Before Peter Jackson propelled The Lord of the Rings franchise to unimaginable heights with his live-action trilogy in the early 2000s, an earlier attempt was made by director Ralph Bakshi in 1978. Bakshi is most notable for his independent, adult animated films, and instead of filming in live-action, Bakshi used animation as his medium to tell J. R. R. Tolkien’s famous story.
One aspect of the 1978 The Lord of the Rings film that I appreciated was its faithfulness to the source material which was intentional on Bakshi’s part. Some scenes from the book may have been shortened in the film, but at least they still got to appear. The movie, however, only covers Tolkien’s first two books in the trilogy: The Fellowship of the Ring and The Two Towers. And even though I know what ultimately happens, the film’s ending still left me hanging and wanting to see how the cliffhanger pans out.
The animation is dated, but I think the old fashion style only adds to its charms. It gives the movie a classic feel. The film is famous most notably for its extensive use of rotoscoping, where footage was shot in live action and then traced onto animation cels. You can see this during the fights and battles where it’s very obvious the characters were filmed by real actors and then drawn over. Personally, I found the rotoscoped scenes distracting. I couldn’t focus or enjoy the film because I was too busy noticing how lifelike the horse Gandalf rode, the band of running Orcs, or Aragorn’s sword fighting moved across the frames. I kept imagining how much fun it must have been for the actors when they filmed the scenes.
The 1978 The Lord of the Rings was financially a success, but reviews were mixed. Sadly, Ralph Bakshi never got to direct a sequel that would have concluded the story. The silver lining, however, is the fact that the film has become a cult classic. Despite the movie’s shortcomings, I respect the tremendous effort and vision it took to bring Tolkien’s epic saga to the screen. It was an ambitious project (roughly two and half hours long) whose legacy, I believe, gets better with time and reflection.