The versions I first read, growing up - the first authorized U.S. paperback Ballatine edition.

The versions I first read, growing up – the first authorized U.S. paperback Ballatine edition.

The Lord of the Rings

  • Rank:  #5
  • Author:  J.R.R. Tolkien  (1892  -  1973)
  • Published:  1955  (U.K.),  1956  (U.S.)
  • Publisher:  George Allen & Unwin  (U.K.), Houghton Mifflin  (U.S.)
  • Pages:  1137
  • First Line:  “When Mr. Bilbo Baggins of Bag End announced that he would shortly be celebrating his eleventy-first birthday with a party of special magnificence, there was much talk and excitement in Hobbiton.”
  • Last Line:  ” ‘Well, I’m back,’ he said.”
  • Acclaim:  3rd Best-Selling Novel of All-Time; Le Monde’s 100 Books of the Century
  • ML Version:  None
  • Film:  1978  (*);  1980  (TV – **.5);  2001, 2002, 2003  (****)
  • First Read:  Summer, 1980

The Novel:  So what is this book?  I suppose the first thing to point out that this is a book.  I have only put one publishing date and one number for pages – for the complete book.  I will quote directly from the Note on the Text: “The Lord of the Rings is often erroneously called a trilogy, when it is in fact a single novel, consisting of six books plus appendices, sometimes published in three volumes.”  Actually, I have a box set where it is was published in seven volumes.

Back to my first point.  What is this book?  I could say that this book is a tale of history, of what has come before (as the Prologue says: “Further information will also be found in the selection from the Red Book of Westmarch that has already been published, under the title of The Hobbit.  That story was derived from the earlier chapters of the Red Book, composed by Bilbo himself, the first Hobbit to become famous in the world at large, and called by him There and Back Again, since they told of his journey into the East and his return: an adventure which later involved all the Hobbits in the great events of that Age that are here related.”).  Or perhaps this is an epic, the same kind of thing that Tolkien himself used to teach, on a par with Beowulf or The Song of Roland (“Thus came Aragorn son of Arathorn, Elesser, Isildur’s heir, out of the Paths of the Dead, borne upon a wind from the Sea to the kingdom of Gondor.”).  And times, if we are to look close enough, we can even see a romance, peeking through at the start (“There my heart is; but it is not my fate to sit in peace, even in the fair house of Elrond.”).  It is a mythology, a tale of what once was and how these amazing creatures came to be in our land (“Maybe you have heard of Trolls?  They are mighty strong.  But Trolls are only counterfeits, made by the Enemy in the Great Darkness, in mockery of Ents, as Orcs were of Elves.”)  Or, it is a fantasy, the epic fantasy to end all fantasies (“What it was could not be seen: it was like a great shadow, in the middle of which was a dark form, of man-shape maybe, yet greater; and a power and terror seemed to be in it and to go before it.”).  Though, really, it is the fantasy to begin all fantasies.  For this is where modern fantasy comes from, and we can not imagine the current state of fantasy, of the millions upon millions of books that are sold every year ever existing had this not come before them.  For this is where we all look to begin our epic quest.  And that’s what it is at the heart of it – an epic quest, not to find something, but to rid the world of a great evil (“This is the Master-ring, the One Ring to rule them all.  This is the One Ring that he lost so many ages ago, to the great weakening of his power.  He greatly desires it – but he must not get it.”).

