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When Frodo Baggins (voiced by Christopher Guard) is entrusted with a ring by the wizard Gandalf (William Squire), he has little idea of the adventures that lie ahead for him. The Ring is a magical one. Should the dark lord Sauron capture it he will become all powerful and plunge Middle Earth into darkness. The homely Hobbit must leave the peaceful Shire in which he lives and travel to Mount Doom to destroy the Ring. A fellowship of allies, led by Gandalf and the mysterious Aragorn (John Hurt), is formed to accompany Frodo on the journey and protect him from the violent Orcs, sinister Black Riders and other enemies bent on taking his life—and the Ring.

Review by Stuart Whitmore:
Whatever Tolkien junkies make of Peter Jackson’s live action trilogy, the reaction is bound to be better than that which greeted Ralph Bakshi’s animated adventure in 1978. To say fans of the book were upset would be an understatement. They’re still spitting chips.

The film is a massacre on a par with Rorke’s Drift. Tolkien’s epic and intricate tale is badly butchered in the transition to the screen. Events, characters and the finely wrought details of the mythical Middle Earth are edited and altered with a cavalier disregard for the source material. There’s almost no consistency to any aspect of the movie. One character, the wizard Saruman, is even referred to as Aruman for half the film.

That’s just the beginning of the confusion. The screenwriters do well to pack the history of the Ring into a breathless prologue, but from then on show little patience with the plot. Random facts from the book are thrown in, others left out leaving an incoherent jumble of mythologies and little clear motivation for the characters. We know Frodo must take the Ring to Mount Doom, everyone and everything else seems a colourful but pointless diversion.

All of which might have been okay if Frodo actually made it to Mount Doom. He doesn’t. Despite the film’s billing as the Lord of the Rings—and the DVD packaging’s insistence that it contains “all” the magical adventure of “Tolkien’s magical trilogy”—the events end prematurely, two books into the series. Bakshi and producer Saul Zaentz never raised the cash to finish the job as they intended.

And for that at least we should be grateful. Even those who don’t know their Tolkien from their Toklas will be left scratching their heads at this mess. The film begins as an overly cute children’s cartoon, with the four hobbits standing in for the Seven Dwarves, and ends in a horrific orgy of violence. Devotees of the book will know that Gandalf can haul sword with the best of them, but by the closing sequence he has become a fiery-eyed psychopath, lopping the back of an Orc’s head in graphic slow motion.

The pacing and editing in between times is similarly schizophrenic and the animation itself a disjointed letdown. The characters are badly drawn and poorly animated. Worse, Bakshi uses a process called rotoscoping. Like an early form of motion capture, rotoscoping is the process of painting over film of live actors, and Bakshi relies on it heavily for the battles and other action scenes. The end result is simply bizarre, especially when the more fully animated characters and obviously rotoscoped ones have to fight each other. Add to that a bombastic and often wholly inappropriate score and you’ve got a finesse-free mix that must have Tolkien (who was a stickler for detail and obsessed about the delicate beauty of Middle Earth music) spinning in his Hobbit hole.

If the studio really had to cash in on the current Lord of the Rings fever, they could at least have added some special features to the DVD release. One addition that would have had even the most hardcore Tolkienites queuing up to buy would have been a director’s commentary. Bakshi and his crew must have had some reason for the choices they made in making the Lord of the Rings. It would be nice to hear their explanations, even if they were to just plead poverty and ignorance.

Published December 13, 2001

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CAST: The voices of John Hurt, Christopher Guard, William Squire, Michael Scholes, Simon Chandler, Dominic Guard, Anthony Daniels

DIRECTOR: Ralph Bakshi

RUNNING TIME: 128 minutes

DVD DISTRIBUTOR: Warner Bros Home Entertainment

DVD RELEASE: November, 2001

Widescreen 1.85:1. Languages: English 2.0, French 1.0, Italian 1.0. Subtitles: English, French, Italian, Dutch, Arabic, Spanish, Portuguese, German, Romanian, Bulgarian, English for the gearing impaired, Italian for the hearing impaired.

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