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The Lord of the Rings (1978 film)

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The Lord of the Rings (1978)
The official poster.
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J. R. R. Tolkien's The Lord of the Rings (Part 1) is the title of an animated film produced and directed by Ralph Bakshi, and released to theaters in 1978. It was an adaptation of the first half of J. R. R. Tolkien's The Lord of the Rings. Bakshi's most ambitious effort (and his most famous after his animated adaptation of the underground comic Fritz the Cat), the film was produced by Saul Zaentz's Fantasy Films, but distributed to theaters by United Artists.

PlotEdit


Long ago, in the early years of the Second Age, the great Elven-smiths forged Rings of Power — Nine for mortal Men, Seven for the Dwarf-lords, and three for the tall Elf-kings. Then, the Dark Lord Sauron learned the craft of ring making and made the Master Ring — The One Ring to rule them all. With the One Ring, Middle-earth was his and he could not be overcome. As the last alliance of Men and Elves fell beneath his power, the ring fell into the hands of Prince Isildur of the mighty kings from across the sea. He did not destroy the ring, and because of this, the spirit of Sauron lived on and began to take shape and grow again.

The Ring had a will of its own, and had a way of slipping from hand to hand, so that it might at last get back to its master. Isildur was killed near the Anduin river, and the Ring lay in the bottom of the Anduin for thousands of years. During those years, Sauron captured the nine Rings that were made for Men and turned their owners into the Ringwraiths: terrible shadows under his great shadow who roamed the world searching for the One Ring.

Two friends, meanwhile, found the Ring. One of them, Sméagol, was so enticed by the Ring's power that he killed his friend Déagol to get it. Sméagol possessed the Ring for hundreds of years, during which it warped him into a twisted, gurgling wretch known only as Gollum, until his "Precious" was discovered (some might say stolen) by the hobbit Bilbo Baggins.

Years later, in a land called the Shire, Bilbo is celebrating his 111th (or eleventy-first, as it is called) birthday, on the same day that his nephew Frodo celebrates his 33rd birthday, (his "coming of age"). During his speech, Bilbo slips the Ring on, and confusion arises as the party notices that their host has suddenly disappeared into thin air!

Gandalf the wizard, however, knows the truth behind this act. In Bilbo's hobbit hole, Gandalf tells him to leave the Ring for Frodo, but Bilbo seems unwilling to give it up. He does, finally, agree, and leaves the Shire.

Seventeen years pass, and Gandalf learns that the Shire is in danger — evil forces have learned that the Ring is in the possession of a Baggins. Heeding Gandalf's advice, Frodo leaves his home, taking the Ring with him. He hopes to reach Rivendell, where he will be safe from Sauron, and where those wiser than he can decide what to do about the Ring. Eventually, another hobbit named Samwise Gamgee joins Frodo in the journey.

Gandalf later heads to Isengard to tell Saruman that Sauron is returning to power. Saruman however, has fallen under the will of Sauron, and traps Gandalf on his tower.

In Frodo and Sam's journey they are accompanied by two hobbit friends, Pippin, and Merry. From the start, Black Riders (Sauron’s Ringwraiths or Nazgûl) pursue them. Narrowly escaping these and other dangers and meeting other interesting characters en route they eventually come to Bree, where they meet Strider, another friend of Gandalf who leads them the rest of the way to Rivendell, through further hardships. Frodo is stabbed upon the mountain of Weathertop by the Chief of the Nazgûl, with a "Morgul blade" — as part of the knife stays inside him, he gets sicker on the rest of the journey.

At Rivendell, Frodo meets Gandalf, who tells him that he escaped from Isengard. Frodo also meets his uncle Bilbo whom he had not seen since he left Hobbiton years before; Bilbo seems much older and weaker, and, for a terrible moment, is once again held in sway of the Ring. Bilbo, Gandalf, and others argue about what should be done with the One Ring. Finally, Frodo stands up, and willfully volunteers to go to Mordor, where the Ring can be destroyed.

