Ralph Bakshi's Lord of the Rings, Part One: A Critique

Perhaps the hardest thing, for me, in preparing this web-page is having to view this movie over again. I saw it with friends in the theatre when it first came out, within mere days of its' opening, and loathed it. I came across it again last year, stumbling across it in a video store, and found myself thinking, "Oh, it can't possibly be as bad as I remember."

Sadly, I was right. In fact, memory had softened the blow and the movie seemed substantially worse.

This will be the third time I've felt compelled to endure this movie. I will admit I don't think the movie is completely bad; there are one or two things here and there which did work. It would also be incorrect to say that I don't like Mr. Bakshi; I admire the fact that he was willing to attempt the Herculean task of committing The Lord of the Rings to film.

I just wish he could have done a much better job.


WARNING: This review makes absolutely no attempt to be objective.

If Mr. Bakshi, or someone else associated with the making of the film, would like to post a rebuttal to this review or other related information, I'll be happy to add it (or a link to it) to this server.

Part One: The Game Attempt.

For the initial third of the movie, the filmmakers make their best attempt to tell the story. True, they get bogged down in unwieldy, half-given explanations and make it clear that exposition is not their strong suit, but at least they gamely make the attempt.


1. The Incidental Music.
When watching the film, the very first thing you get (along with the titles) is your first earful of the big, overblown, use-every-instrument-you-have-in-the-orchestra-or-else theme music. It continues unabated for for the next several hours. Many times Tolkien has written of the subtlety, grace, and
magic of music and song; why, then, does composer/conductor Leonard Rosenman insist upon starting the movie with this symphonic Assault upon Dunkirk? A look at his other achievements tells us he's capable of better...

2. Sauron.
(still: Sauron and his Monty Python predecessor) Though hardly a Tolkien purist, I'm nonetheless constantly irked by the introduction's claim that "the Dark Lord learned the craft of Ring-making" after the Elves had made all the other Rings; but that is not my major gripe about Sauron. Rather, it is the way they make Sauron look. They show the Enemy only as a silhouette, but the silhouette is clear: human, tall, black-robed, and wearing a big helmet with foot-long horns on the top. I mean, he looks like one of the Knights Who Say "Ni", for God's sake. Perhaps the Fellowship of the Ring should have just brought him a shrubbery?

3. The Last Alliance.
Did you know that The Last Alliance lost? Evidently so. "As the Last Alliance of Men and Elves fell beneath his power", however, Sauron failed to notice "the heroic shadow who slipped in"; Isildur, according to the movie, heroically snuck up behind Sauron and heroically hacked his hand off while he was looking the other way, and so came by the Ring. Hah! Some hero: "Isildur the Backstabbing Sneak".

(still: either Saruman's hair, or five polar bears) 4. Late '70s Hair.
Everybody in this movie has unspeakably big hair. Pounds and pounds and pounds of it. I swear, I keep waiting for Gandalf to fall over under the sheer weight of it. And Saruman... it's perhaps better not to even talk about Saruman. I mean, he shouldn't have even been able to stand up.

5. "Seventeen years passed sleepily in the Shire."
As the narrator reads this line, we see a wide view of the Shire from a hilltop; it is winter, and the snow is falling. It dissolves to the same shot, in spring... then the same shot, in summer... and then to fall. A little literal and unnecessary for my taste, but okay. But then - in some bizarre attempt to visually Make Time Fly - they flash-cut through nine more seasons in 1.2 seconds flat. I swear, I started looking around the theatre to see if the flickering seasons onscreen had triggered any neurological seizures. What the hell did they think they were doing, anyway?

6. Gandalf.
In reading the books I always admired his wisdom, his seeming irascibility, and his sense of humor... the feeling of humanity which was so deeply-ingrained into the old wizard. But for the first third of the movie he comes off as a pretentious, monotonous Prophet of Doom, utterly devoid of personality. Why is that?...
Gandalf's problem in the early part of the movie, I think, is that he gets burdened with carrying all of the exposition. By the time screenwriters Conkling and Beagle have finished piling all the "here's-what's-going-on" and "here's-why-it's-important-to-the-plot" dialogue on his head, he's got no time left to develop any personality, much less show any. Did every word of the initial exposition have to come straight from Gandalf's mouth in the form of an intonation?

