And you thought the Arwen sequences in Peter Jackson’s Lord of the Rings trilogy were slow. Last week, an unknown archivist in Russia managed to dig up and digitize the Soviet adaptation of JRR Tolkien’s epic saga, which might rival the 1977 Star Wars Holiday Special for production values. All that’s missing is Bea Arthur and a cantina.
Actually, Bea might be in the birthday-party sequence:
The Guardian gives the background on the discovery of this gem:
A Soviet television adaptation of The Lord of the Rings thought to have been lost to time was rediscovered and posted on YouTube last week, delighting Russian-language fans of JRR Tolkien.
The 1991 made-for-TV film, Khraniteli, based on Tolkien’s The Fellowship of the Ring, is the only adaptation of his Lord of the Rings trilogy believed to have been made in the Soviet Union.
Aired 10 years before the release of the first instalment of Peter Jackson’s movie trilogy, the low-budget film appears ripped from another age: the costumes and sets are rudimentary, the special effects are ludicrous, and many of the scenes look more like a theatre production than a feature-length film.
The score, composed by Andrei Romanov of the rock band Akvarium, also lends a distinctly Soviet ambience to the production, which was reportedly aired just once on television before disappearing into the archives of Leningrad Television.
Hey, the same thing happened to the Star Wars Holiday Special, which was so bad that many people denied it existed at all, including reportedly George Lucas himself. (It does, young padwans, it does, and it even pre-empted The Incredible Hulk.)
Anyway, for what it is — an extremely low-budget narrated TV ballet, for the most part — it’s easy to see why it enchanted Soviet-era audiences. In the first place, there probably wasn’t much else to enchant them, not even in the glasnost-perestroika era. More importantly, this should remind us that it’s Tolkien’s storytelling that enchants, and which Jackson enhanced with his masterful talent and apparently unlimited budget. This kind of an adaptation, which (presumably) leans more into Tolkien’s prose, is certainly capable of transmitting those qualities.
In case you can’t get enough, here’s the second half of the Soviet Fellowship. At least Lucas had the good sense not to do another Christmas special, but … what about the prequel trilogy? And the sequel trilogy? And, well … everything else except A New Hope and The Empire Strikes Back? Judge not, hobbits, lest we be judged. At least this doesn’t have the Bunny Sled of Doom.
Addendum: Let’s not forget that Jackson wasn’t the first in the West to attempt a LOTR adaptation. Does anyone remember Ralph Bakshi’s creepy animated version of Lord of the Rings? Bakshi was a talented and inventive animator, but …