The Bonkers 'Lord of the Rings' Movie Trilogy No One Talks About
So, I don't mean to sound unnecessarily edgy here, but I was a fan of Lord of the Rings movies BEFORE they were cool.
I was a fan of them back when they were weird and incomprehensible and possibly illegal if anyone in Hollywood had given two shits. See, back in the mid-70s, an animation studio called Rankin/Bass, who you might remember from their parade of Christmas-themed stop motion films, decided that they were gonna adapt The Hobbit. And it's not bad, but in its attempt to be an NBC television special that 1) Isn't too expensive, and 2) Won't make children doze off, it is a little short. But its soundtrack is a banger:
It was reasonably successful, and so Rankin/Bass probably figured that a sequel would be worthwhile. However, a completely different company was already on that. United Artists, famed for their ability to spend money very wisely, had hired Ralph Bakshi (director of Fritz the Cat and Wizards) to helm a version of The Lord of the Rings. You can tell from interviews that Bakshi really adored the material, but a combination of budget issues and Bakshi's evolving fascination with different kinds of animation would lead this film to being an oddity at best. I will say that it is downright beautiful at times, though.
However, his decision to separate the film into two parts didn't fly with United Artists, who figured that no one would want to see a movie with "Part 1" in the title. So they called the whole thing The Lord of the Rings, slapped a quick bit of ending narration on the climax to assure people that Aragorn didn't get, like, eaten or slaughtered by Orcs, and washed their hands of the thing.
This couldn't have been better for Rankin/Bass though, who immediately leapt into developing a cartoon based on The Return of the King (Bakshi's film ends a little after the Battle of Helm's Deep,) because if you squint hard enough, it's like these two completely separate series made by two completely separate companies are sequels! I'm sure that someone could've attempted a lawsuit here, but United Artists was too busy getting bankrupted by their four hour thoughtful cowboy movie to wonder if another company was dipping their toes in the Tolkien pond.
And so that's how, when I was a kid who had parents that bought VHS tapes on a seemingly random basis, I got to own the entire Lord of the Rings movie trilogy years before Peter Jackson's adaptations came out. And I treasured them. The LOTR novels seemed like insurmountable quests of literature while sitting on my Dad's bookshelf, but versions that omitted a bunch of the talk-ey parts and a bunch of the other parts, too? I could sit through that one a lazy Sunday afternoon.
Hear that Gandalf narration? That's John Huston, director of The Maltese Falcon, The Treasure of Sierra Madre, and The African Queen. He's on the Mt. Rushmore of Turner Classic Movies.
And honestly, after watching The Hobbit get transformed into three different films, each one longer than an actual Hobbit movie should be in total, I'll take all the 80-minute versions of Middle Earth that I can get.
Daniel Dockery is a writer for the internet. You can follow him on Twitter!