The majority of Lord of the Rings fans around my age grew up with the Peter Jackson, Fran Walsh, and Phillipa Boyens trilogy. It has its problems – Faramir, the Spockish Elves, and the absence of the Scouring of the Shire are the most egregious in my mind – but it introduced an entire generation to the worlds of Tolkien. The Rings of Power could do the same for Gen-Z. But the generation before us were introduced to Middle-earth by a man called Ralph Bakshi.
Bakshi’s Lord of the Rings was an animated film, and long before fantasy became the homogeneously gritty genre dominated by realism we know today, it lent into the fantastical elements of Tolkien’s vision. Audiences were left confused upon its release, however, as it only told half of the story of The Lord of the Rings, but didn’t explain that fact. There was no ‘Part 1’ in the title, and no ‘to be continued’ at the end. It just stops. No sequel was ever made. There are countless tales about the film and its creation, from Tim Burton’s work on the animation, to Mick Jagger and David Carridine approaching Bakshi in pursuit of leading roles (Jagger wanted to be Frodo and Carridine Aragorn).
Why am I talking about a 42-year-old movie? Ralph Bakshi himself has been tweeting deleted scenes from the movie, specifically from Gandalf’s battle with the Balrog. These scenes were cut from the original film and a photomontage instead depicted the spectacular battle. If you’ve been on Bakshi’s Twitter lately, it’s quite a ride. In between sharing original artwork and storyboards for his Rings designs, he also revels in sharing illustrations of women with prominent breasts accompanied by the hashtag, #NationalBoobDay.
Enough about that, though, and back to the Balrog. Bakshi’s iteration of Durin’s Bane feels dated these days, but modern audiences are used to the realism pioneered by Jackson & co. That doesn’t stop Bakshi’s version from being fantastical, fun, and unique. The last point is especially prescient after The Rings of Power revealed its own Balrog, which looks exactly the same as the one in the ‘00s film trilogy. I’m not against Tolkien interpretations taking inspiration from one another, and Jackson’s effects company Weta worked on Amazon’s show so some overlap is inevitable, but it feeds into the same problem of most fantasy looking and feeling samey these days.
Bakshi’s deleted scenes have reignited my love of classic fantasy, the sort that embodies the whimsical realms and larger-than-life characters that defined Tolkien’s writing. The Lord of the Rings may have been dark, parts may have been inspired by his time fighting in The Somme, but The Lord of the Rings is a story of hope, and a story of magic. I’ve been captured by a nostalgia for fantasy as it was depicted largely before I was born, but one that feels more true to the Tolkien in my mind than any depiction in my nearly 30-year lifetime.
The new Gandalf/Balrog shots have got me thinking about how Bakshi would have depicted other scenes from the books. What would his Minas Tirith have looked like? His Denethor and his Faramir? His Shelob? If the Balrog is anything to go by, the Spawn of Ungoliant would have surely been more creative than just a large spider in Bakshi’s head.
Bakshi’s Balrog is controversial – it has wings, for a start – but it’s creative, visually interesting, and distinct from other interpretations. The same goes for many of Bakshi’s designs: Treebeard is more tree-herder than tree, and the Hobbits are more childlike in their features than just small humans. The wondrous nature of Galadriel has always enraptured me.
Is it time for Bakshi to revisit the Lord of the Rings and finally make his Part 2? Probably not. A fantastical animation up against the money and might of The Rings of Power seems unfair, but the variety would be more than welcome for many fans. Homogeneity is the killer of creativity, but revisiting Bakshi’s film might just be the antidote.
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