DVD: The Lord of the Rings (1978)

An animated motion picture film adaptation of Tolkien’s epos, directed by Ralph Bakshi. A sequel was originally planned but never saw the light of the day, which is the reason behind the abrupt ending immediately after the victory at Helm’s Deep, as depicted in The Two Towers. In 1980 the production company Rankin Bass produced the animated The Return of the King, picking up the thread from 1978’s The Lord of the Rings and covering the final novel of the trilogy. In all other regards, the two movies are unrelated.

The Lord of the Rings is a unique interpretation of Tolkien’s book. It makes extensive use of a technique known as rotoscoping, where a live action recording is projected onto a glass panel, allowing the animators to trace the movements and re-draw them realistically. As in the animated motion picture Heavy Metal by the same director, Bakshi relies on a mix of various styles, traditional and contemporary. Together with the psychedelic, science fiction-inspired backgrounds, the live action-tracing almost adds a Brechtian sensation of “verfremdung” to the adaptation. The animation style is also reminiscent of Ralph Bakshis’s animated fantasy film Fire and Ice.

Due perhaps to the compression of the plot The Lords of the Rings does feel like a slightly shallow affair, where the primary function of the characters is to carry the action forwards. The voice characterisations by William Squire (Gandalf), John Hurt (Aragorn), Christopher Guard (Frodo) and others are certainly examples of pleasing diction, but they do not contribute much towards making the characters seem alive. Visually the film holds plenty of surprises, and the rotoscoping technique gives us some of the eeriest ring-wraiths of any Tolkien movie adaptation to date.

Reg. 2 DVD released by Warner Home Video.