No one knows better than Ralph Bakshi what Peter Jackson and his crew are going through in trying to bring J.R.R. Tolkien’s Lord Of The Rings to the big screen.
Bakshi’s animated version of the epic fantasy came out in late 1978, and though it’s been almost 23 years, he still feels inextricably connected to it.
“As far as the movie end of it goes, I feel very associated with it, because I was the guy who went after the rights,” Bakshi told JAM! in a recent phone interview. “I was the guy that tried to do it in different parts. I was the guy that went to England and spoke to Tolkien’s daughter and Tolkien’s son at that time about my intentions for the film”.
Upon the movie’s release, Bakshi was immediately attacked on a number of fronts. The main complaint was that the film didn’t have a conclusion, going only about halfway into the second book of the series, The Two Towers. (Frodo and Sam are just heading into Mordor, and the battle at Helm’s Deep had just ended.)
Other fans complained about dropped characters, like Tom Bombadil, or about the music. The film used a technique called rotoscoping, in which a scene is filmed with real actors, then animated over top. Many felt that the hybrid product detracted from the end product.
The enormity of the work, as well as the complaints, follow him to this day.
“I think it’s impossible to do Tolkien. It’s impossible to get the brilliance of what he wrote about — just the medium, the book, the novel gives you other areas of imagination (that) film can’t allow. Film has to describe and show. With the brilliance of his words and his scenes, you imagine whatever you want. I’m sure various people imagine different things.”
But Bakshi has complaints of his own with the people behind the upcoming “Lord Of The Rings” movies.
“I’ve had nothing to do with the live-action version,” he says, flatly. “I wasn’t contacted, I wasn’t asked for the rights to do it, let’s just put it that way. I wasn’t asked for the rights to do it, no one’s ever spoken to me about it. I’m kind of stunned that they are doing it. Certainly I’m wishing them all the luck in the world on a visual level”.
Bakshi admits to being in awe of some of the things that can be done with computers. For his Lord Of The Rings movie, every cell was done by hand. He also believes that his visualizations of the Tolkien characters are a part of the public consciousness, but that he doesn’t get the credit that he feels he deserves.
“Understand that I’m not bitching here, this is very important to me. But when you look at (the new film’s) Ringwraiths flying through the forests, it’s like a scene out of my movie. And I know the amount of anguish in costume design and character design and living with Tolkien’s daughter, and walking around where Tolkien walked just to try to make sure that whatever I designed, these are words in a book and my job in trying to design something that would be correct for the book. I mean what does a Hobbit look like? What does a Hobbit’s cloak look like? What colour is it? What’s the texture of it?”
Still, he’s apologetic to those people who feel that he didn’t live up to Tolkien.
“Let me be the first to say that I probably made two billion mistakes. I’m the first to admit that I can’t be as good as Tolkien, and a movie can never be as good as Tolkien. All I ever told the fans, I think then, was that I was going to give it the best shot I had.”
But Bakshi remains convinced that it is a fruitless task to even try to transfer Tolkien from page to film.
“I hope these guys do a better deal with it,” he says. “I’m not for an instant, I’m not sitting here for a moment saying my film was good or great or worthy of Tolkien. I’ve never said that. I’m never going to say that. I just gave it the best shot I could, and if I did anything, I think I established some of the character design to look the way Tolkien might have liked them. His daughter certainly loved the way I designed the film. But as far as everything in the book, I can’t do it, and this next guy’s not going to do it. You can’t do it … even in a million movies.
And, he adds, “I’m anxiously waiting to see what these guys do with my movie! Ha ha ha ha ! Quote me! Do me a favour and quote me on that.”