All of that would be more than enough to give evidence of the greatness in this tale.  For some books, the story has little to do with it and the greatness comes from characters, or from richness of language and wordplay.  Here, the story has so much to do with it.  From the early parts of the book, where we first learn the backstory and the darkness of the tale ahead (” ‘So do I,’ said Gandalf, ‘and so do all who live to see such times.  But that is not for them to decide.  All we have to decide is what to do with the time that is given us.  And already, Frodo, our time is beginning to look black.  The Enemy is fast becoming very strong.  His plans are far from ripe, I think, but they are ripening.  We shall be hard put to it.  We should be very hard put to it, even if it were not for this dreadful chance.’”), through to the power of the Ring, and what it can do to those who love each other (“Bilbo put out his hand.  But Frodo quickly drew back the Ring.  To his distress and amazement he found that he was no longer looking at Bilbo; a shadow seemed to have fallen between them, and through it he found himself eyeing a little wrinkled creature with a hungry face and bony groping hands.  He felt a desire to strike him.”), to the deep power of magic that can suddenly spring up in its pages, revealing hidden depths and the edges of another story that is only hinted at (” ‘Behold, I am not Gandalf the Grey, whom you betrayed.  I am Gandalf the White, who has returned from death.  You have no colour now, and I cast you from the order and from the Council.’  He raised his hand and spoke slowly in a clear cold voice.  ‘Saruman, your staff is broken.’  There was a crack, and the staff split asunder in Saruman’s hand and the head of it fell down at Gandalf’s feet.”), all the way down to what lies on the other side of the Sea (“And the ship went out into the High Sea and passed on into the West, until at last on a night of rain Frodo smelled a sweet fragrance on the air and heard the sound of singing that came over the water.  And then it seemed to him that as in his dream in the house of Bombadil, the grey rain-curtain turned all to silver glass and was rolled back, and he beheld white shores and beyond them a far green country under a swift sunrise.”).

But there is more here than the story.  If it were just the story, we could look at so many other fantasy novels, which also have epic stories to tell, complete with memorable characters and fascinating moments and wonder why they can not compare with this, the greatest work of fantasy.  Well, because there is so much more.  There are life lessons to be had here (“Deserves it!  I daresay he does.  Many that live deserve death.  And some that die deserve life.  Can you give it to them?  Then do not be too eager to deal out death in judgement.  For even the very wise cannot see all ends.  I have not much hope that Gollum can be cured before he dies, but there is a chance of it.  And he is bound up with the fate of the Ring.  My heart tells me that he has some part to play yet, for good or ill, before the end; and when that comes, the pity of Bilbo may rule the fate of many – yours not least.”).  There is humor to be found in the pages (“As far as he could remember, Sam slept through the night in deep content, if logs are contented.”).  There are wondrous descriptions of food that seem to leap off the page and onto our tongues (“But he remembered that there was bread, surpassing the savour of a fair white loaf to one who is starving; and fruits sweet as wildberries and richer than the tended fruits of gardens; he drained a cup that was filled with a fragrant draught, cool as a clear fountain, golden as a summer afternoon.” or “The drink was like water, indeed very like the taste of the draughts they had drunk from the Entwash near the borders of the forest, and yet there was some scent of savour in it which they could not describe: it was faint, but it reminded them of the smell of a distant wood borne from afar by a cool breeze at night.  The effect of the draught began at the toes, and rose steadily through every limb, bringing refreshment and vigour as it coursed upwards, right to the tips of the hair.  Indeed the hobbits felt that the hair on their heads was actually standing up, waving and curling and growing.”).  There are places that come to life in vivid color and description, both wonderful to behold (“Shadows had fallen in the valley below, but there was still a light on the faces of the mountains far above.  The air was warm.  The sound of running and falling water was loud, and the evening was filled with a faint scent of trees and flowers, as if summer still lingered in Elrond’s gardens.”), or long-fallen into decay (“Dreadful as the Dead Marshes had been, and the arid moors of the Noman-lands, more loathsome far was the country that the crawling day now slowly unveiled to his shrinking eyes.  Even to the Mere of Dead Faces some haggard phantom of green spring would come; but here neither spring nor summer would ever come again.  Here nothing lived, not even the leprous growths that feed on rottenness.  The gasping pools were choked with ash and crawling muds, sickly white and grey, as if the mountains had vomited the filth of their entrails upon the lands about.  High mounds of crushed and powdered rock, great cones of earth fire-blasted and poison-stained, stood like an obscene graveyard in endless rows, slowly revealed in the reluctant light.”) and things which are still on the boundary between one and the other (“The brief glow fell upon a huge sitting figure, still and solemn as the great stone kings of Argonauth.  The years had gnawed it, and violent hands had maimed it.  Its head was gone, and in its place was set in mockery a round rough-hewn stone, rudely painted by savage hands in the likeness of a grinning face with one large red eye in the midst of its forehead.  Upon its knees and mighty chair, and all about the pedestal, were idle scrawls mixed with the foul symbols that the maggot-folk of Mordor used.”).  There is epic action, vividly brought to life (possibly my favorite scene in the whole book - “Then tottering, struggling up, with her last strength she drove her sword between crown and mantle as the great shoulders bowed before her.  The sword broke sparkling into many shards.  The crown rolled away with a clang.  Éowyn fell forward upon her fallen foe.  But lo! the mantle and hauberk were empty.  Shapeless they lay now on the ground, torn and tumbled; and a cry went up into the shuddering air, and faded to a shrill wailing, passing with the wind, a voice bodiless and thin that died, and was swallowed up, and was never heard again in that age of this world.”), but also mythology, as this is the story of a world long gone (“The River had taken Boromir, son of Denethor, and he was not seen again in Minas Tirith, standing as he used to stand upon the White Tower in the morning.  But in Gondor in after-days it long was said that the elven-boat rode the falls and the foaming pool, and bore him down through Osgiliath, and past the many mouths of Anduin, out into the Great Sea at night under the stars.”).

