Lord of the Rings (1978) Blu-ray Review

The issue with rotoscoping animation is that is makes it look both too real and unreal at the same time. It doesn’t find that appropriate level of magical fantasy, certainly appropriate for Lord of the Rings, and instead comes off messy and sloppy.

Mistakes can go unnoticed in traditional animation because the movement is not perfect. Here, where it nearly is, those mistakes stand out. Flickering objects, characters disappearing, and totally bizarre visual effects make this Ralph Bakshi more effort than its worth.

This animated adaptation has enough trouble beyond its eccentric animation, with a mixture of distorted live action that further puts the viewer off. The story is of course truncated, cutting out major players, deleting side stories, and sticking with the absolute bare minimum. Lord of the Rings tries to combine Fellowship of the Ring and the first part of Two Towers, and in that regard it’s too much. The double focus hampers the storytelling efforts, even with more than two hours to play with.

It’s hard to fault the film for the abrupt ending. Bakshi planned a follow-up was denied the opportunity (ignoring the hilariously awful musical adaptation of Return of the King which is more of an off-shoot). Besides, Bakshi’s version is so chopped up, it’s hard to even tell at times what is going on. The final battle just sort of happens, this after Treebeard is introduced at random, and then dropped as quickly.

Bakshi’s goal was to bring animation to an older audience, and to his credit, Lord of the Rings tries. It is violent, the imagery dark, and the story complex, but it’s not engaging. The seemingly endless chases by the wraiths are dull and derivative of each other, while the countless shots of orcs marching around come off as padding. And that “animation,” well, it can barely be considered so, the obvious live action jarring with the fine lines of the truly rotoscoped actors.

Movie ★★☆☆☆ 

Opening live action still

It does not help that Warner encode for Lord of the Rings introduces an array of digital artifacts. Grain is poorly resolved, and yes, it’s intact. Those expecting that pristine clarity of the Disney features will be immediately turned off, but this is the source, and attempting to remove the grain to preserve the cells here would be a nightmare. Grain spikes are uncommon and generally not too much of a bother.

Source damage, loaded with specks and dirt (sometimes on the cells, and sometimes on the film stock itself) is constant, but considering the creation, this is still acceptable. Lines are well defined if a bit soft, although not offensively so. When they don’t break down in the source, they replicate the animation cleanly. Color is generally flat, save for a few scenes prior to the adventure, including the rich blues in the forest at 9:37.

The real problem here is noise and artifacting. It becomes a constant battle, the solid colors that make up much of the animation a nightmare for this VC-1 encode. Purples are riddled with blocking effects, including Aruman’s clothing at 15:36. It is a distraction, occurring in many sequence that feature smoke or bright color. Part of that is undoubtedly the various visual effects in the background mingling with the animation, and the other half is the inability of this encode to fully resolve everything. Black levels can dip in spots as well (1:36:56), leaving the image lackluster and faded.

Video ★★★☆☆ 

This TrueHD effort tends to sit within a mid-range, and at an abnormally low volume. The score, sounding more like a light-hearted military march, plants itself firmly in the stereo channels. It lacks firmness and clarity, coming through slightly distorted on the high-end, and offers no impact on the low-end. In fact, the subwoofer barely registers for anything, briefly noticed at 43:30 as the waves take out the wraiths.

Dialogue carries a small level of scratchiness, nothing that affects a listeners ability to understand what is being said, but those interested in fidelity will be bothered. Most of this is confined to the center channel, with the surrounds barely coming into play. There is nothing distinctive going on in the rear channels, and nothing that can be considered immersive.

Audio ★★★☆☆ 

On extra, aside from some trailers, is included. Forging Through the Darkness is a half-hour look at Bakshi’s career, a nicely put together piece detailing his motivations.

Extras ★★☆☆☆