Frodo sets forth from Rivendell with eight companions: two Men, Aragorn, son of Arathorn, and Boromir, son of Denethor, the Steward of the land of Gondor; an Elven prince, Legolas; Frodo's old friend and powerful wizard, Gandalf; the Dwarf, Gimli, son of Glóin; and Frodo's original three hobbit companions. These Nine Walkers were chosen to represent all the free races of Middle-earth and as a balance to the Nine Riders.

Their attempt to cross the Misty Mountains is foiled by heavy snow, so they are forced to take a path under the mountains of Moria, an ancient Dwarf kingdom, now full of orcs and other evil creatures including the Watcher in the Water where it guarded the gate of Moria and attacked Frodo Baggins when the Fellowship entered the mines, then where Gandalf falls into the abyss after battling a Balrog.

The remaining eight members of the Fellowship then spend some time in the elf-haven of Lothlórien, where they receive gifts from the elf queen Galadriel that in many cases prove useful later in the quest. They leave Lórien by river, but Frodo begins to realize the Ring is having a malevolent effect on some members of the party, especially Boromir, who tries to take the Ring from Frodo. In the process, Frodo puts it on to escape him. Later, while trying to defend Merry and Pippin, whom the Orcs capture, Boromir is killed.

Aragorn, Gimli and Legolas, tracking Merry and Pippin, find small prints and they follow these into Fangorn Forest, where they meet a white wizard who they at first believe to be Saruman, but who turns out to be their wizard friend Gandalf, whom they believed had perished in the mines of Moria. He tells them of his fall into the abyss, his battle to the death with the Balrog and his reawakening.

The four ride to Rohan's capital, Edoras, and persuade King Théoden that his people are in danger. In the process, Saruman's agent in Edoras, Gríma Wormtongue, who had been keeping Théoden subdued and weak for years, is expelled from the city. Aragorn, Gimli and Legolas then travel to the defensive fortification Helm's Deep while Gandalf goes north in search of Éomer's men in the north of Rohan to bring as reinforcements.

Hobbits Merry and Pippin escape from the Orcs who captured them when the orcs themselves are attacked by the Riders of Rohan. Merry and Pippin head into nearby Fangorn Forest where they encounter treelike giants called Ents. These guardians of the forest generally keep to themselves, but are moved to oppose the menace posed to the trees by the wizard Saruman.

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Gollum
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Gollum upright eating raw fish.
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At Helm's Deep, Théoden's forces resist an onslaught of Orcs and Men sent by Saruman, and Gandalf arrives the next morning with the Riders of Rohan just in time — and none escape. Aragorn, Gimli, Legolas, Gandalf and the army of Rohan then head to Saruman's stronghold at Isengard. Frodo and Sam discover Gollum stalking them as they try to reach Mount Doom to destroy the One Ring. Gollum hopes to reclaim the Ring. Sam loathes and distrusts him, but Frodo pities him, and so lets him live in return for guidance to Mount Doom. Gollum promises to lead them to a secret entrance to Mordor. Gollum, who is briefly torn between keeping his word to Frodo and reclaiming his "Precious," is ominously overheard to say "she might help us..." as he leads Frodo and Sam to Cirith Ungol.

"The forces of darkness were driven forever from the face of Middle-Earth by the valiant friends of Frodo. As their gallant battle ended, so, too, ends the first great tale of The Lord of the Rings."
Narrator

Differences from the book Edit

LOTR78 beds Bree
A scene that inspired Peter Jackson.
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The movie makes a few deviations from the book, but overall follows Tolkien's narrative quite closely. Many parts of the novel explaining the transition from one part of the plot to another were omitted, which makes the middle part of the movie somewhat difficult to follow if the viewer is unfamiliar with the story.

