The rest of you unruly dwarf-brains can stick around.
Before there was Peter Jackson, there was some stoner named Ralph Bakshi. Now this guy must have walked around in a continuous cloud of marijuana smoke. It was the right time, after all -- the 70s, a decade that should never have seen the light of day, a decade that reeks like the stench that wafts from under the wet carpeting you stowed in the shed three years ago and is now home to centipedes and earwigs and patches of grey, slimy fungus.
Ralph somehow got it into his head that he was an artist, and also an animator. He somehow got it into his head that he could animate the Lord of the Rings -- the whole damn thing. That alone is sheer arrogance of breathtaking proportions. Actually following through is just plain stupidity.
To cut a long story short, Bakshi somehow, after a ream of rejections, finally got someone to actually share his fantasy. Now don't get me wrong. Bakshi was not out to make a quick buck. He appears to have honestly wanted to do the best he could to bring the books of J.R.R. "Pops" Tolkien to life as faithfully as possible. He didn't want it Disneyfied or become a musical or change the storyline to be easier to understand, and he actually consulted with members of Tolkien's family, who gave him the go-ahead.
His first mistake was to get the funding off Saul Zaentz. I had a friend who worked for Zaentz at Fantasy records; she was working there when Zaentz was feuding with that Fogerty guy from Creedence Clearwater Whatever and she said Zaentz was a Category 1A Dickwad with a capital D.
So naturally, Bakshi ran into trouble very quickly. He discovered that yes, animation is hard to do well. If you have four characters in a scene and you want it to look semi-good, you have to do an INSANE amount of work. I briefly worked at a company that was doing a movie called The Plague Dogs. I got the job airbrushing backgrounds through a friend of mine that I'd gone to school with, Tom Bertino, who went on to work on such films as The Terminator (strange how Wikipedia doesn't list his work on that stinker, Howard the Duck).
But just to animate a bunch of dogs takes months and months -- one frame of the movie can take up to three days to produce, and there are 24 frames in a second. This was before computers, and it all had to be done by hand.
|Typical non-scene from Bakshi's Lord of the Rings|
So he quickly started reverting to shortcuts. One of these was to take live actors, film them and then make them so high-contrast that they were either black and white (no shades of grey) and then fuck with the actual film by painting on it -- an animation crime of the highest order, if you ask me. The result looked terrible, but Bakshi became enamoured of it. Later he whined about how much work and money it would have taken to animate the film properly, but he was right. Zaentz surely drew the purse strings tighter and tighter, and the result was that Bakshi eventually all but abandoned animating any characters and chose instead to rotoscope everything (you can quickly spot rotoscoping because the animated figure looks unnaturally real -- because it is! It's taken directly from a live human doing the action. Nowadays they do that with fluorescent dots painted on a human and then translated into movement by a computer).
The result was a complete disaster. The last 20 minutes of the film is a visually hideous mess that makes no sense whatsoever, and abruptly ends with the suddenly animated Gandalf raising his staff and proclaiming that the end of the quest had finally come. He failed to mention that there was a complete other book after the story we'd just seen. It was never produced. Bakshi was catapulted into obscurity and thank the lord, so was this movie.
However, another animated version was produced, this time called The Return Of The King. I'm at the beginning of it, but it already looks Disneyfied and bombastic, again, un-understandable by small children, too cheesy for teenagers and unwatchable for adults who love the books (those annoying American accents!!)
Anyway, sorry for the rant and let's all look forward to Peter Jackson's The Hobbit.