In fact, it is this last point that really stuck with me when reading the book again.  Of course I have read the book before.  I read it for the first time when I was five, understanding, I am certain, very little of it.  Yet, I could tell the epic story that was there and I began to know the characters.  But what always intrigued me was the epic scale of the story.  My favorite chapter has always been “The Shadow of the Past”, the second chapter, in which Gandalf gives us the history of the Ring.  This kind of epic story-telling has always appealed to me and I have always loved going through the first two appendices and seeing how much time and effort Tolkien put in the backstory and developing this world that he created.  Not that he would have claimed to have created a world.  To him, this was the history of the world that had passed us by.  He was simply passing on their history.  That is why a sentence like “On down the grey road that went beside the Snowbourn rushing on its stones; through the hamlets of Underharrow and Upbourn, where many sad faces of women looked out from dark doors; and so without horn or harp or music of men’s voices the great ride into the East began with which the songs of Rohan were busy for many long lives of men thereafter.” works so well.  Because this is epic history, not just a simple story.  And that was always what appealed to me – the sense of things that are larger.  In the last sentence of Fellowship, Frodo and Sam set out on their own, their small step into the bigger quest in which they are now alone: “Then shouldering their burdens, they set off, seeking a path that would bring them over the grey hills of the Emyn Muil, and down into the Land of Shadow.”  It is the capitalization that appeals to me – there is something so much more epic in Land of Shadow when it appears there with the capital letters.  Or, when Aragorn reveals himself to the Rohirrim: “I am Aragorn son of Arathorn, and am called Elesser, the Elfstone, Dúnadan, the heir of Isildur Elendil’s son of Gondor.  Here is the Sword that was Broken and is forged again!”  He is not simply a king, he is The King, and his Sword that was Broken is of such importance that we can hear it in his voice.  And when I got older and began to understand more of what I was reading (of course I continued to read it as I got older – I read it every year and I continue to read it every year – it used to always be in the summer, but when the Jackson films came, it switched to December, so I could immerse myself again as the films came out, then I went back to the summer, and now I am back in December because of the new films), certain scenes stood out to me.  When I was younger, reading “To the dismay of those that stood by, about the body of Saruman a grey mist gathered, and rising slowly to a great height like smoke from a fire, as a pale shrouded figure it loomed over the Hill.  For a moment it wavered, looking to the West; but out of the West came a cold wind, and it bent away, and with a sigh dissolved into nothing.” was just an interesting line, but as I got older and began to understand what Saruman was, and how he had come to be and how he had failed in his mission, this leant pathos to what seemed simply a pathetic death when I was younger.  But on this go around through, while marking quotes on various pages, I noticed something else.  I noticed the style of narration.  The book is written in third-person, of course.  But it is a limited third-person.  In Fellowship, what we mostly get is the story as seen through Frodo’s eyes, though not directly with his voice.  But in Towers, and most especially in King, we are actually seeing much of the action (in books 3 and 5) through Sam’s eyes.  And we see a lot of books 2 and 4 through Pippin or Merry’s eyes.  Those epic scenes, the ones that speak of destiny, those are the ones where, for the most part, there are no hobbits present.  The hobbits, even though not giving us direct narration, are providing us with their point of view.  And then there is the way in which the story is broken up, which seems not to matter as much when you’ve read it as much as I have.  But it matters to someone coming to it for the first time.  How brilliant is it, from a narrative standpoint, when the Captains of the West confront the Mouth of Sauron and we get the following scene: “The Messenger put these aside, and there to the wonder and dismay of all the Captains he held up first the short sword that Sam had carried, and next a grey cloak with an elven-brooch, and last the coat of mithril-mail that Frodo had worn wrapped in his tattered garments.  A blackness came before their eyes, and it seemed to them in a moment of silence that the world stood still, but their hearts were dead and their last hope gone.  Pippin who stood behind Prince Imrahil sprang forward with a cry of grief.”  For constant readers of the book, we know exactly how the Mouth has come to have these.  But for first-time readers, having left Frodo “alive but taken by the Enemy” when we last saw him at the end of Book 4, we don’t know if Frodo is still captured or dead or what might have happened.  We haven’t yet seen those actions and we can only imagine what has happened.  Indeed, while Tolkien often hearkens back in Books 4 and 6 to moments from the earlier books (“As it went it sent out a long shrill cry, the voice of a Nazgûl; but this cry no longer held any terror for them: it was a cry of woe and dismay, ill tidings for the Dark Tower.  The Lord of the Ringwraiths had met his doom.”), because of the way he breaks up the books, you spend entire books wondering what is happening with the Ring.  And yet, it all comes together at the end.  And at the end, it is no longer epic or mythology.  It is simply the story of four hobbits who go out on a journey and come home to their own Shire and find that it needs saving and this time it is something they can do.  And The Scouring of the Shire, which always seemed to me one of the least interesting parts of the book, is the story of how these four come into their own.

