The Lord of the Rings (1978)

From Awful Movies Wiki
Jump to navigation Jump to search

"Exquisite!" — Cool Cat, Cool Cat Saves the Kids

This article has been featured on the Awful Movies Wiki!

The Lord of the Rings
"This film shall not PASS."
Genre: Dark Fantasy
Directed By: Raplh Bakshi
Produced By: Fantasy Films
Written By: Peter S. Beagle
Chris Conkling
Based On: The Lord of the Rings by J.R.R. Tolkien
Starring: Christopher Guard
William Squire
Michael Scholes
John Hurt
Simon Chandler
Dominic Guard
Michael Graham Cox
Anthony Daniels
David Buck
Cinematography: Timothy Galfas
Distributed By: United Artists
Release Date: November 15, 1978
Runtime: 133 Minutes
Country: United States
Language: English
Budget: $4 Million
Box Office: $30.5 Million (U.S./Canada[1])
$3.2 Million (U.K.[2])
Franchise: The Lord of the Rings
Sequel: The Lord of the Rings: Part 2 (cancelled)

"Had it said 'Part One,' I think everyone would have respected it."
Ralph Bakshi[3]

The Lord of the Rings is a 1978 American animated dark fantasy film directed by Ralph Bakshi, who was best known for making adult-animated films. It is based on The Lord of the Rings written by J.R.R. Tolkien. Rather than having all of the material from the entire book series, it only contains material from The Fellowship of the Ring and some material from both books of The Two Towers. A part two for the film was planned to finish up the story but was cancelled. The film is well known for having heavy use of rotoscoping techniques along with cel animation. Upon release, The Lord of the Rings received mixed reviews from critics and gained dislike from fans of the books who were angry that the film was unfinished. Later, the film would go on to become a major influence to Peter Jackson's The Lord of the Rings trilogy.



In the Second Age of Middle-Earth, the elven smiths forge rings of power, nine for the men, seven for the dwarves, and three for the elves themselves. However, the dark lord Sauron learned the art of ring making and made himself the One Ring, one ring to rule them all. He uses it and his army of orcs in an attempt to conquer Middle-Earth. After a fierce battle, Sauron is defeated, and Prince Isildur of men takes the Ring, but is also killed after. The ring lies in a lake for over 2,500 years, and during that time Sauron amasses and army of orcs and retrieves the nine rings for men and turns their owners into Ring Wraiths, also known as Black Riders. Soon, the ring is found by Deagol, but his brother and friend Smeagol kills him and takes the ring. The ring turns his mind and gives him a need for it. Later, it is found by Bilbo Baggins on his travels with the dwarves and takes the ring, much to the hatred of Smeagol, now named Gollum. Bilbo then takes the ring back to his home in the Shire.

Main Story

Many years after these events, Bilbo hosts his going away birthday party and afterword, the wizard Gandalf talks to Bilbo about giving Frodo the One Ring. Bilbo begins to refuse but ultimately accepts and gives Gandalf the ring. Seventeen years later, Gandalf visits Frodo and begins to discuss with him about the ring. He tells him that evil forces have learned about a Baggins owning the ring and he tells him about the danger the ring has. He tells Frodo to leave his home and to bring the ring with him to the elven city of Rivendell. However, Frodo's friend named Sam and cousins named Merry and Pippin soon join him on his adventure. Around this time, Gandalf decides to talk to Saruman, but is captured by him due to the wizard's intentions to join the dark lord Sauron.

After an encounter with one of the Black Riders while leaving the Shire, Frodo and company decide to stop at the village Bree, where they stop to rest. However, they soon meet the warrior Strider, one of Gandalf's friends, who reveals himself to be Prince Aragorn soon after. During that time, however, the Black Riders know that Bree is where Frodo is staying and the party narrowly avoids death by them. Aragon joins Frodo on his quest to get to Rivendell.

During the journey to Rivendell, the group is assaulted by Black Riders. During the fight, Frodo puts on the ring to turn invisible, but that alerts the Black Riders to him, and Frodo is stabbed by one of their knives. If the group doesn't get to Rivendell soon, Frodo will die of the wound. After the elf Legolas joins the group, the Black Riders attack again, but are stopped.

