The LOTR Movie Site
May 25, 2000

In Defense of What Has Come Befors

After reading several reviews of Bakshi's and the Rankin/Bass versions, I feel I need to put this and the very likely criticisms of Peter Jackson's attempt in perspective. We all know that it is a tall order to film these three books in the first place, and I'm sure it is impossible to please everyone. I suspect Peter Jackson's version will be much closer to the books then what we have seen so far, and that is a reason for joy. In fact, I suspect I will have the need to slap one of you if I hear groans in the crowd, or "That's not how it happened." It is a story; undeniably a very well-crafted one, but even the best stories can occasionally use a bit of revision between what works on screen on what works on the written page.

When I was in grade school, I saw the Rankin/Bass version of the Hobbit. I adored it, but then I was in the demographic they were shooting for. And I have always thought of the Hobbit as a kid's tale. I saw the Return of the King a few years later (I think...time passed so differently then), and while I did not understand what was going on in the story, since it was "beginning at the end" as they state at the start, I enjoyed it a good deal. The "Where There's a Whip, There's a Way" I thought was the best song ever written at the time. My friends and I would sing it on long hikes to keep us going. After catching a second airing of the Hobbit, I decided to check the book out of the library. It was the end of the school year of 5th grade, and I quickly became enraptured with Tolkien's work. That summer, my sister loaned me the Lord of the Rings, which I only stuck my nose in occasionally during the summer. The beginning of 6th grade, I officially started the series, excited that I was reading such an "adult" series of books. The tone had changed a lot, and I found my mind straying during the more political scenes. I bought a record album of the Hobbit and the Return of the King, and listened to it non-stop.

About a year or so later, there was a double-feature of Bakshi's Lord of the Rings movie and Watership Down. Watership Down opened, and I fell in love with it instantly. Then the Lord of the Rings movie came on, which seemed like it was going to fast until the crossing of the ford before Rivendell, in which I grew sleepy during the more trippy scenes. Once the Fellowship was broken, I lost all interest in it, and then after a very long time, it was finally over, leaving me wondering what happened. I found an illustrated book of the movie, which stated that it was intended to make a second part of it, which at the time I realized that it probably would never happen. It saddened me that I would not see the rest depicted, despite how bored I was of the majority of the movie.

When I entered high school, my sister taped off the Hobbit for me on HBO. I watched it nonstop for over a week, as now I had grown older, and understood the more intricate parts of the books. Sure it was corny, but they followed the book very well. The songs were mostly intact, though a little silly and childlike. I was amazed how intact it was. Later, the Return of the King was taped again by my sister, and I sat down to watch it. I was amazed at how it had changed from the book, cursing it a few times for doing so. However, the record that I had listened to for so long had cut these, so these scenes had seemed rather bizarre. Ok, so Samwise has taken the ring and has a fantasy about making the world "the garden of his delight." Yeah, cheesy, but it brought out the power of ring and the theme of corruption. The other changes seemed to be odd in that they did not seem to develop anything other than that they were constantly in danger. I did not miss the Reckoning of the Shire bits, as I have always felt the climax had been reached and yet there was another small exposition tagged in at the end. It works in the book, but I will be surprised if Jackson keeps it in his version. It certainly would be nice to see, but I won't miss it. While the Rankin/Bass Return of the King aimed too low for their audience, and the obnoxious additions to the script, there are very strong key scenes portrayed in the film, and those make it good, particularly the Eowyn / Lord of the Nazgul face-off.

The Rankin/Bass productions have been very much for children, and I can attest that I found the Lord of the Rings because of these tellings. The Bakshi version seems to attempt a more adult telling of the story, sometimes sticking closely to the books (in the case of Fellowship anyway). By closely, I mean lifting key scenes from the book, while editing out others. In that regard, it seems more of true telling of the books, despite problems with the animation, the acid flashback scenes, and the abandonment of the narrative once the Fellowship breaks. It seemed more a movie for the fans rather than trying to draw people into it, and alienated them by toying with certain elements. However, I will defend these films that they should not be completely thrown away. There were good scenes, and the fact that the first of Bakshi's films was met with such hatred means that the second never got made. I'm sure there would have been a moment or two to make it worth it. I love the stories of Middle Earth, and I would hate for these films to be bad, but would hate even more not allowed the chance to see them because of all the bickering about what was or was not in the book. Besides, some things work in books that do not work in movies. For example, take the two versions of the Shining. The Kubrick version had beauty, wonder and scares galore. The made for TV version had a ton of dry, boring exposition that dragged the movie out to boring lengths. Yes, the actors were not as good as the Kubrick movie, but they story moved better in Kubrick's version, and while now cliche to use an axe rather than a croquet mallet, it worked and was more scary.

Overall, I guess I am saying that I think we need to relax about these movies. It is a tale that I believe Peter Jackson can tell, though to gather every aspect of them for every fan out there will be impossible. I am brokenhearted that Tom Bombidil will be missing, but that will not keep me from seeing these movies. Every vision might not be yours, but others might be dying to see how Jackson is going to depict the final destruction of the Ring.