|Wednesday, January 2, 2002
03:06 - Bakshi's "Lord of the Rings"
Now that I've seen Jackson's new FotR movie three times and blogged about it till I've run out of immediate reactions, I decided to pick up the DVD of Ralph Bakshi's 1978 (more or less) animated adaptation and slog through it again.
Like all good net-bound Tolkien fans, I had the infamous review from the Tolkien Sarcasm Page topmost in my mind as I watched. While all the giggle-fit-inducing points made in The Review are valid, there were a couple of things I actually thought Bakshi did well that would have benefited Jackson's movie. Namely:
- Merry, Pippin, and Sam take their time getting out of the Shire-- and in so doing betray a bit of character in revealing their "conspiracy" to determine what Frodo is up to. You get a sense of the history of these characters in Bakshi's movie, whereas in PJ's they're just vaguely related acquaintances who they happen to run into on their way out. But they're so dorky in Bakshi and so deft-in-a-pinch in Jackson that I'll live with it.
- I like how Aragorn hid behind the door in the Prancing Pony when Barliman came in.
- Bill the pony is with them from the outset. In Jackson, he only appears out of nowhere after Rivendell, and then is dismissed when they enter Moria. In Bakshi he's there all along, and his off-screen sacrifice to the Watcher is pretty shivery.
- They didn't cut out the story of Beren and Lúthien, so you get the historical-parallel context for Aragorn's love for Arwen. But Arwen is never even mentioned in Bakshi, so never mind.
- Some mention is made of Lórien before they get there, and Boromir in particular comes out as being uneasy at the prospect of meeting Galadriel. His little chest-puffing sword confrontation with Aragorn there is also pretty cool.
- It's overdone, but at least you do see Galadriel's ring in Bakshi. Jackson seems to have overlooked that bit.
- Similarly, some interesting plot tidbits-- like "Some things the Mirror shows never come to be, unless those that behold them turn aside from their path to prevent them", and "There is no evil in Lothlorien, unless a man should bring it there himself" survive in Bakshi but are lost in Jackson.
But really, that's about all that Bakshi has going for it. Particular point gripes that I would mention, things that weren't already pointed out in The Review:
- The prologue is all shot in silhouetted live-action, and when it's narrating a battle, the combatants pretty much stand there uncertainly and wave their weapons slowly at each other. It's like what they filmed was a rehearsal where the director was showing them how to move their swords-- or maybe like someone decided to animate the Bayeux Tapestry. Which would actually be kinda cool, now that I think about it.
- The hobbits all waddle around and clap their hands moronically, like little old ladies, and they have buck teeth.
- All the landscape pieces look like the hills are made of bones and old tires. Especially when Frodo and Sam see Mt. Doom from afar. Compare to the final landscape shot of the Jackson movie, of the Ered Lithui seen from over the Dead Marshes and Emyn Muil. Bakshi's version of the same shot looks like the set of Junkyard Wars.
- Why are all the hobbits' swords brown?
- Aragorn looks like the Breelanders would call him Chief Broken Sword.
- The scene at the Ford of Bruinen goes on about nine times longer than it needs to. Everything takes place in pointless slow-motion, you can't tell what anybody's trying to do-- it's just ridiculous. Just think-- they could have cut this scene down by 75% and gained five minutes to use in developing backstory at, say, the Council of Elrond. And where the fark is everyone else during the scene?
- Speaking of the Council-- what the hell is that background scenery piece that Sam appears against?
- Gimli looks to be about 5'8". And he's bald. (But at least there's more subtle interplay between him and Legolas in Bakshi than in Jackson-- but there's more Jackson yet to see.)
- In the scene where the Fellowship debates whether to go into Moria, Gandalf plumps in favor of it. Most of them don't want to go in. But when Gimli expresses his desire to go through the mines, Gandalf POINTS at him! With a freaky quivering bony finger! "Judas!"
- They mispronounce almost every word they get their hands on. Gandalf yells "Eeeeedro!" at the doors of Moria. They keep saying "Baylin" in the mines. Of course it's MY-nas Tirith. Not, of course, to mention "Sell-a-born'.
- The orc-chieftain who charges Frodo in Moria: The Review already mentions his pointless slow-motion. But it doesn't mention how when the scene first switches to him, he's at the far end of the hall leaning against a column, all alone, like he's waiting for his cue and daydreaming. He only starts running toward us after the camera's been staring at him for five seconds.
- The scene with Treebeard is just plain ridiculous. He looks like a bad acid trip, and the hobbits do way too much lobotomized four-year-old hand-clapping for their own good.
- Once the battle scenes begin in earnest-- once the hobbits are carried off by the orcs toward Rohan-- the animators start getting really lazy. They convey motion-blur on close-angle shots by scribbling jagged lines for the outlines of characters. Keep an eye on the orcs when they're being chased by the Rohirrim-- you'll get lots of chances to freeze-frame it. This is a movie that was never meant to stand up to the scrutiny of DVD-o-philes.
The two films are really apples and oranges-- if you watch Bakshi first and then go to Jackson, Bakshi vanishes from one's radar. But if you watch them in the reverse order, you get a pretty good idea of how differently the two films are done.
Two scenes, for me, best describe how the two movies differ.
- When Frodo wakes up in Rivendell. Bakshi has Gandalf sitting over him gesticulating and intoning the unsolicited, bizarre story of his imprisonment while Frodo squirms. Jackson, instead, has him apologize-- "I'm sorry-- I was... delayed." And then his mind wanders to a masterful flashback of his escape, and then back to Frodo's bedside. "Gandalf-- what is it?" "<blink> ...Nothing." That's Gandalf.
- Bilbo asking to see the ring. In Bakshi, he gropes for it with one eye twitching shut, while Frodo tries to prevent himself from taking a swing at Bilbo, who then gets hold of himself and then delivers a flat, overacted "Don't adventures ever have an end?" In Jackson, he turns momentarily to a snarling Gollum snatching for the Ring-- then turns away and sobs with genuine emotion as he apologizes for Frodo being dragged into this mess.
Bakshi is a tedious stumbling slog with occasional good bits. Jackson is art-- it has the odd interstitial rough spot, but the whole is a masterwork.