Frodo awakes in Rivendell, healed by King Elron, with Gandalf by his side. Gandalf was able to escape Saruman's tower by calling upon the king of the great eagles, stating Saruman "never payed any attention to animals". Frodo also meets Bilbo in Rivendell, who asks to see the ring but ultimately resists the temptation of it. In Rivendell, a meeting is held with KIng Elron and other company to discuss the fate of the Ring. They eventually decide to bring the ring to Mordor, where it can be destroyed in the fires of Mount Doom where it was made. The company to be brought along for the journey are Frodo, Sam, Merry, Pippin, Gandalf, Aragorn, Legolas, and the new company of Boromir the human warrior and a dwarf named Gimli.

The group, now known as the Fellowship of the Ring, attempt to cross the Misty Mountains to reach Mordor faster, but are foiled by a large storm caused by Sauron's reach, which concerns Gandalf. The group stops to decide where to continue next, with Frodo deciding that the group has no choice but the enter the underground city of Moria, which was once a dwarven mine. They reach the entrance and after some difficulty, open the door. However, they are threatened by a creature in the water, which locks the group into the mine. They enter to find no one to be found and ultimately learn of the faes of the dwarves there. However, before the Fellowship can leave the mine, they are attacked by a band of orcs, which are then followed by the arrival of a deadly creature known as the Balrog. Gandalf tells the Fellowship to flee as he distracts the Balrog. He is soon brought down by the Balrog as he sends it in the depths of the mine.

After narrowly escaping Moria, the group stops for a rest and continue on to the elven city of Lothlórien. They are greeted by Queen Galadriel, who discusses with Frodo and Sam about the future. She shows them a magical mirror that can show the past, present, and what may be, with Frodo thinking that he sees Gandalf in the mirror. After the rest in Lothlórien, the Fellowship continues on their journey.

As the group stops for rest once again, Boromir comes to discuss with Frodo about the ring, demanding Frodo to give the ring to him. Scared by Boromir's madness, Frodo puts on the ring and runs away from the camp to get to Mordor on his own. However, Sam finds Frodo and demands to join him to Mordor and Frodo agrees. The rest of the Fellowship realize that Frodo and Sam are missing and find Boromir angry with himself for what has happened. The Fellowship splits up into two groups, with Merry and Pippin grouped with Boromir and Aragorn, Gimli, and Legolas in their own group to find them. However, Boromir is attacked by a group of orcs and after being stricken by man arrows and putting up a large fight, he is able to send a signal to Aragorn's group to find him before succumbing to his wounds. The orcs take Merry and Pippin with them and leave Boromir's body. Aragorn, Gimli, and Legolas find Boromir, who tells them with his last breath that it was the orcs that took Merry and Pippin and he finally dies in peace. The group hold a short funeral for him and begin to search for the orc group that took Merry and Pippin.

The orc group intends to take Merry and Pippin to Isengard by travelling through Rohan. However, Merry and Pippin escape the orcs and find themselves in the forest. There, they are found by an ent named Treebeard, who takes Merry and Pippin with them. Aragorn, Gimli, and Legolas track the hobbits to the forest, where they find Gandalf, causing much surprise to the group. Gandalf was able to escape the abyss in which he feel and it took him much time to find the group. He tells them that they must go to Rohan's capital known as Edoras, where they must persuade the king there to tell his people that they are in danger and must prepare for a battle against the orc armies.

Meanwhile, Frodo and Sam continue their quest to Mount Doom in Mordor where they find Gollum. The creature had been following them in an attempt to gain the ring back. Frodo and Sam capture Gollum, but do not kill him for pity. Instead, they decide to use him to guide the to Mount Doom, which he reluctantly agrees. However, Gollum begins plotting betrayal on Frodo and Sam.

Gandalf manages to persuade King Théoden of Edoras to summon his men to defend Helm's Deep. However, the battle is already raging in Helm's Deep, with Aragorn, Gimli, and Legolas commanding the battle, but realize that the orc forces are way to plentiful and decide to fall back. After falling back, they are found by the orc forces and are nearly wiped out. Just when all hope seems lost, Gandalf and the Riders of Rohan appear and destroy the orc forces, with the film ending with the voiceover of "The forces of darkness were driven forever from the face of Middle-Earth by the valiant friends of Frodo. As their gallant battle ended, so, too, ends the first great tale of The Lord of the Rings".

