The Lord of the Rings (1978 film)

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The name The Lord of the Rings refers to more than one character, item or concept. For a list of other meanings, see The Lord of the Rings (disambiguation).

J.R.R. Tolkien's The Lord of the Rings is an animated film directed by Ralph Bakshi, and released to theaters in 1978. It was an adaptation of the first half of J.R.R. Tolkien's The Lord of the Rings. Bakshi's most ambitious effort (and his most famous after his animated adaptation of the underground comic Fritz the Cat), the film was produced by Saul Zaentz's Fantasy Films, and distributed to theaters by United Artists.

Synopsis[edit | edit source]

Long ago, in the early years of the Second Age, the great Elven-smiths forged Rings of Power — Nine for mortal Men, Seven for the Dwarf-lords, and three for the fair Elf-rulers. But then, the Dark Lord Sauron learned the craft of ring-making and made the Master Ring — The One Ring to rule them all. With the One Ring, Middle-earth is his and he cannot be overcome. As the last alliance of Men and Elves fell beneath his power, the Ring fell into the hands of Prince Isildur of the mighty kings from across the sea. However, he did not destroy the ring, and, because of this, the spirit of Sauron lived on and began to take shape and grow again.

The Ring had a will of its own, and had a way of slipping from hand to hand, so that it might at last get back to its master. The Ring lay in the bottom of a lake for thousands of years. During those years, Sauron captured the nine Rings that were made for Men and turned their owners into the Ringwraiths - terrible shadows under his great shadow who roamed the world searching for the One Ring.

The Ring, meanwhile, was found by two friends. One of them, Sméagol, was so enticed by the Ring's power that he killed his friend Déagol to get it. Sméagol possessed the Ring for hundreds of years, during which it warped him into a twisted, gurgling wretch known only as Gollum, until his "Precious" was discovered (some might say stolen) by the hobbit Bilbo Baggins.

Several years later, in a land called the Shire, Bilbo is celebrating his 111th (or eleventy-first, as it is called) birthday, on the same day that his nephew Frodo celebrates his 33rd birthday (his "coming of age"). During his speech, Bilbo slips the Ring on, and confusion arises as the party notices that their host has suddenly disappeared into thin air!

Gandalf the wizard, however, knows the truth behind this act. In Bilbo's hobbit hole, Gandalf tells him to leave the Ring for Frodo, but Bilbo seems unwilling to give it up. He does, finally, agree to do so, and leaves the Shire.

Gandalf realizes that the "magic" ring is in fact the One Ring forged by Sauron, the evil lord. He knows the Shire is in danger - soon Sauron will learn that the Ring is in the possession of a Baggins and send his "wraiths" after him. Heeding Gandalf's advice, Frodo leaves his home, taking the Ring with him. He hopes to reach Rivendell, where he will be safe from Sauron, and where those wiser than him can decide what to do about the Ring. In his journey, he is accompanied by three hobbit friends, Pippin, Merry, and Sam. From the start, they are pursued by Black Riders (Sauron's Ringwraiths or Nazgûl). Narrowly escaping these and other dangers and meeting other interesting characters en route, they eventually come to Bree, where they meet Strider (who ultimately reveals himself to be Aragorn, heir to the Throne of Gondor), another friend of Gandalf who leads them the rest of the way to Rivendell through further hardships. Frodo is stabbed upon the mountain of Weathertop by the chief of the Nazgûl, with a "Morgul blade" — as part of the knife stays inside him, he gets sicker on the rest of the journey.

At Rivendell, Frodo meets his uncle Bilbo whom he had not seen since he left Hobbiton years before; Bilbo seems much older and weaker, and, for a terrible moment, is once again held in sway of the Ring. Bilbo, Gandalf, and others argue about what should be done with the One Ring. Finally, Frodo stands up, and willfully volunteers to go to Mordor, where the Ring can be destroyed. Frodo sets forth from Rivendell with eight companions: two Men, Aragorn and Boromir, son of the Steward of the land of Gondor; an Elven prince, Legolas; Frodo's old friend and powerful wizard, Gandalf; Gimli the Dwarf; and Frodo's original three hobbit companions. These Nine Walkers were chosen to represent all the free races of Middle-earth and as a balance to the Nine Riders.

Their attempt to cross the Misty Mountains is foiled by heavy snow, so they are forced to take a path under the mountains via Moria, an ancient Dwarf kingdom, now full of Orcs and other evil creatures, where Gandalf falls into the abyss after battling a Balrog. The remaining eight members of the Fellowship then spend some time in the Elf-haven of Lothlórien, where they receive gifts from the Elf queen Galadriel that in many cases prove useful later in the quest. They leave Lórien by river, but Frodo begins to realize the Ring is having a malevolent effect on some members of the party - especially Boromir, who tries to take the Ring from Frodo. In the process, Frodo puts it on to escape him. Later, Boromir is killed by Orcs while trying to defend Merry and Pippin, whom the Orcs capture.