And, even with a book I have read so many times, there are new things to be found.  In watching one of the extras on the DVD’s, I noticed something Philippa Boyens said – a line that had always struck her.  And it was a line I had never really noticed before, but now it leaps off the page at me when I come to it, the last line in this quote here: “With a gasp Frodo cast himself on the ground.  Sam sat by him.  To his surprise he felt tired but lighter, and his head seemed clear again.  No more debates disturbed his mind.  He knew all the arguments of despair and would not listen to them.  His will was set, and only death would break it.”  It is a quote that sums up Sam so much, a character that I was never that fond of before the films, but who now I am filled with love towards.  And those things that Frodo says to him as they set out for the Havens, “I tried to save the Shire, and it has been saved, but not for me.” show the sadness in what has been lost in spite of all that has been accomplished, and yet I never really thought about them that much until Elijah Wood said them.  And “You cannot always be torn in two.  You will have to be one and whole, for many years.  You have so much to enjoy and to be, and to do.” mean so much, not only because I have heard them spoken with such eloquence, but also because I can understand the need to turn away from the Sea, to miss what you what lose, but find something more important, things I have learned since my own child was born.  That same thing that Sam knows when he returns home, with those lines that end both film and novel: “Well, I’m back.”

And yet, even then it is not over for me.  That is the last line of the novel itself and a perfect place to end it.  But, for me there is so much more in those final pages beyond the ending, in the history of Middle-earth, in the epic story of what has come before.  And it isn’t just a story of what has come before.  For in the second appendix, we get The Tale of Years, and we not only see what came before, but what comes afterwards.  And while the film ended on such a perfect note, I can understand why they considered ending it at another point, the line that ends the second appendix, and that seems to me to be the true ending of the tale, after Samwise has passed over Sea, after Pippin and Merry have gone to Gondor to pass what short years are left to them.  Some 120 years after the end of the book, we get the final line of what has happened with these characters that we have grown to love so much:

“In this year on March 1st came at last the Passing of King Elessar.  It is said that the beds of Meriadoc and Peregrin were set beside the bed of the great king.  Then Legolas built a grey ship in Ithilien, and sailed down Anduin and so over Sea; and with him, it is said, went Gimli the Dwarf.  And when that ship passed an end was come in Middle-earth of the Fellowship of the Ring.”