7. The Ring-inscription.
In Bag End, Gandalf asks Frodo if he sees any inscription on the Ring. Finding none, they throw it into the fire. After a moment. Gandalf pulls the Ring back out of the fire. Frodo comments with surprise that it is still quite cool. But they never bother to look for the Ring-inscription, which makes the whole business of throwing the Ring into the fire kind of pointless.

8. They Just Can't Hold Still.
There are dangers to having a movie done by amimators. One of them is that it's far easier to animate large, sweeping gestures than it is to animate smaller, subtle movements. Subtleties, however, are often more appropriate to the story - and far more effective.
In this movie, Bakshi seems to have extreme difficulty filming two people who sit down and have a quiet conversation. This is highly unfortunate, since it is Tolkien's elegantly-crafted dialogue which drives the story.
(still: Gandalf gestures stupidly) In Bag End, Gandalf just can't sit still. He won't just sit down and talk to Frodo about the Ring; instead he paces around meaninglessly, gesturing like a rabid stork. He raises both hands into the air, squeezes his fists and lowers his hands whenever he wants to make a point, a ludicrous overdramatic gesture which beginning drama students refer to as "Milking the Giant Cow".
If Bakshi could learn how to have his characters just sit down and talk, it would be of great benefit to him as a director.
...Eventually Bag End becomes too confining for all these gestures, and so Gandalf and Frodo must go and walk in the night air where they can move around more. "What a pity that Bilbo didn't kill that vile creature when he had the chance!" Frodo says, curiously jumping up and throwing a rock to emphasize his point. They just can't sit still, for God's sake.
Maybe tranquilizer darts would have helped...?

9. Sam the Aborigine.
One of the side-effects of making Gandalf and Frodo go for a walk in the night air is this: when Gandalf discovers Sam eavesdropping, Sam isn't just outside the window (a sensible place for a gardener to be); he is, in fact, hiding behind a lone bush next to a stream where Gandalf and Frodo happen to walk. My question is this: what was Sam doing, in the middle of the night, hiding behind a bush, next to a stream?
Or do I really want to know?
Curiously, the filmmakers never get around to telling us who Sam is, or what his relationship is to Frodo. I guess they assume everyone already knows. But if you're not going to bother with telling the story, why bother with making the film?

10. (S)Aruman.
They decided to rename "Saruman" to "Aruman" for the movie; evidently they were concerned that moviegoers would confuse the name "Saruman" with "Sauron". That's all well and good, I suppose... but they only call him "Aruman" half the time, and the rest of the time they go back to calling him "Saruman". So the guy has two names used interchangeably throughout the movie, which is even more confusing. Why bother doing this if you're not even going to be consistent about it?

11. Saruman's Voice.
It's their business, I suppose, if they want to cut everything referring to Saruman's melodic and persuasive voice; but did they have to make him sound like a gecko with a sore throat?

12. Gandalf's Imprisonment at Orthanc: Saruman's Gratuitous Light-Show. (still: silly light-show)
In the book, Saruman had Gandalf imprisoned by simply putting him "alone on the pinnacle of Orthanc... I stood alone on an island in the clouds; and I had no chance of escape" (Fellowship p. 274 hardback). In the movie, Saruman succumbs to the same visual hyperactivity that everyone else has - and not only traps Gandalf at the top of Isengard, but puts on a really flashy light-show as well. Evidently Saruman forgets that he's not doing a remake of Close Encounters of the Third Kind.
I think this was just a way to emphasize that These Guys Are Wizards... but why did they have to make this point with gratuitious visuals when they could have done it by letting them show some character instead?

