Chapter 2

Bakshi’s movie ‘The Lord of the Rings’ (1978)

2.01Outlines of the animated movie, various aspects

In 1977 producers Jules Bass and Arthur Rankin Jr. published an animated TV movie on the material of Tolkien’s ‘The Hobbit’. This, based upon the fact that ‘The Hobbit’ was, in a way, a children’s book and that animation at that time was, mostly, a genre for children, turned out to become rather simple, with somewhat cute and cuddly drawn Hobbits and Dwarves, but, as it was consistently so, it resulted in a visually coherent and tight movie. Bass and Rankin’s ‘The Hobbit’ seems never to have been translated into German, and is therefore not a part of this analysis.

Shortly after the relative success of ‘The Hobbit’ animator and animation director Ralph Bakshi started working on an animated movie to cover LOTR. The storyline of LOTR, however, proved to be much more complicated and less linear than that of ‘The Hobbit’. There are various opinions on the topic, but it is highly probable that Bakshi tried to cover the entire three volumes of LOTR, but failed to do so, as time and money was short.

In order to produce as cheaply as possible Bakshi made use of three techniques. He used Rotoscope, which is a method of filming stand ins in cheap black and white film and then tracing the animation cel by cel over the filmed material. In this way animators do not have to create the movement phases and are able to work much quicker. The result also delivers much more natural movements than traditional animation, but appears different in style. Bakshi filmed these scenes in Spain to cut costs even more.

In crowded scenes like the ones at the Prancing Pony and battle scenes as well as some close ups, his work was even more simplified as he filmed actors again on black and white material, this time in costume and make up. He then merely tinted the frames to create an image of a drawn picture. These scenes are clearly and obviously discernable from the ones created using the Rotoscope method.

The third technique used tinted black and white film, exactly like the second one, but here he did not even bother to film it himself. A number of the battle scenes at Helm’s Deep featuring masses of Rohan warriors on horseback and Orcs is tinted material he simply took out of Sergej Eisenstein’s classic ‘Alexander Nevsky’ (1938). In some frames Orc teeth were painted in and the shapes of the Orcs were somewhat altered, but the material is that of Eisenstein having Russians fight against Germans in the 13th century.

As mentioned above, Bakshi, in spite of all the simplifications, still proved unable to create the whole of LOTR. The final movie as published covers the whole of ‘The Fellowship of the Ring’ and most of ‘The Two Towers’, but does not reach the plot of ‘The Return of the King’. It ends, like Jackson’s second movie ‘Lord of the Rings – The Two Towers’ (2002), before Frodo and Sam reach Shelob’s lair, but does not, unlike Jackson, show the flooding of Isengard, although both plot elements are part of Tolkien’s second volume ‘The Two Towers’, as is the scene, in which Gandalf drives Saruman out of Orthanc, which is not shown in any movie.

The suspicion that the movie was intended to be longer, but eventually was not finished as planned, derives mostly from the fact, that it ends rather abruptly after the battle of Helm’s Deep, leaving the audience full of anticipation of a sequel. The movie was not a financial success, appealing to neither an adult audience, as the Hobbits were still drawn too cute and cuddly, nor to a younger age group, as it featured a number of rather bloody battle scenes.

Although Bakshi at first intended to produce a sequel to complete the story, these plans fell apart. Eventually Bass and Rankin, the two producers, who had made the first animated Tolkien movie, created a sequel in the same style as ‘The Hobbit’. Their ‘The Return of the King’ (1980) was again produced directly for TV and kept its storyline, more or less, close to Tolkien’s third volume. Thus it did not cover the gaps of ‘The Two Towers’ Bakshi had left at the end of his movie. This means that the few scenes described above remain unanimated. Like ‘The Hobbit’ (1977), ‘The Return of the King’ (1980) was not translated into German and will not furthermore be the subject of my analysis.

The actors that played the visible parts of the characters in ‘The Lord of the Ring’ were not included in the credits, as, in 1978 only actors with speaking parts were allowed to have onscreen credit and none of the physical actors provided the voice to his character. Actually Billy Barty, founder of the Little People of America, who had provided the visual rotoscoped part of both Bilbo Baggins and Sam Gamgee in Bakshi’s movie, challenged this rule. It is due to his initiative following this movie, that today extras, body doubles, stuntmen and the like receive their deserved onscreen credit.

Of the actors that did provide voices for Bakshi’s movie the best known would be British actor John Hurt, who spoke the role of Aragorn and Anthony Daniels, known for his role as C-3PO in the Star Wars movies, as the Elf Legolas. Actors Peter Woodthorpe, who voiced Gollum and Graham Michael Cox as Boromir were later to appear in the same roles in the BBC radio drama in 1981.

chapter back - chapter forward