The Films:

Trust me, the poster is better than Bakshi's film.

Trust me, the poster is better than Bakshi’s film.

1978 version  (dir. Ralph Bakshi)

I seem to undertake this journey once a decade or so.  In the days before the Internet, I grew up reading the book every year without ever knowing that this film version existed.  I had grown up with the Rankin / Bass versions (and had book versions – see below).  But, then, one day, looking through a pile of papers in my closet, I found some magazines that had belonged to one of my older brothers and found a review of this film.  What an idea, I thought to myself, someone actually made a film version.  I have to track this down.

Before I found the film, I found a book version to go along with the film and oh did I ever not like what I was seeing.  I didn’t knew yet about the process of rotoscoping, but I was hating every cell of animation that was in the book.  I was suddenly not looking so forward to seeing the film, but I had to see it.  And so, around about 1991, I finally got hold of a video copy and saw the film.  And did I ever hate it.  I was expecting to hate the animation – not just the mixing of styles (the pure cartoon aspect of some of the animation, as opposed to the rough version of some of the rotoscoping – a strange mix of fantasy realism with pure cartoonish fantasy; it’s especially jarring during the Battle of Helm’s Deep, when cartoon Legolas is running around with real actors).  There were some scenes that were effective – like the strange fantasy world that Frodo seems to descend into when the Nazgûl catch him just before Bruinen.  But some of it was just so awful – the childish look of the hobbits, the ridiculous skirt that Aragorn wears, the Viking outfit that Boromir is dressed in, the horrible exterior design of Rivendell and the fact that Gimli is the tallest dwarf ever – the same height as a man (this is a major problem with rotoscoping – if you don’t film it right, then you can’t animate it properly and you just have to live with the mistakes).

After a decade, I began to wonder how awful it really was.  The Peter Jackson films had started coming out and the earlier film versions were getting DVD releases.  I had friends at Powell’s who much preferred this to the Rankin / Bass versions.  So Veronica and I dived into the film version again.  And she hated it just as much as I did.  She couldn’t get past the stupid grin on Sam’s face or the random pronunciation of Saruman as Aruman and so much of the voice acting was so bad that she almost made me turn it off.  Yet, somehow we made it through the whole film.

And so here I am, another decade on, this time watching it so I can write this review – feeling I can’t just review it having not watched it in the last ten years.  So I have the disc on and I am watching and I begin to wonder to myself, can I even get past the 15 minute mark?

Because here’s the problem – the film is awful right from the beginning.  And this time I’m not just talking about the animation, which I thoroughly hate (this will be relevant below – I happen to enjoy the Rankin / Bass versions, which I am well aware are well hated by a good number of people, so I can’t just hate the animation and leave it at that, it feels incomplete).  This time we get into other problems – like the script itself.  Granted, Bakshi is trying to cram a whole lot into a little more than two hours.  So, by the time we get to the scene I am about to describe, we are only 11 minutes in, a point at which Peter Jackson was basically just running the main titles.  Yet, we have already had a brief prologue, the goodbye party for Bilbo and the passing of the ring to Frodo and the return of Gandalf.

