- Movie Rating -

The Lord of the Rings (1978)

| November 15, 1978

I arrive at Ralph Bakshi’s The Lord of the Rings with a great many mixed feelings.  This is a film of so much style, so much imagination, so much ambition, yet I find myself trapped by the unavoidable conclusion that this movie is flawed beyond the point of no return.  Its animation style wavers back and forth between groundbreaking and baffling, employing a rotoscope style the offers a great deal of depth while at the same time offering a line drawing style that is sometimes jittery and distracting.  Some of the characters are beautifully stylized while others seem malformed and have expressions that makes them look like their faces are flying apart.

And yet, it is clear that Bakshi understands this world.  His movie lives in the hills and valleys of Middle Earth, enveloping them in a color pallet that changes with whatever atmosphere he is presenting.  He pulls us in with forward characters who (at best) feel cartoony yet realistic and then offers armies of villains that are clearly played by real actors and then painted over.  Some find them distracting, but I ask you to find another film with that kind of ambition.  Consider how many animated features choose one or two pallets and stick with them.

This is, obviously, the world that Tolkien painted in words.  He didn’t see every landscape as green and brown.  When you read the book, you saw different pictures in your mind.  You saw colors and the world seems larger in your imagination.  On the screen, Bakshi is able to capture many of the environments in much the same way that you might seem them in your mind.  That part I liked.

My major objection to this film is its tone.  The book moved back and forth between the clear and present danger of the pressures that Frodo was under and scenes of whimsy and charm.  What I remember from the book were not only the battles but the songs, the in-between moments of merriment.  It is one thing for an author to offer swordplay but quite another to offer so much downtime.  And that’s something that Bakshi’s film could have used.  It is very much about its story and so naturally there’s little time for whimsical side trips.

Maybe that’s just my problem.  You can’t really bring the full texture of a book like The Lord of the Rings to a two-hour narrative.  The director is at the mercy of the story, which is long and complex.  I could list my objections all day but at the end I would find myself just admitting that this is a piece of animation that I enjoyed very much.  It goes places that other animated films don’t have the ambition to go.  It’s flawed, but at the same time it’s also a magical experience.

About the Author:

Jerry Roberts is a film critic and operator of two websites, Armchair Cinema and Armchair Oscars.
(1978) View IMDB Filed in: Animated