Aragorn, Gimli and Legolas, tracking Merry and Pippin, come across the Riders of Rohan who tell them that they attacked the Orcs the previous night and left no survivors.

However, Aragorn is able to find small prints and they follow these into Fangorn Forest, where they meet a white wizard who they at first believe to be Saruman, but who turns out to be their wizard friend Gandalf, whom they believed had perished in the mines of Moria. He tells them of his fall into the abyss, his battle to the death with the Balrog and his reawakening.

The four ride to Rohan's capital, Edoras, and persuade King Théoden that his people are in danger. In the process, Saruman's agent in Edoras, Gríma Wormtongue, who had been keeping Théoden subdued and weak for years, is expelled from the city. Aragorn, Gimli and Legolas then travel to the defensive fortification Helm's Deep while Gandalf goes north in search of Éomer's men in the north of Rohan to bring as reinforcements.

Hobbits Merry and Pippin escape from the Orcs who captured them when the orcs themselves are attacked by the Riders of Rohan. Merry and Pippin head into nearby Fangorn Forest where they encounter Treebeard, a treelike giant known as an Ent. These guardians of the forest generally keep to themselves, but are moved to oppose the menace posed to the trees by the wizard Saruman.

At Helm's Deep, Théoden's forces resist an onslaught of Orcs and Men sent by Saruman, and Gandalf arrives the next morning with the Riders of Rohan just in time. The fleeing orcs run into a forest of Huorns — creatures halfway between tree and Ent — and none escape. Aragorn, Gimli, Legolas, Gandalf and the army of Rohan then head to Saruman's stronghold at Isengard.

Meanwhile, Frodo and Sam discover Gollum stalking them as they try to reach Mount Doom to destroy the One Ring. Gollum hopes to reclaim the Ring. Sam loathes and distrusts him, but Frodo pities him, and so lets him live in return for guidance to Mount Doom. Gollum promises to lead them to a secret entrance to Mordor. Gollum, who is briefly torn between keeping his word to Frodo and reclaiming his "Precious," is ominously overheard to say "she might help us..." as he leads Frodo and Sam to Cirith Ungol.

Cast[edit | edit source]

Voice Actor Role
Christopher Guard Frodo
William Squire Gandalf
Michael Scholes Sam
John Hurt Aragorn
Simon Chandler Merry
Dominic Guard Pippin
Norman Bird Bilbo
Michael Graham Cox Boromir
Anthony Daniels Legolas
David Buck Gimli
Peter Woodthorpe Gollum
Fraser Kerr Saruman
Philip Stone Théoden
Michael Deacon Wormtongue
André Morell Elrond
Alan Tilvern Innkeeper
Annette Crosbie Galadriel
John Westbrook Treebeard
Character Actor Role
John A. Neris Gandalf (character actor)
Sharon Baird Frodo (character actor)
Michael Lee Gogin Character Actor
Paul Gale Character Actor
Patrick Sullivan Burke Character Actor
Billy Barty Bilbo, Sam (character actor)
Donn Whyte Character Actor
Trey Wilson Character Actor
Albert Ash (Albert Cirimele) Character Actor
Patty Maloney Character Actor
Jere Rae Mansfield (Jeri Lea Ray) Character Actor
Felix Silla Character Actor
Mike Clifford Character Actor
Larry Larsen Character Actor
Art Hern Character Actor
David Dotson Character Actor
Tommy Madden Character Actor
Gary Jensen Character Actor
Aesop Aquarian Character Actor
Santy Josol Character Actor
Stan Barrett Character Actor
John L. Character Actor
Herbie Braha (Herb Braha) Character Actor
Sam Laws Character Actor
Hank Calia Character Actor
Terry Leonard Character Actor
Frank Delfino Character Actor
Peter Looney Character Actor
Russ Earnest Character Actor
Dennis Madalone Character Actor
Louis Elias Character Actor
Robert 'Big Buck' Maffei (Buck Maffei) Character Actor
Edoardo Faieta (Eddy Fay) Character Actor
Jerry Maren Character Actor
Carmen Filpi Character Actor
Harry Monty Character Actor
Ruth Gay Character Actor
Frank Morson Character Actor
Leonard P. Geer (Lenny Gear) Character Actor
Walter Robles (Walt Robles) Character Actor
Harriett Gibson Character Actor
Mic Rodgers Character Actor
Bob Haney Character Actor
Angelo Rossitto Character Actor
Chuck Hayward Character Actor
Peter Risch (Pete Risch) Character Actor
Eddie Hice (Eddy Hice) Character Actor
Jack Verbois Character Actor
Loren Janes Character Actor
Gregg Walker Character Actor
Lucille Bliss (uncredited) Character Actor
Mel Smith (uncredited) Character Actor

