A and A's Movie A Day

Watching movies until we run out.

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 | , , ,

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