A Purist Review of Ralph Bakshi

Ralph Bakshi’s film version of The Lord of the Rings was released in 1978, the first attempt at adapting the beloved book into a film. It was made using a style of animation called rotoscoping in which live actors are filmed and the animation was later drawn over them. However, Bakshi did not complete the process of rotoscoping in many scenes, so often there are just live actors who have been tinted a delightful vomit-brown and/or outlined in black.

The film is half-finished other ways as well. It covers less than two-thirds of the book (more or less all of The Fellowship of the Ring and about half of The Two Towers). Several characters (Treebeard, Merry, Pippin, Frodo, Sam, and Gollum) are last seen wandering in the wilderness, but the film never returns to them. The only storyline that has anything even resembling a climax is the one culminating at Helm’s Deep, but the characters there never meet Saruman.  A few brief lines about evil being destroyed forever are tacked on to the end to suggest that it is a finished film.

The film was, for some reason, not a flop at the box office and retains some fans today, though it has largely been forgotten and eclipsed in the public eye by Peter Jackson’s trilogy. Of those who remember Bakshi’s film some hold it up in contrast to PJ’s films as an example of a faithful adaptation (not always as a compliment). One example is the Warner Bros. press release announcing the release of Bakshi’s and PJ’s films on Blu-ray that referred to the former as a “literal adaptation”.

What Warner Bros. and many others who hold Bakshi up as a model of purist adaptation seem to have missed are the myriad changes made by Bakshi. This is not to say that Bakshi did everything wrong, but he altered so much of the story that it can not be called literal or purist by any stretch of imagination (seemingly with no purpose in many cases).

Some of the changes (though not all) are:

  1. The Prologue of the films suggests that Sauron learned the craft of Ring-making after the Elven-smiths, rather than the other way around.
  2. The Prologue also states that Sauron was defeating the Last Alliance when he lost the Ring, not the other way around.
  3. The Ring-verse either does not appear on the Ring, or else no one reads it. Gandalf somehow knows that the Ring is the One though.
  4. Gandalf and Frodo’s conversation from The Shadow of the Past occurs not in Bag End but during a walk in the woods, and Sam is discovered not trimming grass but hiding in a bush (I have no idea why he was there).
  5. Merry and Pippin, far from conspiring to come along with Frodo, came along ‘just for fun’ (or for some other simiarily ludicrous reason; I don’t recall exactly what it was)
  6. The Old Forest, Tom Bombadil, and the Barrow-downs were all cut.
  7. Saruman wears red robes rather than robes of “Many Colours” or even white and is referred to as “Aruman” about half the time.
  8. Legolas meets Aragorn and the hobbits in the wilds of Eriador rather than Glorfindel.
  9. The Deeping Wall is breached not by the orcs but by some giant flashy light-comet-thing that comes out of Isengard and flies across the plains of Rohan.
  10. We hardly see anything of Fangorn (the forest or the Ent) and the Huorns make no appearance at Helm’s Deep.

(This is a very brief list compiled mainly from memory and a few reviews on the web. The last – and also the first – time I saw the film was over a year ago so I’m sure that I have not remembered everything.)

For a more in-depth look at Bakshi’s Lord of the Rings (not from a specifically purist perspective) see the Tolkien Sarcasm page and the Agony Booth.

Back to Other Essays index.

Back to main Tolkien Purism page.

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