Although it wasn’t until the ‘00s that the Lord of the Rings trilogy really made an impact on the common man, there was actually an adaptation of the first entry in the series, Fellowship of the Ring, that was released all the way back in 1971. Despite being successful in theaters, the film never went on to get the two sequels it needed to round out the story—much to the fans dismay as well as director Ralph Bakshi. With Ring fever set to ramp up again once The Hobbit: Part 1 debuts in 2012, Warner has opted to push out the 1971 rotoscoped film into an all-new Deluxe Edition Blu-ray (on the same day as the Peter Jackson trilogy gets its first Blu-ray release as well) to help kick start another wave of Ring-y goodness.
Controversial animator Ralph Bakshi’s literal adaptation of J.R.R. Tolkien’s classic fantasy trilogy, The Lord of the Rings, is brought to the screen. An evil sorcerer from a previous era created a magical ring which enables its users to call upon its tremendous powers to rule the world, but it inevitably warps them to evil. It was believed lost, but during a resurgence of magical evil in the world, Bilbo, a simple, plain-spoken hobbit, recovers it from its hiding place. The forces of good give his nephew Frodo the choice to bear the awful burden of the ring to a place where it may be destroyed.
Admittedly most of the “goodness” that people will be enjoying on April 6th when this movie drops will be Peter Jackson’s trilogy, as I don’t foresee many wanting to watch this animated film again. At 133 minutes long it is quite possibly the longest animated film I’ve ever seen and the process of rotoscoping everything was rather off-putting to me. Rotoscoping is nothing new (and in fact kind of made a return in recent years, although with different effects) and when done it can add a whole new dimension to a film…but making everything within Lord of the Rings in the same fashion created a fluidity that often just feels weird in animation.
So while the animation may be an immediate detractor for many, others will probably just find the story and pacing itself to be a little tedious. It has the basic essence of The Fellowship of the Ring with some of Two Towers thrown in (it’s been so long since I’ve read the actual books and watched the Jackson films I don’t even remember which is the original procedure anymore, so I’m not sure how much of Towers is actually in here) but I’m going to stop drawing comparisons there because while they share similar storylines it’s rather unfair to compare two films that are over three decades apart.
There are undoubtedly issues with the film and it doesn’t just arise in the rotoscoping. No, there are story, animation, voice actor and dialogue issues that just tend to pepper themselves throughout the whole thing. Sometimes the voice performances are severely strained or just “off” sounding, whereas the animation produces some genuinely strange visual elements at times; I know that’s probably due to the rotoscoping, but it’s even more than that as on occasion the animation is just really over exaggerated as if the actors were worried the animators wouldn’t be able to pick up on nuanced performances. The story itself is overly awkward, as is the pacing and the random supplanting of Saruman’s name being referred to as “Aruman,” and the dialogue is…I just don’t know how to describe it. I know the film was made on a paltry budget of $4 million, but it’s like there were too many cooks in the kitchen or simply not enough time to finish it for this one as there are so many little quirks and oddities that surely could’ve been cleaned up in post had there been time or more of a budget.
Ultimately by no means is this a bad film, but it certainly is caked with flaws. I get the difficulties that director Bakshi faced (and has since complained and moaned about ever since), but in order for this film to have been as good as it could have been it truly needed a bit more fluidity in story and less in the animation. Definitely enjoyable, but overall not something that really any novice Rings viewer should see first. It’s more of a curiosity glance than anything, truth be told, as even when I was a kid and saw this at my local library, I think I may have checked it out once before being so bored I had to shut it off. It’s long and at times tedious, which makes it more for something that fans should check out.
But enough about this nearly forty-year-old cartoon, you want to hear about this new deluxe edition Blu-ray release! Although still not billed as “part one” of a story, Lord of the Rings Deluxe Edition arrives in a two-disc Elite Blu-ray case with a fancy foil embossed slipcover on the outside. Inside are the two discs (one Blu-ray, one DVD/Digital Copy combo) and the usual inserts. It’s a simple package, but one that’s presented very nicely—the package is done up so it should fit in nicely next to your Jackson movies, should you decide to do so.
Video arrives in the form of a VC-1 encoded transfer and the new “remastered” transfer does look pretty nice, although not having seen the DVD transfer I can’t say for sure how much it was cleaned up. There are still definite issues to be had, with grain and cel noise, but they aren’t really prevalent enough to warrant complaining about. The color palette hinges toward the browner shade due to the nature of the film itself, but whenever colors or blacks are present on screen they pop and are deep and rich. It’s always nice to watch an anamorphic widescreen animated film, but it’s even nicer to see it on Blu-ray in 1080p. I honestly didn’t care for the film itself, but Warner did at least provide a very nice transfer regardless.
Audio is a Dolby TrueHD 5.1 mix and as much as I wish I could say that it was a nice to listen to as it was to watch in 1080p…it’s simply not the case. The dialogue is crystal clear and the films overabundant use of music (which, while nice, just got to be a bit much, especially early on in the film) tended to blast from nowhere, yet at the same time sounded rather hollow. You can tell this wasn’t originally a 5.1 mix as the separation is limited and LFE output is minimal. Still, it’s not a bad track, but it definitely won’t win any awards for usage of a sound field.
Extras include a brief Ralph Bakshi — Forging Through The Darkness (30 minutes) featurette. Touted as “The Ralph Bakshi Vision for The Lord of the Rings, a featurette with the legendary director,” we do get some insight into the production of this troubled little production. I think I would’ve been more welcome to a commentary as it seems, like the combining of two books into one two hour film, a bit rushed. But overall it’s a decent piece and fans of the film and the Tolkien series will be pleased that this title finally received some kind of extra.
Overall a Recommended and decent package to upgrade to if, once again, you enjoy the film. If you don’t or just barely enjoy the Jackson films (as I do…yes, I said “barely”), then you can just go ahead and give it a rental.
The Lord of the Rings – Animated Deluxe Edition arrives on Blu-ray and DVD on April 6th.