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Review of Ralph Bakshi's The Lord of the Rings
by Mark A. Rivera
Title: JRR Tolkien's The Lord of the Rings
Featuring the Voices of: John Hurt, Anthony Daniels, Christopher Guard, William Squire, and Andre Morell
Writers: Chris Conkling and Peter S. Beagle
Based Particularly on the Novels: The Fellowship of the Ring and The Two Towers
Director: Ralph Bakshi
Feature length: 130 minutes
Extras: 1:33.1 Version of the film for 4 by 3 televisions
Languages: English Stereo
Packaging: Glossy VHS Cardboard Slipcase
Media: NTSC VHS Cassette
Year of Theatrical Release: 1978/VHS Release: 1995
Original Theatrical Distributor: Unknown
Home Video Distributor: Republic Pictures
MPAA Rating: PG
VHS Rating: C
Reviewer: Mark A. Rivera

In anticipation of New Line Cinema's upcoming Theatrical Film version of JRR Tolkien's "The Lord Of The Rings Trilogy" to be Directed by Peter Jackson in New Zealand, I thought it would be fun to watch Ralph Bakshi's Animated Theatrical Version from the late 70's. Unfortunately, I had lost my VHS copy that HBO Video was distributing some years back and then was horrified to find out that the film was on moratorium again.

A few days later I came across a newer VHS release of the film that was distributed by Republic Pictures in the children's video section of a retail store for only five dollars and ninety-nine cents. At a price too good to pass up I purchased the film and was even happier to find that the transfer was a standard play (SP) recording rather than an extended play (EP) transfers often found on bargain basement VHS Cassettes.

Now the mistake of placing Bakshi's animated version of "The Lord of the Rings" was not a huge error, but this definitely is not a Disney cartoon and should not be viewed by minors under ten years of age without Adult Supervision because of some of the violent fighting scenes and moments involving the Ring Wraiths might really give children nightmares.

At the time this cartoon was released, there was no CGI for animators to work with so Bakshi combines traditional animation techniques with actual painting over of actors to give the film a more realistic tone. At times this works magnificently as with the initial meeting between Frodo Baggins and Gandalf the Wizard to discuss the One Ring, where Gandalf's blue cloak itself is a marvel to look at because it moves more realistically than anything I have ever seen in an animated film.

Other times, like Frodo doing a dance inside an inn where actors painted over cheer don't work as well, but then again at the time this was cutting edge animation. Bakshi portrays a more realistic Middle Earth than the ones scene in the cutesier Rank and Bass TV Cartoons that featured songs to boot.

To be honest I like both cartoons, but I prefer the Bakshi Edition because he uses subtle differences in the eyes and ears of the elves for example to distinguish them from mortal men and Gimli the Dwarf is not a short hobbit sized creature at all. He appears to be more like a human with a long beard. He also shares some of the film's best dialogue along with Gollum and Gandalf. Actors John Hurt and Anthony Daniels are among the recognizable voices in the film.

The film leaves out a whole lot out from the first two novels in the trilogy, but also includes elements not depicted in the television cartoons either. A sequel was never made. This is a like it or hate it film. If you watch this expecting to see something more akin to a Disney cartoon, you will probably be severely disappointed, but if you watch it knowing that it is an animated film aimed toward Tolkien fans and adults, you might like the film even if some of the effects and some of the music score are extremely 1970's circa "Planet of the Apes" style action music. However, I love the main theme of Bakshi's adaptation of "The Lord of the Rings" so much I wish they would include it in the upcoming live action features.

The VHS transfer is VHS quality and it shows especially if you have grown use to watching the quality of films being released on DVD. I hope they will release the animated feature again in a remastered print especially for DVD with commentary by Bakshi. That would be a great tie in for the upcoming theatrical trilogy releases. As it is now, the VHS edition I have is worth it if you can find it because it is a legitimate copy packaged in a nice glossy box featuring the films original One Sheet artwork and for less than eight dollars, I can deal with the low resolution for now.

Mark A. Rivera - C

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