Thursday, January 7, 2010

The [Animated] Lord of the Rings (1977, 1978, 1980)

Note: This review was originally posted on Bridge To Better Days. I am reposting it here for archival purposes. It has been backdated to the date of its original posting.

Next on my list of holiday swag is the animated Lord of the Rings "trilogy". If I'd ever watched these before, I don't remember them. And it's quite possible that I hadn't, because I recall that my first introduction to Tolkien's epic was through the original novels themselves, and if I remember that, I should be able to remember following up with the animated films. On the other hand, it's also possible that I may have seen one or more of them before reading the books, and promptly forgot about them. Regardless, the point is, I don't remember having seen these before, though I had heard of them, so it was interesting to watch them, especially with Peter Jackson's live action adaptation completed (minus The Hobbit, at least).

I put "trilogy" in quotes above (and, well, here, too) because, though there are three movies, they aren't strictly connected. The Lord of the Rings covers material from The Fellowship of the Ring and The Two Towers, whereas The Return of the King feels more like a sequel to The Hobbit (both of which are Rankin Bass productions) than a continuation of The Lord of the Rings (a Ralph Bakshi film - the same guy who did Wizards).

The Hobbit was pretty good. More or less primitive animation, but it certainly works as a [generally speaking] children's tale. The goblins were actually pretty scary, the way they were drawn, and Smaug was satisfactorily intimidating. I liked Gollum, too - he had a kind of froggy look to him, and his voice/mannerisms were an effective characterization for him, I think.

The Lord of the Rings follows in Bakshi's tradition of using a lot of rotoscoping, which means taking live action film clips and drawing over them. I think the effect worked perfectly in Wizards, but I must say, The Lord of the Rings is a story that I think would have benefited from a more coherent animation style. The rotoscoping effect is really neat, but it seems overused here, and it gets to a point where it's like the film can't decide whether it wants to be animated or live action...

Otherwise, though, the film is not bad. It is downright eerie how similar some of the voices in this film are to those used in Peter Jackson's adaptations, even down to the accents - Frodo and Sam especially. Also, Bakshi's Gollum is less froggy than Rankin Bass's, and actually looks very similar to, again, Peter Jackson's (he's got the same mannerisms, as well). There's no question in my mind that the similarities between this film and Jackson's are not purely coincidental. The story ends at the conclusion to the battle at Helm's Deep, minus Saruman's downfall, the battle of the Ents, or Frodo's encounter with Shelob.

The Return of the King, returning to the animation style of The Hobbit, suffers from trying to pick up a story right in the middle. As I mentioned above, it doesn't pick up where The Lord of the Rings left off, but instead tries to join the story right in the middle, or rather, towards the end, briefly (though maybe not brief enough) recapping everything that's happened up to that point. Some events are thus completely missed, such as those also missing from Bakshi's film - Saruman's end, Shelob, etc.

I did, however, like the depiction of Mordor in this movie. And the Watchers that guard the gates to Cirith Ungol were dealt with much more effectively here than in Peter Jackson's live action adaptation, which is one of the few sticking complaints I had about Jackson's go at the story (since those Watchers were one of the things that stuck in my mind the most from reading the original novels). Otherwise, though, this film overdid the bard treatment, throwing in so many songs that it started to feel like a musical. >.> The songs were effective, but maybe repeated a few too many times. "Where there's a whip there's a way", sung by the orcs (who look just like the creepy goblins from The Hobbit) was amusing, though.

I also liked seeing Eowyn (even if there was no sign of Arwen - I know, I know, her part in the original story wasn't so big to begin with), though the leader of the Ringwraiths had a really stupid voice. Speaking of which, I noticed that some of the Ringwraiths (minus the leader who had a dragon) were riding flying black horses. When I originally read the story, that's how I interpreted "flying steed", so it was neat seeing them depicted that way. Yeah, flying black mini-dragons make a lot more sense, and look really cool. But, well, there's something about first impressions...

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