September 19, 2001

Review of the Bakshi LotR DVD

FILM QUALITY: The widescreen format (as usual) makes a great difference in the cinematography. The clarity of the picture also reveals things I never saw before on the VHS version. Particularly in the silhouette intro, the texture and details of the images come out. The soundtrack appears to be the original, not the remastered Intrada version.

THE ENDING: As I mentioned in my previous posting, the DVD adheres to the scene arrangement of the "later" version of the film (which originally ended with Sam and Frodo walking off into the distance, rather than with the battle of Helm's Deep). However, the DVD offers one novelty. In the theatrical and VHS releases, the ending is accompanied by a voice-over (perhaps Gandalf): "Here ends the first part of the Lord of the Rings." The new DVD release reveals that this was only the tail-end of a longer voice-over, in which the narrator forecasts the eventual victory of the good guys (perhaps forboding the prospect that there might not be a second film to tell the rest of the story). Anyway, the DVD version of the voice-over sounds much clearer than the original.

THE EXTRAS: Contrary to the claim of the "Special Features" list on the cover of the DVD, it does NOT appear to include a theatrical trailer. It does include "Tolkien and Filmmaker Highlights," which consist primarily in bios of Saul Zaentz, Tolkien and basic info about Dwarves, Elves and Orcs. Nothing to write home about...

ASSESSMENT: So, how does the Bakshi film feel 23 years later on the eve of the New Line releases? I am struck by two things in particular. First, the tight and effective screenplay-writing of Chris Conkling and Peter Beagle. Of course, there were many scenes I would like to have seen the movie cover, but we all know that this is impossible. Sure, there are lots of failings and weaknesses in the film, but the more I consider the strategic decisions the screenplay writers made to compress the first half of Tolkien's epic into 134 minutes, the more I admire their efforts. It will also be interesting to compare the fidelity of the Conkling/Beagle screenplay to the Peter Jackson version in terms of how close each adheres to Tolkien's original dialogue. Himself a fantasy author, Peter Beagle was especially sensistive to this issue in crafting the script for the Bakshi film, and although in many places Tolkien's dialogue is necessarily reworded or paraphrased, it is often a good deal closer to the text than a few of the Jackson scenes we have heard which contain dialogue (e.g., Galadriel's conversation with Frodo before the mirror - one of the more effective scenes in the Bakshi film). Second observation: if the Bakshi film proved one thing beyond all doubt, it was that LotR simply cannot be satisfactorily done in two films. It is relatively easy for a screenplay writer to compress a linear plot, but as soon as the Fellowship breaks up, the compression deals a serious blow to the remainder of the film's coherency - more strongly felt, since the second half was never filmed. The utterly break-neck pace at which the Saruman-Rohan story speeds past may well have left many who were unfamiliar with the books wondering where in all this chaos Sauron is. (I often wonder whether Saruman's name was - inconsistently - mispronouned "Aruman" because the moguls feared the unwashed masses might confuse Saruman with Sauron...)

The Lord of the Rings -- Usually ships in 24 hours.
Warner Brothers / VHS or DVD / Published 1978
Our Price: $12.99 -- You Save: $1.96 (13%)
Description: Bakshi's version, available 09-11-01.