Tolkien as understood by Peter Jackson, Brian Sibley and Ralph Bakshi

The Word, the Voice and the Light:

Three ways to bind the ring

By Gwydion M Williams

[This is a talk I gave at Oxonmoot, with comments and additions in square brackets.]

 

My talk will look at three very different dramatic presentation of Tolkien’s written words.  The disappointing Bakshi film.  Brian Sibley’s wonderful BBC Radio broadcast.  And finally the one-third of Peter Jackson’s superb film that we have so far seen.

I’m aware that there are other dramatisations, several stage performances and some abortive cartoons both before and after Bakshi.  But these are the ‘big three’ and it is interesting to see how they dramatise and simplifying an inherently complex tale.

I’ve listened seriously to those who think that such a complex and thoughtful book cannot be sensibly filmed.  But my view is that any work of general cultural merit is open to other artists—including those artists whose talents and good fortune allow them to use a multi-million pound brush.  Film makers paint their own vision on a rather large canvas, it is usually better to have something than nothing.

In the case of Bakshi, nothing might have been better than what we got.  Hiring Ralph Bakshi to film Tolkien’s work was a bit like asking Ian Fleming to do a film script for Wind In The Willows.  (The Mole Who Loved Me?).  It’s easy enough to see what was wrong with Bakshi, I won’t go on about it.  The point of interest is what he got right—apart from happening to interest an 18-year-old cinema-goer called Peter Jackson.  You might also credit Bakshi with the root notion of Who Framed Roger Rabbit—the cartoon-drawn chief characters moving against a rather more realistic ‘rotoscope’ background may have given someone the idea.

Cartoons have their problems—who watches the cartoon continuation of the original Star Trek?  I’m told some of the scripts are better, but as a cartoon it just does not work, not when you’ve seen the real thing.  But there was a time when a good cartoon could have been made, perhaps something of the quality of The Secret of NIMH, Fantastic Planet or Maîtres du tempsAnyway, it didn’t happen.

Bakshi’s opening was the man’s finest five minutes, offering a promise that the rest of the film does not live up to.  You see the rings given to nine men, seven dwarves and then three elves—which is false to the text, the three elven rings were kept separate, but the nine and at least six of the dwarven rings were given by Sauron.

Jackson’s entire introduction is a straightforward borrowing from Bakshi.  I hadn’t remembered how similar till I got the DVD from the local library.  From the forging of the ring to Gandalf in his cart, Jackson has added much but the basic structure is Bakshi’s.  (One of our electronic wizards ought to rig up a showing of the two openings of the two films for Oxonmoot, just so we can compare and contrast.).

[I was advised that you need permission for a public performance, even for a club meeting.  Someone maybe should do it for 2005, showing the better parallel scenes.  The debt to Bakshi was mentioned in the publicity for the first film but got omitted from the background picture in the ‘extras’ for Return Of The King.  So it goes.]

No one has yet tried to do the opening as Tolkien wrote it.  In the 1950s, tales of wonder for a mature audience were rare and unfamiliar.  What you had was children’s tales, or else pulp fantasy for teenagers, or Quatermass in the horror genre.  To create a different sort of story-telling, he had to take us slowly from the almost-familiar world of the hobbits into successively strange, dangerous and beautiful places.  But nowadays we can safely assume that an audience will know the basic concepts of magic lands and be prepared to accept them as serious places.

The separation of literary categories of the English-speaking world in the 20th century was a very abnormal situation, and Tolkien has helped with a kind of ‘return to the normal’.  The split arose perhaps from the sheer volume of books being produced, yet Science Fiction and ‘High Literature’ did not always exist in different worlds.  At the dawn of the 20th century, Henry James was complaining to his friend H. G. Wells “My book has been out upwards of a month and, not emulating your 4,000, has sold, I believe, to the extent of four copies.  In America it is doing better— promises to reach 400.”  (Henry James & H G Wells, Rupert Hart-Davis, p21.)  There was no concept of hiving off the bulk of Wells’s work as ‘Science Fiction’, nor was ‘fantasy’ a separate category.

