The Lord Of The Rings (DVD)
For animation pioneer Ralph Bakshi, adapting J.R.R. Tolkien's The Lord Of The Rings book trilogy into an animated film was a labor of love. Unfortunately, love is a poor substitute for stability and large amounts of money, at least where Hollywood and highly technical films are concerned. Bakshi's production suffered through a studio shakeup, budget problems, and a midstream change in producers, as well as excessive ambition and a lack of technical skill. The end product clearly shows the scars. Bakshi's primary goal was to preserve Tolkien's dialogue and plot, and to some degree he succeeded. Though some of the books' characters are missing or muted, Bakshi's renditions do at least sound like Tolkien's characters. The problem is in the look of the film, which was filmed in live-action, then painted over for inexpensive process and realistic effect. In the best scenes, Bakshi's technique gives some of his protagonists weight and a fluidity of motion that surpasses normal cel animation. But most of the others simply look cheap, obvious, and tacky. Bakshi's 1978 filmnow available on a no-frills DVD that's mostly notable for its eight separate sets of foreign-language subtitlescovers roughly half of the Rings trilogy. It follows a diverse band of adventurers (voiced mostly by British stage and TV actors, led by the indispensable John Hurt as Aragorn) who attempt to hold an evil overlord at bay while they destroy a powerful magical ring that he created to assist him in conquering the world. They're up against powerful magic, creepy schemers, and an endless army of orcs, a.k.a. men in togas and masks with painted-on fangs and glowing eyes, in the film's worst and most prominently repeated effect. The orc battles eat up an inordinate amount of screen time, dragging down the film's already uneven pacing. Only diehard Tolkien fans will be able to follow the spotty story, and only because they can mentally fill in the holes in the plot, spelling out for themselves why one interminable battle is distinct from another. Still, those same fans will probably be disappointed by the mundanity of Bakshi's vision, as well as the huge, budget-driven shortcuts and compromises he was forced to make. It seems likely that Bakshi hoped at some point that he could bring the books he loved to a far wider audience. Instead, he ended up with a lurching, Frankenstein-like product that will bore or confuse non-fans, and mostly frustrate the Tolkien devotees who know enough about the books to realize how much better this film could have been.