[Hobbit Day] The Return of the King (1980)

Director: Jules Bass, Arthur Rankin Jr.

Cast: Orson Bean, John Huston, William Conrad, Roddy McDowall, Theodore Bikel

Screenplay: Romeo Muller

98 mins. Not Rated.

 

Happy Hobbit Day, y’all. September 22 is Bilbo Baggins’s birthday and Tolkien fans around the world celebrate with all sorts of fun festivities. Well, I thought we would take a look at the Rankin/Bass animated adaptation of the back half of The Lord of the Rings today.

But first, a history. Hobbits love history. After Ralph Bakshi’s sequel to The Lord of the Rings was cancelled, Jules Bass and Arthur Rankin Jr. (The Last Unicorn, Frosty the Snowman) took on the task of adapting the follow-up. They had previously adapted a version of The Hobbit. The style between the two directors is drastically different in almost every way.

The Return of the King opens at the end of the tale after the ring has been destroyed and recounts the events that caused the end of the ring and Sauron (an interesting idea but one that is not wholly successful in the larger framework of the work) as Frodo (Orson Bean, Being John Malkovitch, TV’s Desperate Housewives) explains how he lost ring finger and became “Frodo of the Nine Fingers.” He tells of the bravery of Samwise Gamgee (Roddy McDowall, Planet of the Apes, A Bug’s Life) taking on the role of ringbearer in his absence. Meanwhile, Gandalf (John Huston, The Treasure of the Sierra Madre, The Black Cauldron) escorts Pippin to Minas Tirith to bring warnings of war to Denethor (William Conrad, The Killers, TV’s Cannon).

Overall, The Return of the King has some major missteps in its adaptation. The choice to place a framing device on the story further separates itself from the interesting and far superior Bakshi film. Rankin and Bass said they always planned to follow-up their adaptation of The Hobbit with The Return of the King, but I call bullshit on that one.

Then there’s the issues of the characters. Aragorn (Theodore Bikel, My Fair Lady, The African Queen) barely has a presence in the film and Legolas and Gimli do not appear whatsoever. It’s as if they for forgot to include them at all. I get it, they have less purpose in the latter half of the story, but to omit them completely is an extremely poor choice.

Now, there are some nice musical interludes (an area where the Rankin/Bass adaptations usually make good on the source material), and I rather enjoyed the Denethor scenes, but the wins of this film are too few and far between.

The Return of the King is easily the lesser of the three animated Tolkien films. It just misses the mark on so much that anything good to say is quickly overshadowed by its flaws. Even Rankin/Bass’s work on The Hobbit is far better. Sadly, this is a poor finale to an interesting animated journey.

 

2/5

-Kyle A. Goethe

 

 

For my review of Ralph Bakshi’s The Lord of the Rings, click here.

 

 

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[Hobbit Day] The Lord of the Rings (1978)

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Director: Ralph Bakshi

Cast: Christopher Guard, William Squire, Michael Scoles, John Hurt, Simon Chandler, Dominic Guard, Michael Graham Cox, Anthony Daniels, David Buck

Screenplay: Peter S. Beagle, Chris Conkling

132 mins. Rated PG.

 

Wait, so what is Hobbit Day?

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Hobbit Day is September 22nd, the birthdays of both Bilbo Baggins and Frodo Baggins. I thought, since I have never seen the animated Ralph Bakshi (Wizards, Cool World) film version of The Lord of the Rings from 1978, why not today to celebrate?

That being said, Tolkien Week is the Sunday through Saturday containing Hobbit Day, so unbox your extended editions of the Peter Jackson-directed films too!

The Lord of the Rings covers roughly two thirds of the saga originally crafted by JRR Tolkien. It begins with the passing of the ring from Bilbo Baggins to his nephew Frodo (Christopher Guard, Memoirs of a Survivor, The Haunting of Helen Walker). As Frodo begins his journey with Samwise Gamgee (Michael Scoles, Sweeney 2) to Rivendell, Gandalf the Grey (William Squire, Where Eagles Dare, Anne of the Thousand Days) travels to Isengard to discover what type of Ring of Power they are dealing with. Eventually, Frodo’s journey brings him to the creation of a fellowship also containing Aragorn (John Hurt, V for Vendetta, Hercules), Legolas (Anthony Daniels, Star Wars – Episode IV: A New Hope, The Lego Movie), and Gimli (David Buck, The Dark Crystal, The Mummy’s Shroud), all headed to Mount Doom in Mordor to destroy the One Ring before the ring finds its way back to Sauron.

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The Lord of the Rings was unique and very important when it was made. It was the longest animated feature film of all time as well as being the first fully-rotoscoped animated feature ever. What is rotoscoping, you ask? Well, it involves filming actual actors in black-and-white and then animating over it. That’s what gives the finished product such an unusual and unique look.

The voice work from many of the performers is pretty solid, especially John Hurt and William Squire. The real issue of the finished film is in the pacing. The gorgeous and intricate cinematography is troubled by pacing issues. Director Ralph Bakshi was more focused on creating stunning visuals than he was with putting it all together. He did have a vision, and I can’t take that from him. He originally envisioned Led Zeppellin music as a score to the film (many Zep fans will note that the band had a lot of Tolkien imagery associated within their lyrics).

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The Lord of the Rings was a daring endeavor, one that is beloved by many. It even created some images so iconic they were even replicated for the Peter Jackson-directed live action saga. On the plus side, it is an adult look at the saga, treated with respect and vision. On the opposite hand, it tries to jam too much together into such a small space that the editing and pacing of the finished product suffer and pull the viewer out of the film. Overall, this is a flawed but very interesting take on Tolkien’s classic world.

 

2.5/5

-Kyle A. Goethe