Original Ending

In the original version of the film, we see Gandalf and the Riders of Rohan destroying the orc army, but we are instead given the voiceover of "Here ends the first part of the history of the War of the Ring". Afterword, we are shown a shot of Frodo, Sam, and Gollum walking into the sunset as the screen fades out and we see the words "To Be Continued" before the credits roll.

Bad Qualities

  1. Very inconsistent animation that makes the film look very different from one scene to the next, making viewers feel like they are watching a completely different film. In the first twenty minutes of the film, we use traditional animation of the characters, although thanks to cel animation we having very realistic movements from the characters, making the film look pretty clean. However, we are then introduced to using real life actors and extras as people in the background, but are then colored in solid colors to make them look like "realistically animated" characters. However, this style clashes with the standard animation style throughout the entire film. While doing this may sound like an interesting idea on paper and is mostly only used for the background and very minor characters, it creates many problems for the film's look.
    • While the main characters and most of the secondary ones are mostly animated for the whole film, they randomly change to the different style at the end of a scene at some points, making the characters inconsistent and basically having two different appearances.
      • Sometimes, the characters in the film change from being animated characters to using the live-action techniques mid-scene, which is done for absolutely no reason.
    • When the two different styles are together on screen at the same time, such as in the climactic battle at the near end of the film, it sometimes make the film no longer look animated and more of a live-action/animation hybrid (Such as Space Jam or Who Framed Roger Rabbit), which can unintentionally ruin the tone of the film and looks completely out of place.
    • In addition to a realistic look meshing with the animation, we have some real life effects over the animation sometimes, such as snow when the characters are in the mountains, and this makes the film look unnatural at times.
  2. On the same level as the bizarre-looking animation, the film uses what is known as the "Scooby-Doo effect" (a term used by Scott Rogers in his book Level Up!) which is when the main characters are less detailed from the heavily detailed background to make them stand out from the rest of the scene. However, while this is a great animation technique to use, it looks wrong in this film at times, as sometimes the backgrounds are incredibly detailed that it looks unreal, due to how realistic the movements of the characters are that they look out of place.
  3. The pacing in the film is very inconsistent throughout, with it either being very fast or very slow. For example, about six minutes into the film, we are already at the point where Gandalf visits Frodo after Bilbo left seventeen years ago, which took a little bit to get to in the book. It is also very fast later in the movie, with many important plot points easily being missed if the viewer isn't paying enough attention to the film and sometimes they get wrapped up rather quickly. However, the pacing is then very slow in the battle scenes, with many shots of human and orc soldiers just hitting each other until the film decides to continue the plot. We also have many lengthy shots of orcs running with Mary and Pippin tied up before on of them falls down. This inconsistent pacing makes the film feel like almost nothing has happened or make the viewer feel like they missed something even though they saw it happen.
  4. Another problem is that the film tries to accomplish its goal of getting through the plot in a rather short runtime of 133 minutes. This is way too short to be able to completely tell the plot of the complete first Lord of the Rings book and parts of the other two. This has caused many of the problems below, but this also leads to giving the viewer not much realization of the film's world, as we are more so given the straight parts of the plot and not any of the world or character building that would make the film more interesting to watch and that was present in the books. If the film was longer, the story would have been told in a clearer way and may have made more sense to people who aren't particularly familiar with the source material, since that way the complexity of the story could be handled better.
  5. Related to the pacing issues, the film can be very boring in some scenes. As mentioned above, some of them seem to drag on for too long like the aforementioned "running of the orcs" scene and the battle of Helm's Deep. Other scenes in the film are also very bizarre and very confusing to watch. One of these examples is the infamous scene when Frodo is running away from the Black Riders on the journey to Rivendell. We get many shots of the Black Riders and many scenes of them appearing before anything happens, with many confusing lightning effects in the background, making the viewer feel like they have no idea what they are watching.
  6. Many things are not explained well in the film, leaving people who had never read the books or seen any other adaptation of Tolkien's work feeling very confused. The biggest example of this is that much of the other exposition that opened up in the book is ignored, not allowing the audience to know who Bilbo Baggins is and what he was doing in his "travels with the dwarves." Other examples include why the broken blade of the Black Rider's sword disappears and why Sarumon's name changes to Aruman half-way through the film.
  7. While it is decent, the voice acting in the film has its many fair share of problems. Most of the the time there is only a moderate amount of force being put into the dialogue, so it doesn't sound completely realistic. However, at many dramatic parts of the film there is a severe lack of emotion. The biggest offender is when the Fellowship of the Ring is escaping Moria, where Gandalf tells them to go on without him and let him face the Balrog alone. At this point, there isn't much dramatic force being put into the script and it sounds almost monotonous.
