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The Lord of the Rings (1978 film)

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The Lord of the Rings
DirectorRalph Bakshi
ProducerSaul Zaentz
WriterJ.R.R. Tolkien
Ralph Bakshi
Peter S. Beagle
MusicLeonard Rosenman
CinematographyTimothy Galfas
EditingDonald W. Ernst
Peter Kirby
DistributorUnited Artists
ReleasedNovember 15th, 1978
Runtime132 minutes
Budget$4 million
WebsiteOfficial website
IMDbIMDb Profile

J.R.R. Tolkien's The Lord of the Rings is an animated film produced and 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, but distributed to theaters by United Artists.



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. 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, and leaves the Shire.

Gandalf realizes that the "magic" ring is in fact the one ring forged by Saron, 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 he 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, 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, Strider 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 treelike giants called Ents. 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. 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.


Role Actor
Frodo Baggins Christopher Guard
Gandalf the Grey William Squire
Samwise Gamgee Michael Scholes
Aragorn John Hurt
Meriadoc Brandybuck Simon Chandler
Peregrin Took Dominic Guard
Bilbo Baggins Norman Bird
Boromir Michael Graham Cox
Legolas Anthony Daniels
Gimli David Buck
Gollum Peter Woodthorpe
Saruman the White Fraser Kerr
Théoden Philip Stone
Gríma Wormtongue Michael Deacon
Elrond André Morell
Innkeeper Alan Tilvern
Galadriel Annette Crosbie
Treebeard John Westbrook

Differences from the book

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 Sauron learned the craft of ring-making after the 19 lesser rings were made whilst in the original story it is Sauron who teaches the Elven smiths this ability.
  • Another deviation suggests that the last alliance of men and elves was losing the war which contradicts the original story.
  • In the film, Gollum killed his friend Deagol in order to take control of the Ring. This is suggested by Gandalf in the book, but Tolkien does not confirm that this is actually the case.
  • As in Tolkien's novel, Saruman the White adopts the title "Saruman of Many Colors"; however, his robes are neither white nor multi-colored, but red.
  • The hobbits' first encounter with the Nazgûl is very similar to Jackson's film, but deviates from the novel.
  • The scene where the Nazgûl arrive in the hobbits' room 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, but it is in both Jackson and Bakshi's film versions. Some Jackson fans claim that the scene is suggested in the book. A passage does appear that state that hobbit beds wind up slashed during the night, but the townsfolk of Bree are the perpetrators, not the Nazgûl.
  • Just as in Jackson's version, the first elf that the hobbits and Aragorn meet is changed, this time to Legolas.
  • Like Jackson's version, Bakshi's film does not include the character of Tom Bombadil.
  • 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 to the council. 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.
  • Éowyn makes only a brief appearance and has no spoken dialogue.
  • The "Fires of Isengard" appear as magical projectiles.


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. Many of the actors who contributed voices to this production also acted out their parts for rotoscoped scenes. The actions of Frodo Baggins, Bilbo Baggins and Samwise Gamgee were performed by Billy Barty.

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 in two years is crazy. (The live action reference and the actual animated feature.) 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." Template:Ref

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. [3] [4] [5]

Some critics found the sections of the film with rotoscoped animation inferior in quality to "normal" animated films.


The film was originally intended to be distributed as The Lord of the Rings Part 1, but United Artists dropped the "part one" from the title. "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." Template:Ref In interviews, Bakshi sometimes refers to the film as The Lord of the Rings Part 1.

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 Template:Ref (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.


In an attempt to "finish" Tolkien's story and make it more complete for audiences, the Rankin/Bass animation studio (fresh on the heels of the success of its previous TV adaptation of The Hobbit) produced 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. However, several unresolved story developments between The Lord of the Rings and The Return of the King were left unresolved, especially the betrayal of Frodo by Gollum, and the attack of Shelob the monster spider-creature.

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 VHS and DVD, both packaged separately and as a boxed-set "trilogy" of films. Despite the release of Peter Jackson's recent film trilogy based on Tolkien's work, many fans of Bakshi's work still want him to complete Tolkien's story in his own style.


  • Gandalf actually says the ring inscription in the black speech, but only the first two lines after which he says the entire inscription in English.
  • The elves in this version do not have pointed ears, instead they tend to dress in white and appear slightly brighter than the other characters.
  • The film includes the song which Frodo sings at the Prancing Pony.
  • Just as in Jackson's version, Bakshi's Balrog has wings.
  • Unlike in Jackson's version, Gandalf retains his hat even upon becoming Gandalf the White.
  • Cel animation was produced and shot for this film, but was cut out at the last minute. Except for the cel-animated shot of the hobbits at Bilbo's birthday party, the final product is entirely rotoscoped.
  • Future director Tim Burton worked as an animator on this film. He was not credited, but worked as an "inbetween" artist. It was his first job on a film.
  • At one point in the film's development, studio executives thought that the names "Saruman" and "Sauron" were too similar, and would confuse the audience, and decided that Saruman should be renamed "Aruman". This decision was eventually reversed, but some references to "Aruman" remain in the finished film.
  • Bakshi's film sparked enough interest in Tolkien's work to provoke not only the Rankin/Bass Return of the King, but a complete adaptation of The Lord of the Rings on BBC Radio. For this broadcast, Michael Graham Cox and Peter Woodthorpe reprised their roles of Boromir and Gollum, respectively.
  • Peter Jackson first encountered The Lord of the Rings via Bakshi's film [6], and some shots in his live-action trilogy appear to have been influenced by it. One such shot [7] features Frodo and the other hobbits hiding from a Black Rider under a big tree root, while the Black Rider stalks above them. In his version of the sequence, Jackson uses a simlar shot [8] — although he films it from a different angle. A second sequence features the camera slowly revolving around Strider and the hobbits, who stand in a circle as the Black Riders approach them on Weathertop. In his staging, Jackson also uses a similar shot — although his camera is much faster, and Strider is not among the hobbits. A third similarity is the depiction of Gollum losing the ring in the prologue: both films show the ring falling down a rocky cavern. Other similarly staged scenes include the Nazgul attack on the hobbits' beds at the Prancing Pony, and Legolas, Gimli, and Aragorn's discovery of Gandalf the White. On the DVD commentary of The Lord of the Rings: The Fellowship of the Ring, Jackson acknowledges one shot, a low angle of a hobbit at Bilbo's birthday party shouting "Proudfeet!", as an intentional homage to Bakshi's film.


External links

Licensed film adaptations of J.R.R. Tolkien's works
The Hobbit (1966) · The Hobbit (1977) · The Lord of the Rings (1978) · The Return of the King (1980) · The Lord of the Rings: The Fellowship of the Ring (2001) · The Lord of the Rings: The Two Towers (2002) · The Lord of the Rings: The Return of the King (2003) · The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey (2012) · The Hobbit: The Desolation of Smaug (2013) · The Hobbit: The Battle of the Five Armies (2014)