  • In the film's prologue it is suggested that Sauron learned the craft of Ring-making after the 19 lesser rings were made whilst in the original story it is Sauron who teaches the Elven-smiths this ability.
  • Another deviation suggests that the Last Alliance of men and elves were losing the war, which contradicts the original story.
  • In the scene where Frodo finds out that his ring is the One Ring, Gandalf throws the Ring into the fireplace, as in the book, and Gandalf recites the Ring-inscription in the Black Speech, but only the first two lines, after which he says the entire inscription in the Common Tongue — but they never look for the inscription itself.
  • As in Tolkien's novel, Saruman the White adopts the title "Saruman of Many Colors"; however, his robes are neither white nor multi-colored, but red.
  • The film greatly condenses Frodo's journey from Bag End to Bree; for example, Crickhollow, Brandy Hall, the Old Forest and the Barrow Downs do not appear. These segments were presumbly eliminated (as they were in the Jackson films) for pacing reasons, as well as to intensify the Nazgûl's threat to the hobbits. Because of this, Tom Bombadil also does not appear in the film.
  • The hobbits' first encounter with the Nazgûl: In the novel, Frodo hides separately from the other hobbits; in the film, together with them.
  • The scene where the Nazgûl arrive in the hobbits' room and begin slashing at their beds only to find that they are not there, and pillows have been placed to form the figures of their bodies is not in the book, but it is in Bakshi's film version (as well as the Peter Jackson version).
  • The High-elf Glorfindel, whom the hobbits and Aragorn meet as they approach Rivendell, is replaced by Legolas.
  • Arwen does not appear, nor is she mentioned.
  • Aragorn carries a broken sword (presumably Narsil) up to the Rivendell section of the story, where he presents it at the Council of Elrond. However, the sword's reforging into Andúril is never shown (or mentioned) in the film, even though Aragorn carries an unbroken blade for the remainder of the film. Also, Aragorn identifies it as the "sword of Elendil of Gondor", but no connection between Elendil and Isildur (his son) is stated only that the sword was used to cut the ring from Sauron's finger.
  • Gimli appears to be about the same height as the rest of the non-hobbits in the Fellowship.
  • There is no mention of the Uruk-hai, or, at least, they are not at all differentiated from the regular Orcs.
  • Éowyn makes only a brief appearance and has no spoken dialogue.
  • While Éomer is mentioned, he is never officially identified (thus, he also has no spoken dialogue). Also, as in the Jackson films, it is he and his forces with whom Gandalf arrives near the end of the Battle of Helm's Deep instead of Erkenbrand's. Éomer and his men are also portrayed as sort of rogue warriors in this film with no direct affiliation to Rohan.
  • Faramir does not appear, nor is he mentioned.
  • The explosive-like "blasting-fire" (here the "Fires of Isengard") appears as magical projectiles shot from Isengard itself.

ProductionEdit

Much of the film used live-action footage which was then rotoscoped to produce an animated look.[1] This saved production costs and arguably gave the animated characters a more realistic look. For the live-action portion of the production, Bakshi and his cast and crew arrived in Spain where the rotoscope models acted out their parts in costume. Many of the actors who contributed voices to this production also acted out their parts for rotoscoped scenes. The actions of Frodo Baggins was performed by Sharon Baird, while Bilbo Baggins and Samwise Gamgee were performed by Billy Barty.

Of the rotoscoping, Bakshi said, "I didn't start thinking about shooting the film totally in live action until I saw it really start to work so well. I learned lots of things about the process, like rippling. One scene, some figures were standing on a hill and a big gust of wind came up and the shadows moved back and forth on the clothes and it was unbelievable in animation. I don't think I could get the feeling of cold on the screen without showing snow or an icicle on some guy's nose. The characters have weight and they move correctly."

"Making two pictures in two years is crazy. (The live action reference and the actual animated feature.) Most directors when they finish editing, they are finished; we were just starting. I got more than I expected. The crew is young. The crew loves it. If the crew loves it, it's usually a great sign. They aren't older animators trying to snow me for jobs next year."[2]

Following the live-action shoot, each frame of the live footage was then broken down into individual frames, and then printed out, and placed behind animation cels. The details of each frame were copied and painted onto cels. Both the live-action and animated sequences were storyboarded.[3] Some critics found the sections of the film with rotoscoped animation inferior in quality to "normal" animated films.