With today’s audience, Tolkien’s slow introduction to serious magic is not necessary, nor the best way to do it.  Nor was Tolkien’s vision always self-consistent—has anyone noticed that in his splendid painting of the ‘Cosmic Mountain’, the moon’s dark side faces the sun!  Anyway, in terms of practical storytelling, a long slow start in the Shire might lose a modern cinema audience.  And the ideas of elves and magic do not need to be introduced nowadays as might have been needed in the 1950s.  But how should it be handled?

There are inherent problems with a transition from the word to either radio or film, the voice or the light.  The spoken world is of course far older, and transforming it into text storytelling is a large topic in itself, a search for ‘dark beginnings and uncertain goals’.

In the historic world, unlike Tolkien’s schema in the Silmarillion, writing is generally thought to have begun as a tool for early bureaucrats and accountants.  When we can read the scripts, we find long lists of property or business contracts.  Scholars believe that even the enigmatic ‘rune-stones’ of Scandinavia were mainly set up to legally establish if a man had died overseas, so that no one could later come back and claim an inheritance in the name of that man.  Long before that, Mesopotamian cities had a detailed system that gradually became flexible enough to write down anything that could be said, military messages and propaganda claims to triumphant battles, and eventually also the mythology and adventure tales that must have begun as a wholly oral tradition.

But it’s also true that writing crystallises and defines a language.  If >< you >< speak >< with >< pauses >< between >< words, ><it sounds most bizarre.  And yet the separation of words by spaces was one of the keys to comprehensible writing.  So in a sense, speech becomes words only when written.  And then the written text can be translated it back into new forms of story-telling, with extra possibilities

As I said earlier, Jackson reworks Bakshi.  But he always does it with a lot more visual imagination, as well as better technology.  A purist might quibble at Galadriel borrowing words spoken rather later by Treebeard, but it does make the background coherent to those who have no idea of what’s the story about.  Merging the battle of the Pelennor Fields with the long Siege of Barad-dur is also acceptable, and it’s a very convincing Sauron.  The failure to destroy the ring is shown in detail, and will set the stage for Frodo’s eventual failure.  And while Gandalf is not mentioned as singing hobbit songs, why not?

My main regret is that this one snatch of song stands almost alone.  I do of course understand why Jackson and his partners in a huge and risky ventures chose to play safe.  There have been enough duds in the SF/fantasy field, some of which deserved better by my taste, but there are not hundreds of thousands of cinema-goers out there with the same tastes as the people in this room.  It had to be a question of ‘one film to bring them all, and in the darkness thrill them!’.  You’re never going to get a couple of hundred million spent on a film just for fans.  Obviously the tale is going to be hyped up and slicked up, but in my view it was not in any way ‘dumbed down’, as a few commentators in Amon Hen seem to find it.  And the magic of cinematic light seems to have worked even with critics who were hostile to Tolkien’s books.

There is much one might have wished to see—and might still see eventually, of course, since commercial success breeds remakes, even for material of small merit—look at Ocean 11, Rollerball, Sergeant Bilko.  And even in the Jackson version, perhaps the best is yet to come.  We can still hope the scriptwriters will include some of the excellent songs from The Two Towers and Return Of The King, now that it has been proven there is a big audience out there.  You could hardly do the finding of Frodo by Sam at Cirith Ungol without song, I’d have thought.  While with the ride of the Rohirrim, it is optional, but a splendid chance to do even better than the excellent radio version.

[Return Of The King did have two memorable songs and some extras.  Maybe the extended DVD version will have even more.]

On a personal note, I always had skipped Tolkien’s longer poems, including the Rohirrim ride before I heard them, after which I saw that they were good.  I think a lot of us get our taste for poems spoiled and ruined by the school approach of making teenagers memorise huge chunks of verse that handle complex topics which few of them are mature enough to understand.  I know that I was bored and puzzled by Yeats’s poem about an Irish airman foreseeing his own death—and this as a high-IQ teenager who was reading SF novels and moderately complex books of science and history just for my own interest.  Only as an adult and re-encountering it in the film Memphis Bell did I grasp the poem’s finer points.  I think that schools should pitch low, establish the habit of reading on matters that interest teenagers and assume that they can find and enjoy the more complex material when they are ready for it.

