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The Lord of the Rings

The Lord of the Rings on DVD

Bring on the Live Action Film!

Ralph Bakshi's 1978 animated version of the classic J.R.R. Tolkien fantasy must be given credit for trying.

Unfortunately, it's ultimately very trying - on our patience. The movie has no pace, no feel to it, the animation is sub par, and we're left with a mishmash of "classic" animation and poorly done rotoscoping (where the animators trace images of live actors) that's extremely frustrating for those who wanted to see this story done well.

The story revolves around Frodo Baggins, a hobbit who has come into possession of the One Ring of power that, if it were to fall into the hands of the evil Sauron, would allow him to completely dominate Middle Earth and plunge its generally happy creatures into a horrible life under his wicked yoke.

Today, this would be a documentary on Afghanistan's Taliban...

So the Fellowship of the Ring is formed, a collection of four Hobbits, the wizard Gandalf, an elf, two humans, and a dwarf - and they set off to help Frodo destroy the ring by throwing it into the cracks of doom deep in Sauron's territory.

This movie actually only deals with the first two books of the trilogy, but as unsatisfying as that may sound it's actually a blessing in disguise because by the time you've sat through the 134 minutes of Bakshi's bastardization you'll be grateful it doesn't go any farther.

The third book (the Return of the King) was done in a TV adaptation, but it isn't on this DVD.

Bakshi undoubtedly did the best he could with the budget and technology he was handed, and there are a few good moments during the story. Unfortunately, the special effects look dumb in this age of computerized digital effects, and the backgrounds, which are often quite nicely rendered watercolor paintings, look as if they're in a different film and the characters rather than appearing to be part of the landscapes look more as if they're merely superimposed onto them.

It's a shame. All the elements are here, from hobbits and dwarves to orcs and balrogs, but far too often the characters, especially the evil ones, are so obviously rotoscoped that they look laughable at best, and this causes you to suspend any suspension of your disbelief - and that suspension of disbelief is vital if The Lord of the Rings is to work.

So it doesn't.

Maybe they bit off more than they could chew; perhaps the producers should have tried to do justice to "the Hobbit" instead, the prequel to The Lord of the Rings that is a single volume yet still a ripping yarn.

The DVD is presented in anamorphic widescreen, 16x9 TV compatible, with Dolby Digital stereo surround audio. Video quality is adequate at best, mostly because the unrestored original film displays wear and tear. The audio quality is good.

Extras include a cast listing, trailer, and Tolkien and filmmaker highlights. It's a pretty sparse package - but then again this film doesn't really deserve much more.

We theorize that this mishmash was released to cash in on the new live action The Lord of the Rings trilogy of films that premiere at Christmas 2001. That's pretty cynical, but this is, after all, Hollywood.

The Lord of the Rings, from Warner Home Video
134 min. Anamorphic widescreen (1.85:1), 16x9 TV compatible, Dolby Digital stereo surround
Produced by Saul Zaentz
written by Chris Conkling and Peter S. Beagle, directed by Ralph Bakshi.


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Updated May 13, 2006