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Saturday, May 31, 2008

The Lord of the Rings (Ralph Bakshi, director)

No, not the book. The movie.

No, not that movie!! This one.

I never had a chance to see the animated LOTR -- until recently, when I decided to catch up on some animated adaptations of movies (see my post on Watership Down). So I eagerly put it in the video cassette video player VCR (I can't even remember what it's called. And I really can't believe we still have a remote that operates it. Anyone under the age of 25 is encouraged not to continue reading this post).

Where was I? Oh, yes, LOTR, the movie.

Well, certainly it doesn't compare to Peter Jackson's version -- that was big and sweeping, and this is small and earnest. Cutting down movies to bare-bones animation can sometimes enhance the quality of the production. The animated version is surprisingly dark and gory, yet also chirpy. Still, Tolkien's story comes through clearly.

What I enjoy most about this kind of exercise is seeing a different interpretation of Tolkien. Surely everyone has a different vision for how to "do" the movie? I have quibbles with Jackson, and I have quibbles with Bakshi, but I also found much to enjoy and appreciate.

The animation is a bit odd. Apparently (according to the Source of All Knowledge) several scenes were filmed with live action, and then traced into animation. Although not a new technique, Bakshi uses this to create a very stark, harsh mood, well-suited to armies and battles. But this technique jars with the cartoon-y cell animation. Jackson preferred a consistent realism, but Bakshi's approach (though unsettling) would seem to suit the novels more.

Unfortunately, though, the movie is but a reflection of the novel. Imperfect, incomplete -- but it adds nothing. The best movie adaptations should add. It's the difference between reading a play and watching a performance. Characters, performance, production... you should get something new.

If we compare with Jackson, we find he added songs and music. Yes! How important these are to the novels, and how little the music shines through the pages of the books. (How reviled the songs were, too, but alas, the unwashed masses simply didn't understand.) Jackson expanded the roles and depth of female characters. Good for him! Jackson gave us sweeping and realistic armies; he gave us hordes. And whoa. Those took your breath away.

There were a few nice touches in the animated version (the going-away party, the Ring-wraith's assault in Bree). Intriguingly, all these "nice touches" were re-done exactly the same way in Jackson's movie (shame on him). But nice touches aren't enough to add true depth to an adaptation. In the end, I can only recommend this film for the curious. I don't think it stands on its own; you'd have to be a Tolkien fan, and you'd have to think, "Oooh, an animated film? Would that be any good?" If your curiosity is piqued, then satisfy it.

A warning, for those moved by curiosity: the movie ends abruptly, after the Battle at Helm's Deep (clearly some people are still bitter about this!). It is the first of a two-part series. The second part was not made. There are, however, animated versions of The Hobbit and The Return of the King, which the Source of All Knowledge tells me are linked as prequel/sequel. Huh? At any rate, you've been warned: the ending is abrupt, and the sequel may not exist.

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