Anyway, the Sibley production did show real skill in its use of music and song.  Sibley’s opening is also historic, but proceeds quite differently from the films, with a willingness to jump between different times.  Bakshi and Jackson both favour ‘linear time’, while Sibley is truer to the book in having tales and recollections set within the main hobbit-centred narrative.

[This changed with The Two Towers, of course.]

There seems a common agreement between dramatists that the dangerous history of the rings must be placed ‘up front’, before going on to the slower matters of Bilbo’s departure.  There are of course other ways.  Tolkien was writing a sequel to The Hobbit, a film could make him more marginal.

My idea of an ideal adaptation would be seven films, first The Hobbit and then the six books of Lord Of The Rings, maybe we’ll live to see a post-Jackson remake that does it so.  But if it’s to be a three-film saga, why shouldn’t Bilbo and the Long-Expected Party go the way of Tom Bombadil and the barrow-wight?

Such an adaptation could have a very dramatic opening, with the Nazgul’s assault on the ruins of Osgiliath.  Boromir and Faramir realise in the aftermath that there is something up in the peaceful north-west that interests Sauron’s chief servants even more than the ruin of Gondor.  Then you could be shown an untroubled Frodo using his magic ring to evade some harmless but irritating relative.  As he does so, cut to the Nazgul suddenly noticing and beginning to sniff him out.  Perhaps Gollum also, he too is sensitive to his ‘precious’.  Then you could have Gandalf turning up and explaining to Frodo just what the ring is.

But that’s not how it’s been done.  Nor are events in the Shire wholly ‘canonical’, yet the changes make sense.  With less time to tell the tale, cuts and mergers are justified.  Merry & Pippin do not steal a firework, but it does introduce them “with a bang”.  What I do regret is the lack of visible distinction between the irresponsible Pippin and the more sober Merry.

[After several viewings of all three films, I still can’t tell them apart.]

One change that I find pointless and foolish is that Bakshi and Jackson have Bilbo actually and obviously vanishing when he puts on the ring.  I feel that you could get a rather nice image if the vanishing and Gandalf’s pyrotechnics both happened at once.  You might see Bilbo fade and his shadow with him, only it’s not quite his shadow, for he has been ever-so-slightly touched by evil.  That’s not in the book either, I admit, but I’d see it as true to the spirit.  A reversal of the enhanced shadow of Smith of Wooten Major in what I think was one of the Pauline Banes illustrations.

The next matter I want to discuss is departing the Shire.  Sibley with 13 hours tells much of the full and complex story.  Bakshi compresses it, rather clumsily.  Jackson mixes up episodes and adds drama, not always wisely, though Frodo jumping onto a moving ferry was a nice scene.  But I rather regret that we have  Merry and Pippin taking over Frodo’s stealing from Farmer Maggot, which he had anyway repented of long ago.  The way it’s handled subverts the ethical point, something Tolkien chose to emphasise in his revisions of the book.

The film does correctly sees Frodo as a tragic figure, that is its greatest insight.  As played by Elijah Wood, he looks convincingly tough, though unwarlike and un-aggressive, appalled by the magnitude of the task that has fallen upon him.  Like his Uncle Bilbo, he is dragged into adventures he only vaguely yearned for.  But Bilbo emerges triumphant, while Frodo loses much by the end of Fellowship, and will lose more before the end.  Meantime Sam is a helpful and necessary companion, less imaginative but very determined.

