Lord of the Rings needs. For decades this interminable and plodding adaptation was all that Lord of the Rings fans had, and that’s a kind of sad thing.

September 24, 2011 Posted by | daily reviews | , , , | Leave a comment