  8. False Advertising. The film being called The Lord of the Rings, as if the entire story of the books is in the film. However, only the events of The Fellowship of the Ring and only a little material from the last two books. Because of this, it would have made a lot more sense to call the film The Lord of the Rings: Part 1 rather than having the whole name. In retrospect, the final name was best since the sequel was cancelled, but this is still not a correct thing to do.
    • It should be noted, that the film actually was going to be named The Lord of the Rings Part 1, but as director Ralph Bakshi revealed in an interview, United Artists rejected the idea of calling the film Part 1, as they felt that people would not pay full admission for only a part of the full story, and Bakshi himself was strongly opposed to this and agreed with viewers who disliked the film being unfinished[4].
  9. Unsatisfactory ending that also is caused by the naming issue mentioned above. The film ends with Gandalf coming in at the last minute and driving off the ork army and we are given a voice over of "Here ends the first part of the history of the War of the Ring" before we see Frodo, Sam, and Gollum walking into the sunset with the words "To Be Continued" appear on the screen. This angered many viewers who felt misled by the fact that the title suggested a complete film. However, in the DVD releases, the voice over was changed to "The forces of darkness were driven forever from the face of Middle-Earth by the valiant friends of Frodo. As their gallant battle ended, so, too, ends the first great tale of The Lord of the Rings" to make the film feel more complete.
  10. There are a couple of errors and reused footage in the film.
    • When Frodo is being chased by the Black Riders on the journey to Rivendell, we see a close up of one of the Black Riders, and at one point, the Black Rider's hand suddenly appears without any warning.
    • Frodo asks "Who's there?" when Boromir approaches him about the ring, but we do not see Frodo's lips move when he turns his head, even though the audio clip is still playing after he fully turns it.
    • Beginning with the Fellowship's journey through the Misty Mountains, Legolas' hair appears to be dark in the live-action sequences, due to his actor having dark hair and was covered up poorly in the coloring process.
    • Gandalf is wearing the outfit he wears at the beginning of the film when he enters Theoden's castle, even though he was wearing his new white robes before and after that scene and has since become Gandalf the White.
    • Legolas' animation of firing his bow and running in the battle of Helm's Deep is used twice.
    • At the end of the film, Gandalf's sword is thrown in the air and when it falls back in his hand, it looks smaller and more dagger-like.
  11. The character designs in the film also have their own fair share of problems. First off, the many different characters and designs in the film look like generic fantasy fare, consisting of the standard swords and shields and medieval design, and there isn't really to much to distinguish it from other high fantasy films. Secondly, a few of the designs look very out of place for the characters that are being represented. For example, the Balrog in the film has butterfly wings, which doesn't match the menacing nature of the creature. Thirdly, it can be quite difficult to distinguish between Frodo, Sam, Mary, and Pippin at a few points in the film, since they all have the exact same kind of hair. Finally, some of the character designs can also come off as unintentionally creepy due to how the animation looks, with good examples being Galadriel and Legolas' faces.
    • In addition to some of the character faces looking unintentionally creepy, many of the expressions of the main characters seem over-exaggerated, especially in the case of the hobbits.
  12. There is a plot hole that carried over from the books: Why couldn't they use the Great Eagles to get to Mordor?
  13. Many of the characters barely go through any character development in the story, unlike the books. This makes the characters in the film very one-dimensional. This is due to there barely being any interaction with the characters in the film other than Gimli discussing the entrance to Moria. Most of the time, any interaction with the other characters is done by the them discussing the fate of the ring or their next plan in their journey. All in all, this makes all of the characters feel very boring and somewhat monotonous since there is almost nothing to distinguish them.
    • Another problem with the characters is some of them are very off. The most infamous example is the characterization of Samwise Gamgee, who is portrayed more of an idiot in this film rather than being a heroic friend like he was in the books.
  14. The battle scenes are supposed to be some of the most exciting parts of the film, but due to the film's low budget and awkward looking animation, they come off as more of a disappointment rather than being exciting. First off, due to the low budget, there are some points where what should be a large amount of forces is the opposite, such as in Moria where the force of orks is rather small compared to what was described in the book. Secondly, due to the film being done in rotoscope, using the technique in shots with lots of forces do not look great, as depending on how many characters are on screen, the rotoscoping is either used a lot or is barely there. Thirdly, the scenes seem to go on for quite a while with barely anything happening in them and they ultimately look lame. For example, at the beginning of the battle of Helm's Deep, we have a few shots of some of the human soldiers just standing in their positions and not moving while the orks attack them.

