All the magical adventure of J.R.R. Tolkien's thrilling fantasy classic comes to life in this brilliantly animated tale of the enchanted land of Middle Earth - and the brave band of hobbits, heroes and wizards who set out to protect it!
When a dangerous and powerful magic ring falls into his hands, a little hobbit named Frodo is caught up in a gigantic adventure! Now, join him, the mighty wizard Gandalf and a daring band of elves, dwarves and warriors set out to defend their enchanted land from the wicked sorcerer who is set to destroy it. Set in a mystical age of magic, monsters and unlikely heroes on incredible journeys, The Lord Of The Rings will cast its spell over your entire family!
Tying in with the eagerly anticipated Blu-ray release of Peter Jackson's 'The Lord of the Rings' Trilogy on Blu-ray, Warner Brothers is capitalizing on the event by also releasing the first film adaptation of J.R.R. Tolkien's work, Ralph Bakshi's 'The Lord of the Rings.' Unfortunately, while an intriguing work for its time, it doesn’t hold up well on a number of fronts and, fairly or not, suffers in comparison to Jackson's production.
The film opens with the history of the Ring. The Dark Lord Sauron creates it, Sméagol kills his friend Déagol to get it, and then Bilbo finds it. Bilbo holds a party for his eleventy-first birthday, and leaves the Shire, passing all his possessions on to Frodo. Seventeen years pass and Gandalf returns to tell Frodo he must leave the Shire and head to Bree because Sauron has sent the Black Riders after the Ring. Sam, Merry, and Pippin accompany Frodo, and in Bree they meet Strider the ranger, who reveals himself as Aragorn. When Gandalf is late, they head to the Elven land of Rivendell.
Gandalf catches up with Frodo there and informs him the wizard Saruman the White, who is frequently referred to as Aruman by a number of characters and doesn't wear white, wants the Ring. At a meeting to determine what to do with the Ring, Frodo volunteers to take it to the fires of Mount Doom from whence it was created in order to destroy it. A fellowship to accomplish this task is formed: Boromir, a man from Gondor; the dwarf Gimli; and the elf Legolas join the four hobbits, Gandalf, and Strider. They try to cross the Misty Mountain, but the unusually harsh weather, the work of Sauron, turns them back. They decide to continue through the Mines of Moria. Once they pass through the mines, Frodo and Sam head out on their own, concluding the material from "The Fellowship of the Ring."
"The Two Towers" is given pretty short shrift as not much material is used here. Frodo and Sam catch Sméagol, whose form has been corrupted by all his time with the Ring, and now goes by the name of Gollum, a guttural sound he makes. Gollum promises to take them to Gates of Mordor. Merry and Pippin are captured by orcs, and the remaining members of fellowship head after them. The orcs do battle with a group of Riders from Rohan, and in the midst of the fighting, Merry and Pippin find themselves in a forest and make the acquaintance of Treebeard the Ent. Gimli, Aragon, Legolas, and Gandalf head to see King Théodon of Rohan before Saruman's forces attack and suggest the King's people head to Helm's Deep to protect themselves. The orcs have overwhelming numbers and appear in charge, so it's a surprise to see them run away when the cavalry shows up in small numbers. After a great battle, the narrator informs us the first great tale of 'The Lord of the Rings' has ended and so does the film.
Unfortunately, it was the only "great tale" under Bakshi. When the deal to make 'The Lord of the Rings' was made, it was intended to be a two-part affair, but after a change in executives, the studio wasn't committed to that idea. Bakshi requested the film be released with 'Part One' in the title so ticket buyers knew what they were getting, but studio executives claimed people wouldn't go to see an incomplete story. However, it seems just as likely, the executives wanted the whole affair over as done with as quickly as possible since they didn't greenlight it.
Director Bakshi made interesting choices for the film due to the limitations of the technology available in the late '70s. He shot the film live action and then rotoscoped the frames to create an animated look. Because of this, many of the figures and their actions look realistic, but there is a clash when a rotoscoped character and an animated one stand together, causing believability to be lost. The rotoscoping also fails during large battle sequences as figures in the distance lose their individuality and become giant blobs of color, which occasionally flicker.
There were also choices that worked well. Smoke and lights appear used in the process, likely in post, to create depth in the shots. Rather than always using drawn backgrounds, Bakshi used projections of real thunderstorms and lighting special effects to augment the scenes.
While this film may have pacified Tolkien fans from 1978 to 2001, the film doesn’t hold up well, even if Jackson's adaptation hadn't come along. There are parts of the story where Bakshi remained truer to the source than Jackson, yet other occasions where he did not. The most notable divergence is the character of Sam. He's a dimwitted bumbler here, so it would have been interesting how Bakshi would have dealt with the character's later heroics. Surely most disappointing will be unresolved plotlines, although Rankin/Bass created an unofficial sequel in their 'The Return of The King' (1980) television special.
The Blu-ray seems to have been treated with the same indifference the film was shown by the executives Bakshi had to deal with in the '70s. The video is given a 1080p/VC-1 transfer, but there's only so much that can be done with the flawed source, which has to take the brunt of the blame since a restoration was needed.
The source is extremely dirty as tiny specks are seen throughout. The colors are bright, but there are issues here, as nothing is consistent. Some object colors change, like those Gandalf's hat and Boromir's shirt. In a shot of the fellowship escaping the mines, the hair shape of the hobbits is incorrectly drawn. High definition contributes to seeing flaws in the green cloaks as brushstrokes are evident and change in frames. Blacks are a mess, as crush appears frequently from a face of one orc or a large group of them at a distance melding into a blob. This is more so due the rotoscoping, which also plays with the brightness. Edges are sharp and distinct on figures in foreground intended to move. Backgrounds are less distinct due to the way they are painted. Some shots offer perspective while others look as flat as the drawings they are. One plus, with all the issues, I didn't notice any glaring digital artifacts.
While an adequate job, the Dolby TrueHD English 5.1 track doesn't overly impress, although the source seemed better cared for than its video counterpart. Dialogue comes mainly through the front center, with some sleight support out the front left and right. Voices occasionally sound hollow, as if recorded at different times. When the characters whisper in the Mines of Moria, the voices get too soft to be clearly understood. Otherwise there, is good balance with dialogue, effects, and Leonard Rosenman's score throughout.
The surrounds offer good ambiance from drunken bar patrons at the Prancing Pony to battling orcs in different settings. The subwoofer is sporadically active, but strong when used. Bass is most active for the rumble of hooves, the thunderclouds, the battle scenes, and when the Bruinen River disrupts the Ringwraiths pursuit of Frodo.
While Ralph Bakshi tried to do justice to the source material, his limited resources and support weren't enough to create a satisfying adaptation of Tolkien's brilliant novels. He gets an "A" for effort for taking on such a massive task, but his choice of using rotoscope, while daring, is ultimately unsatisfying, and made even clearer by the upgrade to high definition.
This release really deserved a more respectful transition to Blu-ray, as well as a director's commentary track, so it's disappointing on multiple levels. Purchasing this release is best left for hardcore fans of Tolkien, Bakshi, and animation.