Then there is Frodo’s other close companion, the ring itself, which Jackson brilliantly develops as a character in its own right.  As it was in Sibley’s version, with those odd zing-zings and Nazgul chanting at key moments.  Arguably the ring is Sauron in miniature, lacking reasoning-power yet with an will of its own and immensely difficult to handle.  Jackson has not so far had much on the complex power dilemmas of the Ruling Ring, though there is time yet as they enter the power-politics of Rohan and Gondor.  It would be a waste if they see it as just an addiction, which is the lower end of the point Tolkien was making.

Getting from the Shire to Rivendell, everyone leaves out Gwindor and Tom Bombadil—even though Goldberry is a strong female role of the sort the tale is lacking for modern tastes.  But in the book they appear as if they were going to be major characters, and then are seen no more.  Any retelling has to look at structure: The Hobbit is much more episodic, characters are encountered once and mostly play no further part.  Lord Of The Rings has much more of a dramatic structure, Frodo gathering his companions as well as various incidental meetings which can be chopped without damage to the core tale.

The same logic applies to deleting Glorfindel—he gets introduced as if he were a major character, and that’s the last we see of him.  As others have already noted, Bakshi too replaces Glorfindel, though he chooses Legolas rather than Arwen.  Of course Bakshi’s version of Legolas could easily be Arwen with just a few small changes, and be no worse than Bakshi’s appalling vision of Galadriel.

The Jackson version of Arwen and the elves in general are the best imagery in an excellent film, for my taste at least.  She absorbs Glorfindel’s part, Frodo’s resistance to the Nazgul, Elrond’s role with Gandalf’s help in raising the river against the Dark Riders.  It is a massive change, but a sensible one, for Arwen is very much part of the core tale.  When we later see Aragorn with Eowyn, his behaviour will make more sense because you’ve seen Arwen and understand how deep a tie he already has.

[Eowyn has indeed been portrayed excellently.  It was also clever of Jackson to borrow from the Tale of Arwen & Aragorn in the Appendices, to show the price Arwen will have to pay.  This projection of fate is sensibly placed in the middle of the action, while the choice is still open, rather than a dampener to the eventual happy ending.]

I was also impressed by the neat wizardly duel between Gandalf and Sarauman, a demonstrations that that these are powerful beings.  It’s not mentioned as such, but you’d expect Gandalf to say no more than he must in front of corruptible mortals.  Before that, Gandalf’s arrival at Isengard neatly handles the complex matter of how Sarauman could have begun as Gandalf’s superior and fallen into evil is quite neatly handled.  (Tolkien himself is a shade contradictory: Gandalf the White says he has become what Sarauman should have been, and yet the later descriptions of the Valar sending the five wizards to Middle-Earth seems to suggest that Gandalf was always superior.  Myself, I like the first idea better.)

Gandalf, of course, does not send messages by moth—at least it’s not mentioned.  But with Radagast left out, there has to be some logic to his rescue, which was rather nicely handled.  Likewise Gimli does not belt the ring with his axe at the Council Of Elrond, but it’s a great mini-scene.  I also appreciate seeing scenes I remember from Tolkienian artwork, Caradhras for instance.

My least favourite scene was the cave-troll which looks like it dropped in from The Simpsons, and needlessly takes over a role that belonged to an enigmatic warrior-orc.  There is also a lack of logic—hit by a spear in the hands of a massive troll, rather than a man-sized orc, and you’d be dead regardless of the quality of your chain mail.

Then there’s the Bridge Of Khazad-dum.  Bakshi and Sibley agree on having Gandalf call ‘fly, you fools’ while tumbling into the abyss, which is how I see it.  Of course Bakshi’s Balrog looks like a cross between a lion and a butterfly, while Sibley has Gandalf calling him ‘spawn of Melkor’, he would not be using Morgoth’s old Valar name.  But the essentials are there, with Gandalf calling ‘fly, you fools’ as he disappears into the endless depth.  While Jackson, puzzlingly, has him say this while hanging on and seemingly capable of being rescued.

[Having now seen The Two Towers, I assume that this is not an oversight.  Jackson reckons that Gandalf does indeed choose to fall and finish off the balrog out of sight of mortal eyes.]