Scenes[edit | edit source]

  1. "Credits" (0:40)
  2. "Prologue: A Ring's Tale" (3:41)
  3. "Bilbo's Farewell" (2:05)
  4. "Frodo's Quest" (6:24)
  5. "Saruman's Sorcery" (2:43)
  6. "Sinister Horseman" (4:19)
  7. "Inn at Bree" (3:52)
  8. "Aragorn's Vow" (3:54)
  9. "Black Riders Invade" (2:50)
  10. "Rider Swordsman" (4:19)
  11. "Cornered" (5:59)
  12. "Wall of Water" (2:39)
  13. "Gandalf's Update" (2:51)
  14. "Council of Elrond" (4:39)
  15. "Frodo's Quest Renewed" (2:19)
  16. "Change in Route" (2:40)
  17. "Grabbed at the Gateway" (2:44)
  18. "Inside the Mine" (3:04)
  19. "Under Siege" (3:51)
  20. "Balrog Strikes" (0:39)
  21. "Homage to Gandalf" (3:27)
  22. "Galadriel's Test" (3:05)
  23. "Borimir's Madness" (sic) (4:21)
  24. "Borimir's Sacrifice" (sic) (0:49)
  25. "Following the Orcs" (5:12)
  26. "Whiteskins Attack" (4:55)
  27. "The Gollum" (1:36)
  28. "Escape in Mid-battle" (4:38)
  29. "Treebeard" (3:24)
  30. "Back from the Abyss" (1:55)
  31. "Théoden of Rohan" (3:48)
  32. "Gollum Gets Touchy" (4:57)
  33. "The Orcs Advance" (4:42)
  34. "Cave Retreat" (4:36)
  35. "Two Weary Hobbits" (2:50)
  36. "Outnumbered" (2:05)
  37. "Gandalf Triumphant" (3:19)
  38. "End Credits" (2:34)

Differences from the book[edit | edit source]

The movie makes a few deviations from the book, but overall follows Tolkien's narrative quite closely. Many parts of the novel explaining the transition from one part of the plot to another were omitted which makes the middle part of the movie somewhat difficult to follow, if the viewer is unfamiliar with the story.

  • In the film's prologue it is suggested that the Elves created the 19 Rings of Power for their Kings, and for those of the Dwarves and Men. Sauron then learned the craft of ring-making after that. In the original story it is Sauron who teaches the Elven smiths this ability, and only after their defiance he distributed them to the Dwarves and Men.
  • Another prologue deviation suggests that the Last Alliance of Men and Elves was losing the war, which contradicts the original story.
  • As in Tolkien's novel, Saruman the White adopts the title "Saruman of Many Colours"; however, his robes are neither white nor multi-coloured, but red.
  • Saruman is sometimes called "Aruman". It is believed that this name was derived to keep viewers from confusing the character with Sauron, but it is not done consistently.
  • The film greatly condenses Frodo's journey from Bag End to Bree; for example, Crickhollow, Brandy Hall, the Old Forest, and the Barrow-downs do not appear. Tom Bombadil also does not appear in the film.
  • The scene where the Nazgûl arrive in the hobbits' room at The Prancing Pony and begin slashing at their beds only to find that they are not there, and pillows have been placed to form the figures of their bodies is not in the book. A passage does appear that states that hobbit beds wind up slashed during the night, but the townsfolk of Bree are the perpetrators, not the Nazgûl. This scene also appears in Jackson's version.
  • Just as in Jackson's films, the first elf which the hobbits and Aragorn encounter on their journey is changed -- this time to Legolas.
  • Arwen does not appear, nor is she mentioned.
  • Aragorn carries a broken sword (presumably Narsil) up to the Rivendell section of the story, where he presents it at the Council of Elrond. However, the sword's reforging into Andúril is never shown (or mentioned) in the film, even though Aragorn carries an unbroken blade for the remainder of the film.
  • Gimli appears to be about the same height as the rest of the non-hobbits in the Fellowship.
  • There is no mention of the Uruk-hai, or, at least, they are not at all differentiated from the regular Orcs.
  • Éowyn makes only a brief appearance and has no spoken dialogue.
  • While Éomer is mentioned, he is never officially identified (thus, he also has no spoken dialogue). Also, as in the Jackson films, it is he and his forces with whom Gandalf arrives near the end of the Battle of Helm's Deep instead of Erkenbrand's.
  • Faramir does not appear, nor is he mentioned.
  • The "Fires of Isengard" appear as magical projectiles.

