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The Lord of the Rings
Warner Bros./Warner Bros. . R4 . COLOR . 128 mins . PG . PAL


When it comes to the realm of fantasy literature, the name of J.R.R. Tolkien will forever be at the forefront of the genre as the author of one the most beloved works of imaginative fiction ever conceived, the epic The Lord of the Rings. Tolkien, an Oxford philologist who specialised in the twin fields of language and literature, first published his enduring masterpiece in three volumes (The Fellowship of the Ring, The Two Towers, and The Return of the King) between 1954 and 1956 and, in doing so, instantly gained legions of avid devotees - not to mention, lavish praise. In 1956, W.H. Auden commented in “The New York Times” that the trilogy, in some respects, had even surpassed Milton’s Paradise Lost.

Almost impossible to describe in a brief synopsis, Bakshi’s film adaptation of The Lord of the Rings revolves around the perilous quest of a hobbit, Frodo Baggins, the unfortunate recipient of the One Ring - an artefact imbued with the forces of Darkness and the lost property of the Dark Lord, Sauron, an ominous figure who resides in the shadowy realm of Mordor. Unable to keep the ring or destroy it through conventional means, Frodo elects to travel deep into the dark heart of Mordor, where the artefact must be cast into the Cracks of Doom - as the fires that have forged the ring are the only means with which it can be destroyed. However, Frodo will not be alone in his journey, for he is accompanied by the Grey Wizard, Gandalf, and the loyal hobbits, Samwise, Meriadoc, and Pippin.

Relentlessly pursued by Sauron's hooded Ringwraiths and stalked by the insidious Gollum, Frodo's intrepid team must endure personal hardship, betrayal, their own insecurities, and death...

Influencing everything in popular culture from Star Wars to Led Zeppelin and revitalising the fantasy genre almost single-handedly, The Lord of the Rings - with its massive scope and fantastical nature - had long been considered to be unfilmable for a live-action motion picture. Therefore, it was decided that the auteur of American adult animation, Ralph Bakshi (who rose to notoriety with the 1972 satire Fritz the Cat and the controversial Coonskin in 1974) would direct the long-awaited film adaptation as a cartoon feature. With a budget of $8 million dollars, The Lord of the Rings shared a creative affinity with Bakshi’s previous film, Wizards (1977) - a cautionary tale on the evils of Nazism and the abuse of technology - with his then-innovative use of rotoscoping.

Essentially, the rotoscope technique involved the shooting of live actors in black-and-white photography and then tracing over them onto film. The cast were not only required to voice their respective characters, but they also had to physically act their parts in full costume; in addition, the production employed the services of a multitude of extras and stuntpersons for use in the picture’s numerous crowd and battle scenes. Whilst this procedure gave Wizards a surreal, but effective, atmosphere, with The Lord of the Rings it completely destroys any semblance of “reality” to the perception of the viewer - the effects appear transparent, making the rotoscoped sections look “artificial.”

Produced and financed by Saul Zaentz, (producer of the Oscar winning One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest) The Lord of the Rings was released in November 1978 and proved to be, with regards to its relatively inexpensive budget, a major commercial success. However, the film received widespread criticism for the suggested homosexual nature of the relationship between Frodo and Sam, the brutal disemboweling of Tolkien’s story which omitted vital characters - most notably, Tom Bombadil - and scenes that only succeeded in making the picture more confused and incomprehensible. Even to Tolkien fans. But perhaps the most contentious issue involves The Lord of the Rings’ abrupt end.

The film encompasses only the first two volumes of The Lord of the Rings trilogy - The Fellowship of the Ring and the first half of The Two Towers. According to Bakshi and his production team, intentions were made to produce a sequel that would contain the second half of The Two Towers and the series' conclusion, The Return of the King; however, his plans were discarded as the first film was subjected to condemnation and withering reviews from hostile critics and fans alike. Instead, producers Arthur Rankin Jr. and Jules Bass brought The Lord of the Rings to a resolution of sorts with their made-for-television movie, The Return of the King (1980).

Remarking on the difficulties of bringing Tolkien’s vision to the screen, Bakshi said: “The Lord of the Rings is not a comic book. It is totally realistic. But it wouldn’t be believable in live action with people dressed up in Orc suits, or as a standard cartoon.”


The Lord of the Rings is presented in its original 1.85:1 screen aspect ratio, and is anamorphic.

For a film that is 22 years old, the transfer is quite superb. Detail is sharp, providing excellent definition. Black levels are high and solid; as this is an animated picture, any reference to shadow detail is completely irrelevant. Saturation is beautifully rendered with the film’s colour palette - consisting of rich and vibrant reds, blues, and rustic browns - exhibiting no bleeding whatsoever. There are no discernible MPEG artefacts, however, there is evidence of minor, but not intrusive, grain throughout the film. Film artefacts are a minimum, and are most prominent during sequences in which Bakshi has used stock footage; yet, it cannot be deemed of major concern.

There is one notable instance of inappropriate lip sync at 48:51, but this can be attributed to post-production work with the original film, and may not be indicative of the actual transfer itself. Despite the fact that this title is a single sided, dual layered disc, no layer transition was detected by my DVD player.

The Lord of the Rings features three audio selections: the English Dolby Digital 2.0, the French Dolby Digital 1.0, and the Italian Dolby Digital 1.0 sound tracks. Although dialogue and sound are clear and audible at all times, there seems to be a hollowness associated with the sound field - in particular, Leonard Rosenman’s grating and melodramatic film score proves to be perhaps its greatest casualty, with his screeching scythe-like orchestral movements displaying a tendency to be quite shrill at times. Indeed, the audio lacks that certain amount of depth - and, more critically, adequate bass - it needs in order to achieve a more balanced feel; nonetheless, the presentation is somewhat serviceable for a film of this nature.

The additional “material” included on this disc is both ludicrously inadequate and insulting, consisting nothing more of a credit listing of the film’s voice actors’ and their respective roles; perhaps it is cynical to suggest that if viewers are truly interested, they should stay until the film’s end credits. No trailers are provided, and there are no biographical details on Bakshi or notes on the motion picture’s production; this lack of features represent a lost opportunity and seem to indicate an air of complete indifference by the distributor.

Arthur C. Clarke once remarked that Frank Herbert’s Dune was incomparable to any other literary work - except for Tolkien’s The Lord of the Rings - in regards to both books’ intricate world-building and narrative scope. Bakshi’s film adaptation suffers for the same reasons as David Lynch’s Dune (1984); in order to compress the minimal storyline into a two hour motion picture, vast portions of Tolkien’s back story and character development had to be sacrificed, leaving The Lord of the Rings a soulless and, perhaps worst, convoluted effort that is impossible to follow. Also, the producers' insane decision to change Saruman’s name to Aruman in order to stop confusion with Sauron is pointless - especially when both names continue to be used for the same character.

Artistic license aside, there is much to despise about Bakshi’s film. Undoubtedly, the greatest crime is that a wondrous tale that embraces every facet of human empathy is deprived of one of the ingredients which made it great - emotion. Yet, this fatally flawed version of The Lord of the Rings should serve as an introduction for those not acquainted with the magic of J.R.R. Tolkien, and as a precursor for the imminent arrival of, hopefully, the definitive film version from New Zealand director Peter Jackson (Heavenly Creatures, Braindead) in December 2001.

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  •   And I quote...
    "With this abysmal effort, director Ralph Bakshi should be indicted on charges relating to the prostitution of art..."
    - Shaun Bennett
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