Two useful borrowings from Bakshi were the hobbit’s sword lessons and the mourning in Lothlorien.  I don’t think that there’s anything in book about the men teaching the hobbits basic sword skills, but it makes sense.  Except Bakshi has it in Lothlorien, it’s the one place that I don’t think you’d go drawing swords for any reason.  Jackson has it earlier and weaves into another impressive scene, the ‘flight of monstrous crows’.

The most remarkable scene in the film was the Mirror Of Galadriel, despite the deletion of Sam and the worrying indications that Jackson is going to ignore Tolkien’s strongly-held views on the Shire in peril from greedy locals as well as Sauronic conquerors.  Yet what remains is handled superbly.  Seeing the grace and beauty of Lothlorien, you think that talk of a ‘dangerous elf-witch’ is just prejudice.  All seems sweetness and light. And then in one chilling instant you see that Elves are dangerous, and not necessarily virtuous.  Galadriel tempted by the Ring is the most impressive scene, for me.  I wouldn’t say I liked it, the problem of virtuous people tempted to do evil for a greater good is not a nice matter.  But the maturity of the book is shown by including it.

[I was told during question time that it was also the most frightening scene for younger viewers, a seemingly good character unexpectedly turning nasty.  There is much greater violence in The Two Towers, but you start from assuming a battle environment and it shocks much less.

[Exiting from the first showing of Two Towers, I happened to be standing behind a man who asked his pre-teen daughter what she’d found frightening.  She replied ‘nothing, really’.  It’s all cinematic thrills and you know that no major characters are going to die very soon.]

Elves in European mythology were always seen as beautiful but dangerous creatures.  This got lost in the 19th century,  and Tolkien helped restore it.  Jackson’s vision of elves are not twee, but also not quite human.  And it seems natural enough when they turn dangerous.  You can see why people fear them, elves can be malicious and even evil, as readers of the Silmarillion will know.

Perhaps Galadriel is a true mirror of people’s strengths or weaknesses.  Bakshi’s Galadriel tempted by the ring sounds like she’d advertising lemon-scented soap, there is no hint of the dangerous or numinous.  ‘This is my terrifying vision of how fighting evil by the wrong methods can turn you into something just as bad as what you were opposing.  And now here’s one I prepared earlier’.  Not only is the image mediocre, he misses what the book says, her apparent change, an ideal subject for cartoon effects

Then we have the breaking of the fellowship.  One point I’d forgotten is that The Fellowship Of The Ring ends with Frodo and Sam setting off alone with the rest of the Fellowship rushing about looking for Frodo.  The Orc attack and Boromir’s death is the first chapter of The Two Towers.  Aragorn doesn’t fight at all: despite his best efforts, he misses the enemy and does nothing except rush round making bad decisions   He’d look incompetent and indeed judges himself so—but it is perhaps this modesty that enables him to play the much larger part he must later manage.  I suppose we should also see hand of fate, the rest of the Fellowship will be needed elsewhere.  And also I suppose that it was inevitable that a multi-million pound film would make it more of an action-adventure saga.

[I said at the time that Jackson was likely to ‘Top-and-Tail’ the Two Towers, stopping short of Cirith Ungol, as indeed he does.  I had not expected him to also leave out the confrontation with Sarauman.  I had hoped that he might save it as a really good opening scene for Return Of The King, and perhaps he planned to.  We do know that the omission of the settling with Sarauman was a late and controversial decision in the process of editing.]

The death of Boromir does bring Fellowship to a natural close, and is done well.  Sean Bean, who plays Boromir, is said to have wanted to play Aragorn.  Which is an excellent qualification for playing Boromir, actually.  He plays Boromir in his usual style of tough and unscrupulous military characters.  He’d never fail in battle–but the Ring is a different sort of challenge, and one he’s not equal to.  He gets torn between the common cause and his own desire for glory.

[Sean Bean also makes an excellent Odysseus in Troy.  He’s a more versatile actor than I realised.]

