Do you remember the animated film de The Lord of the Rings by Ralph Bakshi? How did you adapt Tolkien's text? What characters did he transpose well, and which ones did he sacrifice?
In 1978 it was released in the cinema the first animated transposition of The Lord of the Rings, and in general the first ever made on Tolkien's world in the Western world, by the director Ralph Bakshi.
Others dealt with the genesis of the project and the revolutionary technique adopted, the rotoscope. Instead, I would like to focus on the more "literary" aspect of the question: how did the director adapt the novel? What choices did you make, and what cuts? How many characters were sacrificed, and who got better?
To begin, it must be said immediately that the film ends with the arrival of Gandalf at Helm's Deep to help Theoden, and ends abruptly. A second film was planned, which would have told the rest of the story but, due to unsatisfactory proceeds and too high production costs, the idea was abandoned.
However, even in a single film, there is a lot of material. Let's see the three main points: the setting, the characters and the events.
Middle-earth: imaginative horror and fabulous environments
The thing that stands out the most in Ralph Bakshi's film is the dark tones of many environments, not just those you expect (the Nazgul-invaded Night Bree is one of the most successful situations), but also those who don't necessarily carry the idea of darkness with them.
The dark environments: Theoden Palace, the battle of the Last Alliance and Moria
A striking example is the Theoden Palace, wrapped in dark shadows and characterized by crepuscular colors. The characters themselves here have an air of decay and corruption. And it is particularly evident in Grima Rettilingua, portrayed almost as a dwarf, and whose eyes are almost indistinguishable.
The choice is surprising, but in my view effective, because it shows the decadence of Theoden well and at the same time brings out the purity of Eowyn, whose white dress stands out even more (and this is another one of those choices a which Peter Jackson will refer to).
Il Prologue of the film well symbolizes this gloom, which often leads to imaginative and acoustic horror.
In narrating the struggle of the Last Alliance practically nothing is shown, only indistinguishable characters fighting against a red background. Not very attentive to the text, of course, this choice, but the effect on the viewer is powerful, it gives you that sense of fear mixed with the desire to know more, and this is fully in line with Middle-earth.
Other environments also have the same effect, such as the aforementioned Bree and above all Moria, really frightening, in some places (the arrival of the Balrog, for the writer, made him jump out of his armchair).
A dark and disturbing music also helps in this. In this sense, the march of the Orcs to Helm's Deep it conveys a lot of tension and fear, and is effective, although in Tolkien this demonic cut of the Orcs does not exist, as they are a degeneration of the Elves.
Fairytale environments: an oasis before horror
Other environments, on the other hand, give the opposite sensation: that of being in a world of Favola, which allows you to stay safe and chase away the horror all around you. Imladris, Lothlòrien, and the Shire itself have this characteristic.
Furthermore, in so doing they encounter an important aspect of the book: their function as an oasis of peace and hope before embarking on a journey into horror and uncertainty.
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The characters and the events: fidelity and “betrayals” by Ralph Bakshi
As for the characters in the book, Ralph Bakshi's film moves in two directions: some are truly faithful and relevant to the text, others are sacrificed and modified.
The characters portrayed faithfully: Frodo, Merry and Pippin
Frodo he is one of the characters who in my opinion is portrayed very faithfully.
Very important is the fact that between Bilbo's departure and Gandalf's return to the Shire it really takes 17 years, as stated by the external narrator. Frodo can thus keep his wisdom and more experience than Sam, Merry and Pippin, an aspect that is lost in Jackson's films (and in fact Frodo is one of the weaker characters there).
Merry e Pepin they are portrayed as two teenagers, in this respecting the text perfectly.
Of particular importance here is the fact that, unlike Jackson's films, the two Hobbits prove theirs intelligence and their courage with the "Grisnakh case". In fact, in Ralph Bakshi's film, the Ogre doesn't want to eat them, but, as in the book, he wants the Ring for himself. Thus, the scene in which Merry and Pippin deceive the Ogre is very effective and particularly faithful to the written text.
The faithful characters, but not quite: Aragorn and Gandalf
Beyond the Native American look, Aragorn he is portrayed in my opinion very well as long as he is a Drifter. His face marked by his travels, hers severity mixed with gentleness and compassion for the Hobbits, the knowledge of the legends… all details of the novel that the film represents very well.
Instead, the part relating to his destiny, to be the Heir of Isildur, apart from the proclamation to the Council of Elrond, is overshadowed. Thus Aragorn, with the return of Gandalf, almost seems to return "to the rear": a good fighter and hunter, and nothing more.
Gandalf, albeit "drawn" faithfully, it is portrayed in a much darker way than we would expect. His gruff temper is accentuated and he has traits dark e threatening, as in the scene where he tells Frodo about the power of the Ring: the moment he says "no, you are the one who has the Ring, now" he points the finger at Frodo, who backs away in fear.
The characters who have become one-dimensional: Gollum and Boromir
Characters that undergo changes often become almost a side dish. This affects the story, because some of them are really important in the economy of the novel. Here are some examples.
In the character of Gollum, Sméagol's appearance is nothing short of frightening. Indeed he is portrayed almost as one beast with a word, an annoying and repulsive puppy… which is exactly Sam's idea of him for much of the novel. So, Ralph Bakshi seems to be embracing Sam's point of view.
In this way though, everything the drama of the ex-ring bearer is lost. It never occurs to the viewer that Gollum is a Hobbit just like Frodo and Bilbo. Of course, the fact that the film stops abruptly does not allow us to know if this crucial aspect would have been deepened in the second film.
Boromir is the most sacrificed character of all, in my opinion. Beyond the strange choice to equip him with a helmet with horns, what catches the eye is the character of Boromir. Indeed, these are angry from the start e devoid of that inner nobility and sense of honor that in the book so strikes Pippin (an aspect that is very present in the Jacksonian trilogy, thanks to an extraordinary Sean Bean).
This leads to the loss of drama of the madness scene and the attempt to steal the Ring from Frodo: being Boromir a negative character from the start, that dramatic twist becomes predictable.
The characters set aside: Legolas, Gimli and Elrond
Legolas e Gimli they are quite evanescent. In fact, beyond some dialogue that faithfully traces their real lines in the novel, they fail to emerge as characters.
The same thing happens to Elrond. In this regard, however, it must be said that the scenes relating to the Council of Elrond are much closer to the original than the Jackson films. We have a real debate about what to do with the Ring, and even Bilbo's generous attempt to volunteer in Frodo's place is preserved.
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The missing characters: Arwen, Eomer and Faramir
Other characters, however, are completely sacrificed.
Arwen she is not present, and we know nothing of the relationship between her and Aragorn.
Eomer it is only hinted at, but it never appears, and the whole culture of the Rohirrim is reduced to the bone. We only see these blond knights, all the same, running and fighting and nothing more.
The most serious loss, however, is that of Faramir. Key character de The two Towers, due to Frodo and Sam's fate, he is missed, because that last "moment of light" of Frodo and Sam's journey towards Mordor is missing.