The Lord of the Rings was originally released 35 years ago today, in 1978, from director Ralph Bakshi through the Saul Zaentz Company. I hadn’t seen this film for years, and I recently picked it up on Blu-ray as the cover claimed it had been remastered.
The film is grainy and dirty for being a “remastered” version, and sadly doesn’t look any better than an old VHS version. If the film isn’t a must-have for your collection, you should wait until they actually remaster the film for high definition.
While the rotoscoping animation technique used by Bakshi was pioneering in many ways, it is a bit jarring for anyone unfamiliar with the film or the technique. Some of the background art at the beginning (in the Shire) reminded me of the work of Hannes Bok, and the art style used during anything moving quickly or moving in the background reminded me of the art style of the old Prince Valiant comics.
The music is mostly forgettable, and is more appropriate for something like The Guns of Navarone or another World War II period film, most noticeably the pieces used near the end of the film.
The character designs and regular animation are only slightly better than that found in the better Hanna-Barbera TV series, though the animation is more fluid (likely due to the rotoscoping used in its creation). I really wonder why Bakshi chose to have the elves have a constant goofy, cross-eyed look on their faces—especially Legolas. Sam is portrayed as a bit of a moron, too, something I don’t remember from the books. He was often naive, but not an idiot.
Now, before anyone gets the idea that I hate this film: I don’t. My main issue is with how the film was done. It feels like Bakshi was more interested in playing with his rotoscoping than he was in making a good film even though I know he loves the original books. There is a short documentary on the disc which gives you a little insight into Bakshi, and he talks about how he enjoyed the books. Be warned that it contains stills and clips from his decidedly family-unfriendly works such as Fritz the Cat.
As an aside, I think Peter Jackson had a fondness for this film as there are all sorts of visualizations of scenes, sets, and settings which are very, very similar to those in Jackson’s trilogy. And yes, I understand they are based on the same books, but this goes beyond that. I found it amusing.
The Lord of the Rings is genuinely groundbreaking, and it deserves a spot in animation (and film making) history, but it’s not a favorite of mine. I think it’s a good film to see, however, so I recommend you see it even if you only borrow it or rent it. It’s interesting to see how far animation has come in the 35 years since this was released.
Original Release Date: November 15, 1978 (USA)
Blu-ray Release Date: April 6, 2010 (USA)
MPAA Rating: PG
Alcohol/Drugs: 1 (pub scene)
Violence: 3 (fantasy violence)