Viggo Mortensen as Aragorn is very good, he can fight but he’s not primarily a warrior.  He knows he can’t take the ring without becoming like Sauron

I do regret that the cleaving of Boromir’s hunting horn—symbolic of end of ruling Stewards—is left out, as far as I can see.  Also it seems just Sarauman’s orcs, so miss out on splendid examples of orcish friendship, Ugluk and Shagrat.  We may of course see it later.

[I was told during question time that Boromir’s horn was in fact visible, which is correct, though you have to be looking carefully.  As for orcish factionalism, this was left out, I can’t see why.  Sibley also omitted it, and it remains an untapped opportunity for future film-makers.  You get a hint of it in the extended version, but there could be much more.]

I’d also like to look ahead briefly, at prospects for The Two Towers.  We’ll see Gollum face to face.  More importantly we’ll hear him, and must hope they get the voice right.  If done well, it could be a matter for ‘teaser’ trailers—“Lords Of The Ringsises, at cinemae near you”.

Tom Shippey correctly identifies the lure of ring as including a kind of addiction.  This was rare in Tolkien’s time, but universities was a plausible place for a law-abiding citizen to see it.  It is part of the story logic.  And if Sauron is a supplier of addictive power, he is also evidently a user, and decidedly ‘hooked’.

[Creeping Sméagol is indeed done well—but it’s worth an entire article in itself, probably to be called Is That A Gollum That I See Before Me?]

Then there’s Treebeard.  He could and should be a frightening figure at first appearance—Tolkien first conceived him as the evil ‘Giant Treebeard’ who imprisons Gandalf.  And indeed, he nearly does kill Merry and Pippin, as he freely admits.  It’s done nicely in BBC, he’s the suspense at the end of one episode.  On film, you could let the audience know that the ‘old tree-trunk’ is something else, even as Merry and Pippin blithely chat away.  Even show the odd crushed skeleton, perhaps with one of Treebeard’s vast footprint over the skeleton and surrounding ground.  He’s not a cuddly creature, ents are stronger than trolls and not to be treated lightly.

[Excellent ents, though too tree-like for my taste.  They obviously owe a lot to Ted Nasmith’s version, see http://www.tednasmith.com/main.html.  But spare twigs and leaves have been added, which is a pity.]

***

[Having time in hand, I went on to briefly discuss what other films could be made from Tolkien’s work.  I had just a collection of notes, which I’ve put into some sort of order:]

The tale of Beren & Luthien could make an excellent pair of films, perhaps made ‘back-to-back’ and with an authentic ‘natural break’ at Sauron’s defeat.  You’d need a younger Sauron, a character capable of deceiving and seeming virtuous—I think Tom Cruise would do it nicely.

Also the tale needs lighter and less perfect characters to offset the grand heroic qualities of Beren & Luthien.  Ideally, one would connect with known elements, Gandalf and Hobbits as well as Sauron.  Gandalf as Olorin was there, nothing more is said except he was obscure in his deeds (logical since the histories were worked out in some detail, long before Tolkien invented him for The Hobbit).  As for hobbits, their obscure history suggests that they were probably still in the east, but who knows?  Also if Gandalf would seek to redeem Gollum, why not Sauron?  In the First Age he was not quite past saving.

You could also make something Thuringwethil and Draugluin.  Thuringwethil seems to have no existence except to have left behind her ‘bat-fell’ for Luthien to wear.  Thuringwethil means ‘she of hidden shadow’, Luthien can use it as a riddling description of herself in the Lays Of Beleriand.  The name may have begun as just an alias for Luthien, and later Tolkien decided there was a real Thuringwethil, but took the tale no further.  Except she’s a messenger between Sauron and Morgoth—not a nice task if the news was bad.  But also she could potentially repent, which would add an interesting sub-plot.

That’s Hollywood-style cinema.  Other possibilities are high-grade cartoons to tell some of the individual tales in the Silmarillion, stuff that would not easily make action-adventure and needs cheaper methods that could be financed by a smaller but more dedicated audience.

