The Lord of the Rings (Animated) Blu-Ray

Actors: Christopher Guard, William Squire, Michael Scholes, John Hurt, Michael Graham Cox, Anthony Daniels, David Buck and Peter Woodthorpe
Animated, NTSC
Number of discs:
Warner Home Video
DVD Release Date:
April 6, 2010
Run Time:
133 minutes



With the triumphant totality of Peter Jackson's Lord of the Rings now before us, Ralph Bakshi's noble but fatally flawed version seems almost like an afterthought.

It tells only half the story, ending in the midst of The Two Towers and leaving the remainder for a follow-up that never happened. Its pacing is hopelessly rushed, cramming into two hours what Jackson delivered in a little over six. It leaves a number of key characters out, while glossing over important figures in the most off-handed way possible. And yet despite its vast problems, it retains a unique vision: a way of looking at the story that bears consideration, if not unmitigated applause.

Bakshi came along at a time when animation was dominated by kiddie-friendly Disney fare. Cartoons had no adult stories to tell, or so the conventional wisdom went. Bakshi changed that with the likes of Wizards and Fritz the Cat. Tolkien's epic seemed like a perfect fit for him: animation could render Middle Earth's fantasy vistas in a way no live action movie at the time could even dream of, while the ostensible fairy tale plot held more than its share of serious grown-up themes. The best parts of The Lord of the Rings stem from his singular approach to world design and character creation.

Bakshi's Middle Earth feels as real and plausible as Jackson's , while the figures who inhabit it possess more personality than countless cartoon animals. Bakshi further distinguished his efforts by utilizing uncommon animation techniques, such as rotoscoping and shadow acting, to give his film a sense of distinction. It works far better than it might have in other hands, creating the same wonder and awe of Jackson's film with just a tiny fraction of the budget.

Despite that, the storyline simply lacks room to breathe. Bakshi always struggled with narrative, and his efforts to move as quickly as possible through the proceedings result in a very jumbled tone. The basics are unchanged: charged with destroying the One Ring of Power, hobbit Frodo Baggins (voiced by Christopher Guard) must journey into the evil land of Mordor. He is initially accompanied by eight companions, but must eventually leave them behind, save his gardener Sam (voiced by Michael Scholes) who travels with him to the end. The two receive the reluctant help of Gollum (Peter Woodthorpe), a former slave of the ring now consumed with possessing it himself.

While the fundaments stay clear, the rich detail of the supporting incidents and characters are stripped away by necessity. Pippin, Merry, Gimli and Legolas appear almost as incidental bystanders, while pivotal figures like Saruman and Theoden receive far less attention than they deserve. So too does the film as a whole feel arbitrary and isolated: individual incidents rather than a unified whole. When faced with a vision as complex as Tolkien's, such shortcuts render much of the story a hash.

The Lord of the Rings actually works best in direct comparison to Jackson's films, demonstrating the way one can make different creative choices without violating the overall spirit of the text. Consider Bakshi's version of Aragorn (voiced by John Hurt). Though just as rough and tumble as Viggo Mortensen's rendition, he feels far kinder and gentler here. He speaks in soothing tones to the hobbits under his care; he laughs and jokes much more readily. And yet he's still Aragorn: bold and kingly, with a strength to see those beneath him through the storm.

Similar modest joys pepper The Lord of the Rings from beginning to end. They don't always add up to a coherent whole, but they possess one-of-a-kind pleasures augmented by the deep respect Bakshi clearly holds for the original tale. The live action version trumps it in every conceivable way; there simply is no comparison. And yet Middle Earth is still better off for its presence, providing a different way of looking through the same mirror. As a movie it remains a well-intentioned failure, but as a footnote (which, it should be said, Tolkien was unspeakably fond of) it becomes curiously indispensable.

THE DISC: Those in an angry lather about the recent Blu-Ray release of the Jackson films will be only mildly satiated by this one. The transfer is decent, but retains a certain graininess, and the flaws in the original animation are in full force. The disc contains only one extra: an interesting but largely mundane documentary about Bakshi's work.

WORTH IT? Fans of the live-action films should certainly consider it as an alternative to the maligned live-action Blu-Rays, enjoying the Bakshi film until the next time Warners wants to foist the Jackson trilogy on us.

RECOMMENDATION: Animation buffs, Tolkien fans and anyone interested in an alternative to Peter Jackson should pick it up. More casual fans can probably save their money.



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