Stanley Kubrick, John Boorman and Walt Disney had all taken a run at making a movie of Lord of the Rings and had then backed off. It figured that if these three couldn’t pull off an adaptation of JRR Tolkein’s enormously complex and popular mythology then nobody could.
Enter Ralph Bakshi, much of whose previous work (Fritz The Cat, Heavy Traffic, Coonskin, Wizards) had managed to generate delight and outrage in equal measure.
He had become known as the X-rated cartoon man but he managed to acquire the rights to LOTR and the financial assistance he needed – a budget in excess of $6 million, which was extraordinary for an animated feature.
Bakshi decided to shoot LOTR (or at least the first half of it) entirely in live-action, then translate it into more than 250,000 individual painted images over 2½ years.
The results were like nothing ever before. In its first week, the picture broke nineteen house records in 31 cinemas – unheard of for an animated feature.
Certain sections of the film – the mines of Moria; the Ringwraiths in the sky – were bitingly close to the visualisations of the book, although the voices of the hobbits seemed a little too light and west country.
Gandalf, Saruman, Wormtongue and Legolas were particularly well realised, and John Hurt made a splendid Aragorn.
Many audience members were disappointed that the movie ended with Frodo, Sam and Gollum walking off towards Modor following the Battle of Helm’s Deep – with a voice-over saying “Here ends the first part of the history of the War of the Rings”.
The original title had been The Lord of the Rings Part One but the studio felt no one would pay to see half a film and changed the name. Bakshi objected to the name change because it would confuse audiences into thinking that they would be getting the whole story. Nevertheless, the studio went ahead. They later pulled out of filming the second film.
Michael Graham Cox