Today I watched Ralph Bakshi’s The Lord of the Rings (1978)
The Lord of the Rings is a truly legendary work, a trilogy of novels that set the precedent for all modern fantasy media. It is an epic story about a land called Middle Earth that is beset by Sauron, a lord of darkness who leads an army of orcs and foreigners from the land of Mordor. Sounds kind of racist when I put it that way, to put it lightly I have conflicted thoughts about these books, but I think I should save that for another review. Anyways, the plot, Sauron created an evil ring that is ultra powerful and if he ever recovers it, he can take over the world. This ring happens to be in the hands of one of the meekest of beings, a Hobbit named Frodo who inherited it from his uncle Bilbo, who found the ring during his adventures documented in The Hobbit novel. Gandalf, a great wizard of good, realizes that the forces of darkness are rising so he tells Frodo to meet with the elves at Rivendell to discuss a plan. There a fellowship is formed of Frodo, his Hobbit friends, Aragorn the ranger, Boromir of Gondor, Legolas the Elf, Gimli the Dwarf, and of course Gandalf. They undertake a quest to destroy the ring where it was forged, in the fires of Mount Doom, the rest you are probably familiar with.
Looking back on this movie after the release of Peter Jackson’s acclaimed trilogy, one can see that this movie’s attempt to capture the entirety of the first two Lord of the Rings books into a single two hour movie was doomed from the start. The pacing is absurdly rushed through large parts of the film but then drags inappropriately in the strangest places. With the density of the source material being what it is, this film fails to capture that depth the world needs or the scope of the conflict. Everything rushes by so fast that none of the drama sticks. This is further exacerbated by Bakshi’s collage of styles, which in many cases was a budgetary restriction, but nonetheless is a poor fit for this story. It lacks the consistency of Fire and Ice and thus doesn’t have a cohesive world, yet unlike Wizards, the themes and tone of The Lord of the Rings does not benefit from this dreamlike and surreal visual design.
That being said, I don’t think this adaptation is a complete failure. There are many fascinating images that may not come together into a satisfying whole, but are appreciable in and of themselves. John Hurt is also pretty good as Aragorn and most of the rest of the cast are fine, though the character of Samwise here is rather insufferable. The good qualities fail to overcome the crippling issues with pacing and the film’s inability to establish any solid drama is it’s downfall. The modern era has shown what cinematic delights can be wrought from this material, but very little of that is here, or it is here but makes no impact. 2/5