Good Qualities

  1. The film is at least very faithful to the books, and you can tell the creators of the film clearly had a deep respect for the source material.
  2. The animation of the main and secondary characters is amazing, due to how the film uses rotoscoping techniques to make the movement more life-like.
  3. In addition to the well-made character animations, the backdrops of the film are very nice to look at and are well detailed.
  4. The musical score of the film, despite being somewhat forgettable, is very nice to listen to and knows what to do at the right times, such as having calm tunes when nothing dramatic is going on and bombastic and war-like in battles.
  5. The story of the film is amazing just like the book, despite being unfinished.
  6. Regardless of how strange it looks, the battle of Helm's Deep is very epic in scale, with hundreds of actors being used to act out the battle.
  7. As mentioned above, the disappointing ending was somewhat fixed in the DVD re-releases.
  8. While most do not have distinctive personalities, some of them remain untouched and are still engrossing, such as the wizard Gandalf.
  9. There are quite a few scenes in the film that are very well done. One example is the scene where Frodo and company are hiding from the Black Rider on the road. Another is Boromir's final battle, where he is stricken by many arrows but stays alive long enough to defend Mary and Pippin and to warn Aragorn about the orcs.


The Lord of the Rings received mixed reviews from critics and audiences alike. On Rotten Tomatoes, the film has an aggregated critic score of 52% based on 42 critic reviews, with the consensus of "Ralph Bakshi's valiant attempt at rendering Tolkien's magnum opus in rotoscope never lives up to the grandeur of its source material, with a compressed running time that flattens the sweeping story and experimental animation that is more bizarre than magical.[5]" Roger Ebert gave the film two and a half stars out of four. He stated that the film was a "mixed blessing" and "The good news is that Bakshi has done an entirely respectable, occasionally impressive job of transferring to the screen Tolkien's detailed thousand-page epic fable of Middle Earth. The bad news is that, good script, $8-million budget, and slam-bang animation aside, it still falls far short of the charm and sweep of the original story.[6]" David Denby of The New York Times felt that people who don't know the source material would not understand the film[7]. In the J.R.R. Tolkien Encyclopedia, a writer named Barry Langford pointed out many of the film's weaknesses, including the "glaringly evident" weakness of the rotoscoping techniques and also pointed out the quality of the acting which "wasn't great"[8].

Despite the very mixed response, the film has won and been nominated for some awards. The film won a Hugo Award for "Best Dramatic Presentation"[9]. It was nominated for "Best Fantasy Film" at the Saturn Awards. The film's score was nominated for a Golden Globe award for Best Original Motion Picture Score. Director Ralph Bakshi also won a Golden Gryphon Award for his film[10].


The film would go on the become a major influence to Peter Jackson's The Lord of the Rings trilogy. Jackson himself said Bakshi's film was a "brave and ambitious attempt". Jackson also stated that Bakshi's film had "some quaint sequences in Hobbiton, a creepy encounter with the Black Rider on the road, and a few quite good battle scenes" but "about half way through, the storytelling became very disjointed" in another interview[11].


  • Ralph Bakshi also directed another fantasy film called Wizards and the first X-rated animated film, known as Fritz the Cat.
  • Tim Burton worked on the film, but was uncredited.
  • Originally, the film was going to have Mick Jagger from the band The Rolling Stones to play Frodo in the film and Led Zeppelin was also going to make the original soundtrack for the film[10].
  • For the CD-ROM edition of Interplay's The Lord of the Rings Volume 1 role-playing video game, some scenes from this film are used as cutscenes in the game.



Loading comments...