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The precursor for a vision?
, 23 Feb. 2004
This review is from: The Lord of the Rings (Animated Version) [DVD]  (DVD)
I've read with great interest the thoughts of people who obviously are 'modern' Tolkien fanatics (late comers to the party). Whether you know the stories inside out or just like the premise of good versus evil, LOTR is a fantastic story that has homage paid to it through many major media milestones. There has been an awesome radio play that saw the modern Bilbo's actor, Ian Holm, playing the part of Frodo; there has been the inspiring and world dominating LOTR trilogy courtesy of Peter Jackson; and then there's the 70s Ralph Bakshi animated feature (cartoon is too simple a phrase to link to this film).
Bakshi obviously laboured hard to produce this movie and although it is not the polished film that Jackson has made, it was and still is a rough diamond that those who can appreciate good film making will find inspiring, interesting and altogether captivating.
I first saw this film when I was about six years old and ever since, this is the vision of Tolkien that I love the most. Seeing The Fellowship of the Ring in December 2001 brought back memories of it, as PJ obviously took elements from the Bakshi version to help him tell his story. Okay, the special effects are fantastic in the modern film – but is this all we want? Take films like Dracula; we've had modern versions made that have paled in comparison to earlier works because they have been too reliant on modern technology. PJ's version isn't a flawed film, it's just I always remember the RB version.
The characters I feel are far better 'brought to life' in the 1978 animated film: Aragorn in the PJ film is insipid, almost American in his attitude with his 'let's hunt some Orc' spiel that although rendering the new generation of action oriented film lovers dumb struck, left me thinking how much effect the US studio behind the film has really had on PJ? John Hurt's attempt, although lacking the presence of the modern actor in his time on screen, adds tension and desperation to the part that is essentially as a bodyguard who must live for nothing more than protecting the ring and its bearer.
Legolas is a rubbish character from any point of view simply because he lends no 'real' strength to the story. In the real life film he's there as a pretty boy, and in the animated version he is there as a helping hand, an extra of sorts who kills a few people and generally lends a hand talking gibberish (er… elvish I mean).
Gimli is a worthy character because he adds diversity to the story and a prologue to what the Dwarves are capable of (Moria), which in PJ's version is one of the true highlights of the film. In the RB version he's there's because he has to be there as he looks the most removed from a humanoid stature (the hobbits just look like scaled-down men after all) and he makes you remember you are watching a fantasy story.
Gandalf is class in both films; it's that easy to sort. But, I might add, he has presence in both films, just at different stages (in Moria and outside Minas Tirith in PJ's version; as a link to things past and present in the RB film).
The ring and it's master, Sauron, are definitely superior in most ways in the modern films because, although it goes against the rule of hinting at what is there instead of actually showing it in films, you see the evil and the menace that is at the heart of the story.
One part of the modern versions that I found boring and un-needed was Arwen and her association with Aragorn. Yes they are lovers; yes they signify the divide that is among men and elves and how lives can be lost emotionally through the reign of Sauron, but so much screen time on what is essentially nothing directly linked to the fellowship's journey was just an excuse for the cinemas to sell more popcorn and cola! You don't get any of this with Bakshi.
The Ring Wraiths – such magnificent characters that are key to the story. Because Sauron is not physically prominent in the film (apart form the eye in the PJ version) they are really Sauron personified and his evil motives. Ralph Bakshi did a magnificent job of animating live action footage and the scene in The Prancing Pony is chilling and terrifying, unlike its modern counterpart, which is simply formulaic.
My only defence for the Nazgul in PJ's film is in the return Of The King when Eowyn faces The Witch King – that moment when he rises from behind the decapitated Fell Beast is one of the truly electrifying moments of cinema. Well done to the Kiwi on that score.
There are so many other things I could wrangle over; Saruman and his need for power; the difference between Grima Wormtongue in the two films; but it’s one character that makes the RB version stand head and shoulders above the modern films – Gollum.
Gollum in the RB film is fantastic. He’s not got the split personality that makes the modern digital Gollum interesting, he a wild animal who shrieks and spit, claws and wails at everything that he despises – including the hobbits how carry his ‘precious’! When same Sam asks him whether he’s sneaking, he replies, “Sneakin’, Sneakin’!!!” in the shrillest, most hate-filled voice imaginable – none of this is apparent in the modern film.
The issue of the RB film not being completed makes me feel sad and elated: sad because I’ll never see the vision of what the Black Gate, Mount Doom and Minas Tirith in battle would look like, but it leaves me hoping that Frodo and Sam will make it. This story is about inspiration and provoking thought. Bakshi did this. Jackson has done it. But Bakshi’s is still the blueprint that most 20-something LOTR fans will hold dearest to.
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