Production[edit | edit source]

Animation[edit | edit source]

Much of the film used live-action footage which was then rotoscoped to produce an animated look [1] [2]. This saved production costs and arguably gave the animated characters a more realistic look. For the live-action portion of the production, Bakshi and his cast and crew arrived in Spain where the rotoscope models acted out their parts in costume. The actions of Bilbo Baggins and Samwise Gamgee were performed by Billy Barty. Sharon Baird performed the part of Frodo and John A. Neris was Gandalf. [3]

Of the rotoscoping, Bakshi said "I didn't start thinking about shooting the film totally in live action until I saw it really start to work so well. I learned lots of things about the process, like rippling. One scene, some figures were standing on a hill and a big gust of wind came up and the shadows moved back and forth on the clothes and it was unbelievable in animation. I don't think I could get the feeling of cold on the screen without showing snow or an icicle on some guy's nose. The characters have weight and they move correctly."

"Making two pictures (the live action reference and the actual animated feature) in two years is crazy. Most directors when they finish editing, they are finished; we were just starting. I got more than I expected. The crew is young. The crew loves it. If the crew loves it, it's usually a great sign. They aren't older animators trying to snow me for jobs next year."[4]

Following the live-action shoot, each frame of the live footage was then broken down into individual frames, and then printed out, and placed behind animation cels. The details of each frame were copied and painted onto cels. Both the live-action and animated sequences were storyboarded. [5] [6] [7]

Voice cast[edit | edit source]

After finishing in Spain, Bakshi went to the BBC's recording studios in London. He cast several stars - William Squire, John Hurt - and used several of the BBC Repertory Company's stock actors, like Peter Woodthorpe, Anthony Daniels, Norman Bird and Michael Graham Cox. The actors recorded the lines with each other, but were required to pause for two seconds after each line, to smoothen the recording. This caused some stilted dialogue in the finished product[8].

Reception[edit | edit source]

The film was originally intended to be distributed as The Lord of the Rings, Part One, but United Artists dropped the "Part One" from the title, believing moviegoers would not pay full ticket prices to see half a movie. Says Ralph Bakshi: "United Artists at that time was terrified to say 'Part One.' I remember sitting in meetings screaming my head off saying, 'You can't do this!' Had it said 'Part One,' I think everyone would have respected it. But because it didn't say 'Part One,' everyone came in expecting to see the entire three books, and that's where the confusion comes in" [9]. In interviews, Bakshi sometimes referred to the film as The Lord of the Rings, Part One.

Critics were generally mixed in their responses to the film. Roger Ebert called Bakshi's effort a "mixed blessing" and "an entirely respectable, occasionally impressive job ... [which] still falls far short of the charm and sweep of the original story." Vincent Canby of the New York Times called the film "both numbing and impressive". Film website Rotten Tomatoes, which compiles reviews from a wide range of critics, gives the film a score of 50.

Despite criticism, the film grossed $30,471,420 at the box office[10] (the budget was $8 million), but United Artists, who believed the film to be a flop, refused to fund a sequel which would have completed Tolkien's story on film.

Follow-up[edit | edit source]

In light of the theatrical The Lord of the Rings, Part Two adaptation being scrapped, a means of "finishing" Tolkien's story and making it more complete for audiences then inadvertently fell on the Rankin/Bass animation studio (fresh on the heels of the success of its previous TV adaptation of The Hobbit) in producing an animated TV special based on the final part of The Lord of the Rings. Their adaptation of The Return of the King finished the story and answered most of the questions raised by Bakshi's animated film. Despite this, several unresolved story developments between the ending of The Lord of the Rings and the beginning of The Return of the King were left unexplained, especially the Ents' march on Isengard (along with Merry eventually taking up with the Army of Rohan, and Gandalf and Pippin's subsequent journey to Gondor), the betrayal of Frodo by Gollum, and the attack of Shelob the monster spider-creature on Frodo and Sam. It should be noted, however, that production for this Rankin/Bass follow-up had begun even before their version of The Hobbit had originally aired (let alone before Bakshi's theatrical film had premiered)[11], so Rankin/Bass can't be entirely blamed for this flaw in continuity.

Warner Bros. (the rights holder to the post-1974 Rankin/Bass library and most of the Saul Zaentz theatrical backlog) has released The Hobbit, The Lord of the Rings, and The Return of the King on home video (VHS, DVD and Blu-ray). Both of these films are packaged separately and they are placed as a boxed-set "trilogy" of films.

External links[edit | edit source]

Licensed screen adaptations of J.R.R. Tolkien's works
Animation The Hobbit (1967) · The Hobbit (1977) · The Lord of the Rings (1978) · The Return of the King (1980) ·The Lord of the Rings: The War of the Rohirrim (2024, upcoming)
Live-action The Lord of the Rings film series The Fellowship of the Ring (2001) · The Two Towers (2002) · The Return of the King (2003)
The Hobbit film series An Unexpected Journey (2012) · The Desolation of Smaug (2013) · The Battle of the Five Armies (2014)
TV series Hobitit (1993) · The Lord of the Rings: The Rings of Power (2022-present)