ReceptionEdit

The film was originally intended to be distributed as The Lord of the Rings, Part One, but United Artists dropped the "Part One" from the title, believing moviegoers would not pay full ticket prices to see half a movie.  "United Artists at that time was terrified to say 'Part One'," Bakshi is quoted as saying.  "I remember sitting in meetings screaming my head off saying, 'You can't do this!'  Had it said 'Part One,' I think everyone would have respected it. But because it didn't say 'Part One,' everyone came in expecting to see the entire three books, and that's where the confusion comes in."[4] In interviews, Bakshi sometimes refers to the film as The Lord of the Rings, Part One. According to Bakshi, a few A and B-rolls were shot for Part 2, but no other work was done.[5]

Critics were generally mixed in their responses to the film. Roger Ebert called Bakshi's effort a "mixed blessing" and "an entirely respectable, occasionally impressive job ... [which] still falls far short of the charm and sweep of the original story.[6] Vincent Canby of the New York Times called the film "both numbing and impressive."[7] Film website Rotten Tomatoes, which compiles reviews from a wide range of critics, gives the film a score of 50%.

Despite criticism, the film was a success, grossing $30,471,420 at the box office[8] (the budget was $8 million), however United Artists refused to fund a sequel which would have completed Tolkien's story on film.

Follow-upEdit

In light of the theatrical The Lord of the Rings, Part Two adaptation being scrapped, a means of "finishing" Tolkien's story and making it more complete for audiences then inadvertently fell on the Rankin-Bass animation studio (fresh on the heels of the success of its previous TV adaptation of The Hobbit) produced an animated TV special based on the final part of The Lord of the Rings. Their adaptation of The Return of the King finished the story and answered most of the questions raised by Bakshi's animated film. Despite this, several unresolved story developments between the ending of The Lord of the Rings and the beginning of The Return of the King were left unexplained, especially the Ents' march on Isengard (along with Merry eventually taking up with the Army of Rohan, and Gandalf and Pippin's subsequent journey to Gondor), the betrayal of Frodo by Gollum, and the attack of Shelob on Frodo and Sam.  It should be noted, however, that production for this Rankin/Bass follow-up had begun even before their version of The Hobbit had originally aired (let alone before Bakshi's theatrical film had premiered)[9], so Rankin/Bass can't be entirely blamed for this flaw in continuity.

Warner Bros. (the rights holder to the post-1974 Rankin-Bass library and most of the Saul Zaentz theatrical backlog) released The Hobbit, The Lord of the Rings, and The Return of the King on VHS and DVD, both packaged separately and as a boxed-set "trilogy" of films. Despite the release of Peter Jackson's recent film trilogy based on Tolkien's work, many fans of Bakshi's work still want him to complete Tolkien's story in his own style.