Now, let’s get some things straight.  I am a big believer that you have to make changes in order to get literary works on-screen.  I have no problem with the substitution of Legolas for Glorfindel (or with Arwen, as in the Jackson films) – it keeps us from adding another character who doesn’t factor in later.  So, the fact that Bakshi changes the way that Gandalf and Frodo discuss his need to leave the Shire doesn’t bother me.  It’s the execution of the change that is a complete and utter disaster.   Gandalf and Frodo go out into the Shire to talk about leaving (an odd thing to do when discussing such an important matter).  Then, after Gandalf explains to Frodo that he needs to leave the Shire (at which point Frodo gives a really awful and odd smile and bounces up and down on his heels like a giddy schoolgirl in love – I assume this was something the actor did and they had to rotoscope over it, but good god, is it awful), he suddenly reaches into a bush and pulls out Sam.  At this point we have no idea who Sam is (this is his first appearance in the film), what he is doing there, why he is acting so flamboyant or how Gandalf knew he was there.  And then Gandalf says he is to go away with Frodo, without a word of explanation.  It’s just bad storytelling, made worse a few minutes later when we get a horrible line of exposition (“And Merry and Pippin insisted on coming with us as far as Bree”).  Because they are rushing through so much, they have to try to explain it.  Even without comparing it to how well Jackson gets Merry and Pippin into the journey, this is just awful.

And then there is the voice acting.  Some of it is quite effective – John Hurt makes a very good Aragorn (if we can believe that this voice would from the guy in that outfit) and Peter Woodthorpe is an effective Gollum.  But William Squire is pretty awful as Gandalf – a major problem since John Huston had been so perfect as Gandalf the year before in the Rankin / Bass Hobbit – and what more, whoever the actual physical actor had been, he constantly made bizarre hand motions which they had to animate and so he looked like he was just a complete freak all of the time.  But the worst, by far, is Michael Scholes as Samwise, possibly the worst performance of a major part in any animated film that I have ever seen.

And then there is the end of the film.  Now, the film ends only part-way through The Two Towers, as most people know.  What is also well-known is that Bakshi wanted it pointed out that the film wasn’t the whole book and the studio wouldn’t do it, insisting that people wouldn’t pay to see half a film.  The review I read never mentioned this and when I first saw the book with the stills, I assumed there was a second book.  It wasn’t until I actually saw the film that I learned it only had half the book (remember – this was before the Internet).  I don’t fault Bakshi for only using half the book.  What I fault him for is not providing his film with any sort of conclusion.  Just compare what he did at the end of the film to how Jackson manages to end The Two Towers (which ends at pretty close to the same points).  Jackson actually gaves us climaxes and a good stopping point, whereas Bakshi films just simply ends.  And quite frankly, I’m glad it did.  It was too awful to watch any more of it anyway.

This is actually the soundtrack to the Rankin / Bass Return of the King, but the only poster I could find was the awful DVD cover.

This is actually the soundtrack to the Rankin / Bass Return of the King, but the only poster I could find was the awful DVD cover.

The Return of the King: A Story of the Hobbits – 1980  (dir. Jules Bass  /  Arthur Rankin, Jr.)

I must admit, I am somewhat torn on this film.  It has become standard practice for people to denigrate this film (usually while boosting the Bakshi film – I can understand the former; the latter is utterly beyond me).  But it was so much a part of my childhood, so much a part of my experience when constantly re-reading LOTR while still a kid, not understanding a lot of what I was reading, that this provided me with visual images to go along with, a story to follow.

I don’t remember at what point I saw the Rankin / Bass version of The Hobbit.  It might not have been until years after I saw Return of the King.  But its images were always a part of my Tolkien experience.  My brother had the illustrated paperback of The Hobbit, with stills from the Rankin / Bass film (it was a rare treasure to be able to look at it, because the pages were falling out badly – a couple of decades later I would purchase a hardcover version of the same edition, which wouldn’t have that problem).  And we watched Return of the King as a family (it must have re-aired at some point, because the original listed airdate is 11 May 1980, but I have distinct memories of watching it after moving to California in August of 1981).  Then, at some point, I was given the Read-Along Book and Record for both the Rankin / Bass Hobbit and Return of the King.  So, even in those days before we had a VCR, I had constant access to the images and voices from this film.  I grew up thinking of John Huston as Gandalf (though it was years later, watching Chinatown, when I had the sudden epiphany of who it was that was actually the voice of Gandalf) and having these images to go with the characters.  I wouldn’t get the film until the mid-90′s (taped off the Disney Channel), by which time it already had hold of my psyche.