There’s also The Hobbit.  Maybe the BBC could make it as a series, six one-hour episodes and pitcher as an ‘eight-o-clock’ program, something that is aimed at adults but also viewable by serious-minded young people.  And it could even be taken into Fellowship, as far as Bilbo’s handing on of the ring, which is the real end of his saga.

If such a project went well, it could be followed by a similar treatment for each of the six books of Lord Of The Rings (all of us know that the tale became a trilogy only because of the needs of publishing at the time).  A 42-hour telling of the whole Bilbo-Frodo tale could be done, with more plot and song and no attempt to match Jackson’s big special effects.  It would cost less, get a smaller and more thoughtful audience and should be a success.

There are cheap ways to get good effects.  I remember what I think was a BBC television dramatisation of the Icelandic tale of Ergil Skalla-Grimson.  The main trick was to have some sort of moving object behind the characters’ faces to show their magic power, and I found it hugely impressive.

[We’ve also had a superior semi-Elven visualisation with the Mimbari in Babylon 5, as Jessica Yates noted in an Oxonmoot talk a few years back.  For my taste ,the tale fell apart and got silly in Season 4.  But it still had much that was memorable.]

***

[My rough notes contained some extra remarks on the ‘Abominations of Bakshi’, which I left out of the talk but may be of interest to people.  I’ve edited them into a coherent text.]

Bakshi’s taste in images was atrocious, there were already plenty of good images about at the time that he could have borrowed from, as Jackson took from Nasmith and others, but Bakshi used his own inferior visualisations.  I had a memory of Nazgul as effective, but second time round they too seemed tawdry.  As for the orcs, I was half expecting an orc to sing “I am the walrus, a Sauronic walrus”.

The whole thing was more in the spirit of Bored Of The Rings.  A basic unwillingness to accept that there could be finer or larger things that they know in their neighbourhood—however bad or sleazy we may be, we are still the most wonderful people in all of space and time.  The evil was occasionally well done, but all of the virtuous characters looked silly and weak, just say ‘ugh’.  In Jackson’s version, they look strong, and also troubled by the difficult  question of how far you can fight evil without becoming just as evil as what you are fighting.  In Bakshi, Boromir looking like a Viking from a bad comic book, making moronic comments like “we should have brought Sarauman” at the gates of Moria–this when Sarauman’s treason is well known to him.  Bakshi’s Balrog manages to take wing, but then sportingly decides to land again to fight Gandalf rather than fly round him after the Ringbearer.  (I can’t see a balrog being that nice.)

Bakshi’s version also breaks off incoherently.  The final scene is victory at Helms Deep, but previously we have seen Frodo and Sam capture Gollum and we get as far as Gollum’s near-repentance, logically at Cirith Ungol though the background is vague.  Meantime Merry & Pippin have been collected by an excessively leafy Treebeard (who seems to have contaminated the Jackson version).  If Bakshi had only enough money for half the epic, he could have done Book Three in its entirety and left Books Four to Six for the second film

I don’t want to be wholly negative.  Bakshi is better than Jackson in compressing the departure from the Shire.  He does senselessly have Gandalf and Frodo discussing the issue in the open countryside rather than at Bag End.  But then Merry and Pippin are with them when they encounter the Black Rider and reveal they know something of the ring.

Despite which, Bakshi cast a twenty-year blight and ensured that no better cartoon would ever be made.  It could have been done if the right cartoonist had had the chance.  He’d done rather better with Fritz The Cat, a nostalgic look back at the 1960s, though it was made in 1971, when a lot of other possibilities were still open.  Still, it was the decade when 1960s values went sour , and Fritz The Cat was disappointingly followed by Heavy Traffic (1973), which was incoherent, and then his botched Lord of the Rings in 1978.

Meantime George Lucas was putting his own spin on the traditional ‘cauldron of story’, with Star Wars (A New Hope) in 1977.  But I think that Lucas has been much better pursuing his own vision–you could not imagine someone like Yoda in Tolkien.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s