An In-Depth Historical past of Ralph Bakshi’s The Lord of the Rings


Do you remember when they had the guy who made ‘Fritz the Cat’ adapt ‘The Lord of the Rings’? The 70s were wild, man.

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By Meg Shields Published on September 13, 2021

Welcome to The Queue – your daily distraction with curated video content from across the web. Today we’re watching a video essay on animator Ralph Bakshi and his 1978 version of The Lord of the Rings.

It’s hard to think Lord of the Rings as “unfilmable” in the course of Peter Jackson‘s trilogy. It’s the definitive cinematic word in JRR Tolkien’s fantasy epic, and probably what most fans get on their minds when they think of Middle-earth.

For many years, all attempts to bring The Lord of the Rings to the big screen resulted in abandoned scripts, unproduced concept art and unfulfilled directorial dreams. Before Jackson’s films, only two cinematic adaptations saw the light of day. Remarkably, both were animated – an elegant workaround for depicting set pieces and worldbuilding that are too extensive and expensive to be realized in live action.

With my apologies for the Rankin Bass TV special, Ralph Bakshiis 1978 Lord of the Rings is by far the better of the two and more compellingly notorious. The animated film was intended as the first part of a two-frame deal, although a second film was never made. As the video essay below notes, Bakshi is a hell of a good figure. He is an icon of the counterculture scene and one of the few opponents of Disney’s monopoly on American animated films.

Bakshi’s The Lord of the Rings has a well-deserved reputation for being absolutely wild, a mixed-media mish-mash of overpainting, colored xeroxes, pseudo-solarization and rotoscopy. The film has remained a cult curiosity over the years. However, details of its origins, strengths and weaknesses are less discussed. In the interest of correcting this injustice, here is a video essay that gives Bakshi’s adaptation its place.

Watch “A Comprehensive History of Ralph Bakshi’s Lord of the Rings”:

Who did that?

This video essay on the story of Ralph Bakshi’s The Lord of the Rings is from a Canadian video essayist Dan Olson. His video essay channel, Folding ideas, deals with narrative theory and the mechanisms of storytelling in all its forms. You can follow Olson on Twitter here. And here you can subscribe to Folding Ideas on YouTube.

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Meg Shields is the humble farm boy of your dreams and a senior executive at Film School Rejects. She currently heads three columns at FSR: The Queue, How’d They Do That? and horrorscope. She is also a curator for One Perfect Shot and a freelance writer. Meg can yell about John Boorman’s ‘Excalibur’ here on Twitter: @TheWorstNun. (You / you).

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