So, how do I rate this film?  Well, it is a mixed bag.  Given a choice between the Rankin / Bass animation and the Bakshi animation, I will always take this.  And, while it takes some interesting liberties with the book, it makes some understandable choices – it uses Merry to call the aid of the Rohirrim, because that explains why he’s with them, it cuts out any character not directly involved in the action (so not only no Éomer or Faramir, but also no Legolas or Gimli).  Because the film revolves around two major events – the Battle of the Pelennor and the destruction of the Ring – Aragorn doesn’t feature much in the film either.  The film focuses on the four hobbits (to the end of sub-titling the film A Story of the Hobbits), using Gandalf for nearly all the exposition and giving a showy role to Éowyn.

In these choices, the film shows off the ways in which it is superior to the Bakshi film.  It makes excellent use of Éowyn, who it animates to be proud and beautiful, like in the book, not pathetic and dowdy, like in the Bakshi film (it’s understandable in the Bakshi film that she doesn’t do much because of the parts of the story he uses, but does she have to look so awful?), a moment I always remembered in my mind’s eye.  And the entire film is narrated by Gandalf, with a wonderful voice performance by John Huston; indeed, all my issues with various audio performances or recording of the book lose me when they can’t get Gandalf right – only McKellen can match Huston’s wonderful Irish brogue.  We get the wonderful dramatic moment of the stand-off against the Witch King, along with his eventual downfall.

And then there are the problems with the film (one of which I never noticed as a kid, but certainly notice now is that a lot of things are mispronounced).  Many who didn’t grow up with the film (or The Hobbit) hate the animation, and I can see why.  I had it burned into me when I was still young and so I enjoy it (and indeed, until the Jackson films, they were my major visual cues for the characters).  And some of them really aren’t good – Denethor is rather pathetic (and I forget that he was in it – I was surprised to see him when re-watching this – I think that’s because his small part is excised from my Read-Along Book and Record, and that, for a good 15 years, was my access to this version) and the Nâzgul aside from the Witch King look rather ridiculous (unlike the King, they ride winged horses – only the King gets a fell beast).  But the main problem is a decision that Rankin and Bass made that this needed to be a musical.  With most animated films, the music helps to cover the fact that the plot isn’t enough to make something feature-length.  But here, they are simply a distraction.  Now, a couple of the songs work rather well – “Frodo of the Nine Fingers”, which opens the film, works very well as a ballad and helps introduce things, and “Where There’s a Whip, There’s a Way” I have always found funny, and I used to occasionally play it at Powell’s when we had an assembly-line going.  But most of the songs are simply distractions – they go on for too long and they brings us out of the story and they don’t need to be there.

In the end, I brought this down to **.5.  It doesn’t work quite as well as the Rankin / Bass Hobbit does and it has some odd editing choices (it was made for television, so there are obvious places where you cut to commercial – I am more talking about the fact that Frodo and Sam enter Mount Doom before the downfall of the Witch King and then the battle ends and the Army of Gondor takes a week to go to the Black Gate and apparently Frodo and Sam are in the mountain the whole time).  But the main reason it came down was the songs during the film – they just make the film drag at points where it should be doing anything but.  I’ll still take this over the Bakshi, but it definitely works better for kids.

Peter Jackson's film trilogy, all together.

Peter Jackson’s film trilogy, all together.

2001, 2002, 2003 film trilogy (dir. Peter Jackson)

I considered writing something more about the Peter Jackson films, but then I reconsidered.  First, because I have already reviewed the films as a film trilogy when I did my Great Director post on Peter Jackson.  Second, I reviewed them again, individually, when doing the Best Pictures posts for 2001, 2002 and 2003.  I thought of writing about them again, this time focusing specifically on the adaptation aspect.  However, as it is likely my next series (adapted screenplays through the years), I decided not to do this either.  So, instead, I’ll just link to my previous reviews.  Needless to say, I think they’re brilliant, with both Fellowship and Return ranking in my Top 25 of all-time.

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