TriviaEdit

Lists of miscellaneous information should be avoided. Please relocate any relevant information into appropriate sections or articles.
  • The elves in this version do not have pointed ears, instead they tend to dress in white and appear slightly brighter than the other characters.
  • The film includes an adaptation of the song which Frodo sings at the Prancing Pony: The first three lines are true to Tolkien's original, but the fourth line (which can only barely be heard) goes "That you never would believe it, so pass the beer all round!" (The original version reads "That the man in the moon himself came down one night to drink his fill".) However, the later line "With a ping and a pong the fiddle strings snapped" is true to the original.
  • Just as in Jackson's version, Bakshi's Balrog has wings.
  • Unlike in Jackson's version, Gandalf retains his hat even upon becoming Gandalf the White.
  • Cel animation was produced and shot for this film, but was cut out at the last minute.[10] Except for the cel-animated shot of the hobbits at Bilbo's birthday party,[11] the final product is entirely rotoscoped.
  • Future director Tim Burton worked as an animator on this film. He was not credited, but worked as an "inbetween" artist. It was his first job on a film.[12]
  • At one point in the film's development, studio executives thought that the names "Saruman" and "Sauron" were too similar, and would confuse the audience, and decided that Saruman should be renamed "Aruman". This decision was eventually reversed, but some references to "Aruman" remain in the finished film.
  • Bakshi's film sparked enough interest in Tolkien's work to provoke not only the Rankin/Bass Return of the King, but a complete adaptation of The Lord of the Rings on BBC Radio. For this broadcast, Michael Graham Cox and Peter Woodthorpe reprised their roles of Boromir and Gollum, respectively, appearing alongside Ian Holm who would go on to appear in Peter Jackson's live-action trilogy.
  • Peter Jackson first encountered The Lord of the Rings via Bakshi's film,[13] and some shots in his live-action trilogy appear to have been influenced by it. One such shot[14] features Frodo and the other hobbits hiding from a Black Rider under a big tree root, while the Black Rider stalks above them. In his version of the sequence, Jackson uses a similar shot[15] — although he films it from a different angle (in the book, Frodo hid separately from the other hobbits). A second sequence features the camera slowly revolving around Strider and the hobbits, who stand in a circle as the Black Riders approach them on Weathertop. In his staging, Jackson also uses a similar shot — although his camera is much faster, and Strider is not among the hobbits. A third similarity is the depiction of Gollum losing the ring in the prologue: both films show very similar events but the book had no such prologue and indeed it runs directly counter to Tolkien's scheme for the storyline. Another similarly staged scene is Legolas, Gimli, and Aragorn's discovery of Gandalf the White. On the DVD commentary of The Lord of the Rings: The Fellowship of the Ring, Jackson acknowledges one shot, a low angle of a hobbit at Bilbo's birthday party shouting "Proudfeet!", as an intentional homage to Bakshi's film. By far the biggest "lift," however, is the scene of the Nazgûl appearing in the hobbits' room at the Prancing Pony and slashing the beds to ribbons thinking the shapes under the sheets to be the hobbits (but are actually pillows). This is almost identical to Bakshi's version, which is significant, as the scene is not depicted in the book; a passage does appear that states that hobbit beds wind up slashed during the night, but the townsfolk of Bree are the perpetrators, not the Nazgûl.  Some of Sam's interjections are also sourced from Bakshi rather than Tolkien. Another idea used in both films is to depict Éomer as a late arrival at the Battle of the Hornburg, rather than the book's Erkenbrand. Indeed, the whole stricture of the first two installments is but Bakshi's movie script plight in two and a little expanded with some episodes (The Lord of the Rings: The Two Towers ends exactly where Bakshi's movie ends: the end of the Battle of Hornburg and Gollum leading Frodo and Sam to Shelob - the Black Gate is presumably cut, since Gollum talks about his "secret way", and Faramir could be as well, since the Hobbits are journeying through the Mountains of Shadow).
  • During the battle of Helm's Deep, a song with non-English lyrics is heard on the soundtrack. The words Isengard and Mordor can be clearly discerned. However, it is not in Quenya nor Sindarin, nor even in the Black Speech. For the song, composer Leonard Rosenman had his choir sing nonsense lyrics to get the desired effect.
  • In Stephen King and Peter Straub's novel The Talisman, Jack Sawyer and Wolf attempt to hide out by going to a matinee showing of the movie.
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ReferencesEdit

  1. Ralph Bakshi production photos: 1 2
  2. Interview with Ralph Bakshi
  3. Bakshi.com Gallery Images: 1 2 3
  4. '70s Version of Lord of the Rings 'Devastated' Director Bakshi
  5. Ralph Bakshi, as quoted on The Official Ralph Bakshi Forum
  6. Roger Ebert's review of the film
  7. Vincent Canby's review of the film
  8. Box Office Mojo Info
  9. An look at upcoming Tolkien-based movies
  10. Deleted scenes at the official Ralph Bakshi website
  11. Bakshi.com gallery image
  12. Ralph Bakshi.com info for The Lord of the Rings
  13. Archive of an interview with Peter Jackson
  14. CED Magic screenshot
  15. Screenshot from Peter Jackson's The Fellowship of the Ring.

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