Ralph Bakshi's animated version of the seminal fantasy trilogy by J.R.R. Tolkein, made by overlaying animation on live action actors (a unique pre-computer graphics technique). Set in the fictional world of Middle Earth, The Lord of the Rings tells the epic story of Frodo, a Hobbit who must defeat the evil figure Sauron who holds the Ring of Power, which controls the fate of all Middle Earth. On the way he and his band of friends and cousins must do battle with Black Riders, a Balrog and various other animated perils.
Ralph Bakshi's 1978 animated adaptation of The Lord of the Rings
is a bold, colourful, ambitious failure. Severely truncated, this two-hour version tackles only about half the story, climaxing with the battle of Helm's Deep and leaving poor Frodo and Sam still stuck on the borders of Mordor with Gollum. Allegedly, the director ran out of money and was unable to complete the project. As far as the film does go, however, it is a generally successful attempt at rendering Tolkien's landscapes of the imagination. Bakshi's animation uses a blend of conventional drawing and rotoscoped (traced) animated movements from live-action footage. The latter is at least in part a money-saving device, but it does succeed in lending some depth and a sense of otherworldly menace to the Black Riders and hordes of Orcs: Frodo's encounter at the ford of Rivendell, for example, is one of the movie's best scenes thanks to this mixture of animation techniques. Backdrops are detailed and well-conceived, and all the main characters are strongly drawn. Among a good cast, John Hurt (Aragorn) and C3PO himself, Anthony Daniels (Legolas), provide sterling voice characterisation, while Peter Woodthorpe gives what is surely the definitive Gollum (he revived his portrayal a couple of years later for BBC Radio's exhaustive 13-hour dramatisation). The film's other outstanding virtue is avant-garde composer Leonard Rosenman's magnificent score in which chaotic musical fragments gradually coalesce to produce the triumphant march theme that closes the picture. None of which makes up for the incompleteness of the movie, nor the severe abridging of the story actually filmed. Add to that some oddities--such as intermittently referring to Saruman as "Aruman"--and the final verdict must be that this is a brave yet ultimately unsatisfying work, noteworthy as the first attempt at transferring Tolkien to the big screen but one whose virtues are overshadowed by incompleteness. --Mark Walker