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The Lord of the Rings (1978 Animated Movie) [Blu-ray] by Director: Ralph Bakshi
Review by Charles Mohapel
Warner Home Video Canada Blu-ray  ISBN/ITEM#: B001PQZYR2
Date: 30 May 2010 List Price $29.99 Amazon US / Amazon UK

Links: IMDB.com / IMDB.com - LOTR (Animated) Trivia / Wikipedia - Rotoscoping / Wikipedia - Solarisation / Show Official Info /

I have fond memories of seeing Ralph Bakshi's 1978 animated film The Lord of the Rings with a group of fellow science fiction fans and eagerly accepted the opportunity to review the Remastered Deluxe Edition on Blu-ray.

Directed by Ralph Bakshi

Writing credits
J.R.R. Tolkien (novels "The Fellowship of the Ring" and "The Two Towers")

Chris Conkling (screenplay) and
Peter S. Beagle (screenplay)

Cast (in credits order) complete, awaiting verification:
Christopher Guard... Frodo (voice)
William Squire... Gandalf (voice)
Michael Scholes... Sam (voice)
John Hurt... Aragorn (voice)
Simon Chandler... Merry (voice)
Dominic Guard... Pippin (voice)
Norman Bird... Bilbo (voice)
Michael Graham Cox... Boromir (voice) (as Michael Graham-Cox)
Anthony Daniels... Legolas (voice)
David Buck... Gimli (voice)
Peter Woodthorpe... Gollum (voice)
Fraser Kerr... Saruman (voice)
Philip Stone... Theoden (voice)
Michael Deacon... Wormtongue (voice)
André Morell... Elrond (voice) (as Andre Morell)
Alan Tilvern... Innkeeper (voice)
Annette Crosbie... Galadriel (voice)
John Westbrook... Treebeard (voice)
John A. Neris... Gandalf
Sharon Baird... Frodo
Billy Barty... Bilbo / Sam

Before viewing Ralph Bakshi's 1978 animated film The Lord of the Rings on Blu-ray, I was completely unaware of all that had transpired before and during the filming. For example, did you know that Bakshi had walked into the office of MGM President Dan Melnick and sold him on making an animated version of The Lord of the Rings -- a week later Melnick was fired and replaced by Dick Shepherd who killed the project. When Bakshi offered to return the $100,000 advance in exchange for the return of the rights to The Lord of the Rings, Shepherd eagerly agreed, not a surprise since he had no use for animation. Bakshi then turned around and sold the project to Saul Zaentz of Fantasy Films, the same production company that had released One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest in 1975.

I had always wondered why the film was called The Lord of the Rings, but covered only the first book, The Fellowship of the Ring, and the first half of the second, The Two Towers, ending immediately following the arrival of Gandalf and a large force of the Rohirrim who arrived in time to save King Théoden and the majority of the Rohirrim at the Hornberg. I subsequently discovered that this was due to the money of an already limited budget running out and United Artists refusing to pay to have the film completed. According to Bakshi's bio on IMDB.com, they also refused to fund the second part, or sequel to Bakshi's ambitious adaptation.

Looking over the cast list the only names I recognized on IMDB.com were John Hurt (the voice of Aragorn), Anthony Daniels (the voice of Legolas), Billy Barty (the body of both Bilbo and Sam), and Felix Silla (Character Actor – i.e. body). Felix Silla played Twiki in Buck Rogers in the 25th Century and an Ewok in Star Wars: Episode VI - Return of the Jedi.

This time around I was not caught up in the excitement and noticed a glaring continuity error. In the first shot of the Orc attack in Moria, Legolas' bow is tall with spiral tips, but in the very next shot, two seconds later, it is much smaller, with the regular curved tips of a straight-limb longbow. It then returns to the long, spiral-tipped form which he uses throughout the movie. Equally grating to my ear was hearing Saruman called Aruman repeatedly. To me these two oversights are due to the disastrous decision to end funding of the film by United Artists. I feel great sympathy for Bakshi and the entire production company for being so badly mistreated, and respect them for having the professionalism and intestinal fortitude to finish up what they had already filmed and release it. No doubt they hoped that it would perform well enough at the box office that they would get new funding from United Artists or else United Artists would sell their rights back to Bakshi who could then work out an agreement with another studio to film the second half of The Two Towers and the third book, The Return of the King.

Back in 1978, I don't remember there being much visible conflict between the animation, the rotoscoped scenes, and the "negative imagery" of the solarised footage, but now thanks to all the advances in film making, I and the film going public have become much more sophisticated. Now I found the stylistic clashes of these three styles so grating on the eye that it greatly distracted me from the film itself. Some people have said that Bakshi chose to forgo his customary sharp-edged (and sometimes downright nasty) animation style for the traditional hand drawn cel animation (that predated computer animation) and rotoscoping. If you've seen his previous film Wizards (1977), you must have noticed that his nasty edge comes through with giant slow motion spurts of blood when someone is slashed with a blade, animation's equivalent of a Sam Peckinpah film. Once again I don't remember noticing this the first time around, but now it stood out like a sore thumb.

Overall, the first hour of the film flows reasonably smoothly, but it's the last seventy-three minutes that make viewing the film a less than optimum experience.

To their credit Warner Bros. Home Video did an very good job of remastering this film, with only very rare bits of either dust specks or damaged film visible. The colors are vibrant and for the most part detail is very good.

Ralph Bakshi's 1978 animated film The Lord of the Rings on Blu-ray is not what I would recommend for viewing with small children since the Orcs and the Balrog are too scary for them and the violence is too graphic and too frequent. However I would recommend it for animation buffs (after all, it is acknowledged as the first rotoscoped animated film) and for Lord of the Rings compleatists.

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