13. The First Nazgul.
I'm actually willing to say something good about this scene. The scene starts well; the hobbits converse, have a (very minor) disagreement (giving them a chance to show a little character!), and then move off the path to see who the rider is. The Nazgul actually succeeds in being a little bit scary, and the business with Frodo fighting the temptation to put on the Ring is executed well, simply and wordlessly. I'd like to know why all the rest of the film wasn't directed by the same guy who put together this one scene.
...On the other hand, I would still like to know why the Nazgul has to groan and limp about like an escapee from a leper colony.

14. Realism and Not-So-Realism.
In Bree, Frodo and his companions suddenly find themselves in a roomful of characters who are nothing more than colored overlays of high-contrast, live-action footage. The hobbits, however, are still done as rotoscoped animations. It makes the four of them stand out in that barroom like Tony the Tiger would stand out at a pedigreed cat exhibit. Was this an artistic choice of some kind? Or were they just being cheap?

15. The Hallway at the Prancing Pony.
After the scene with Frodo's disappearance in the Prancing Pony common-room, three of the hobbits trot down a hallway. The hallway is drawn in a very dark, atmospheric style, while the hobbits are drawn as their usual, bright, rotoscoped selves. They don't even bother to match the shadow and tone of the hobbits to the shadow and tone of the background. As a result, the hobbits look very obviously out-of-place... and it looks like they're running down the hall with their feet floating well above the floor.
Was it just too much work for them to do it right?
(They tried to correct this visual problem by having the sound department make the hobbits' footfalls really loud and heavy and convincing. Not only is this out of character for quiet, soft-footed hobbits, but it doesn't solve the problem with the animation either.)

16. Strider.
Like Saruman, Aragorn also sounds inexplicably like a gecko with a sore throat. I don't care if it is John Hurt; he still sounds like a gecko with a sore throat. (Though not as sore a throat as the gecko playing Saruman.)

17. The Nazgul Attack.
It's intriguing to note that any time the Nazgul attack - whether it be at Bree, Weathertop, or the Fords - the background fades away and becomes yet another weird mysterious "magical" light-show. Admittedly, this does make their attacks seem a little more disorienting. I keep thinking, though, that Bakshi chose to do this so we'd be too distracted to notice that the scenes are fundamentally badly-paced... and unable to stand on their own without help.
It's a little like putting steak sauce on tofu: if you pour enough of the glop on, maybe it'll distract you from the fundamental lack of flavor.

(still: Legolas) 18. How To Recognize An Elf.
- Sappy pseudo-cheerful woodland Elf-music plays whenever they appear.
- They have eyes like Bambi.
- They're all exposed three F-stops too bright.

19. The Nazgul Pursue Frodo At The Ford Of Rivendell.
Inexplicably, for the first half of the scene the Black Riders seem completely unable to control their horses.

(still: Frodo looks like he's ready to leave) 20. An Interesting Look.
Once Frodo recovers from the wound of the Morgul-knife, there's a scene where he lies in bed while Gandalf tells him of his escape from Isengard. At the very end of the scene, Gandalf leans over Frodo and tells him to rest. Intriguingly, Frodo turns away from Gandalf and looks directly into the camera, his eyes curiously tortured and beseeching. It's almost as if he's saying to the audience: "Please, please find a way to get me out of this ludicrous movie."

21. "Don't adventures ever have an end?"
This short scene with Frodo and Bilbo, where Bilbo asks to see the Ring once more, actually works. A little bit. Not enough to save the rest of the movie. But a little bit.


Part Two: Tolkien's Greatest Hits.

Once arriving at Rivendell, the movie shifts gears; it assumes it's given enough exposition, and now drops the plot in order to start hitting the "high points" of Tolkien's work. To its credit, this means the characters actually begin to show a bit of the personality Tolkien infused them with. Unfortunately, without an adequate framework of plot to tie the scenes together and give them coherence and meaning, the movie simply becomes more confusing.


22. The Council Of Elrond.
Tolkien knew the importance of the information provided at the Council, and knew it was important not only to give the exposition as clearly as possible but to properly introduce the characters present as well. He took thirty-two pages to do it.
In the movie, Bakshi covers the Council in three minutes and twenty-three seconds.
It's understandable, of course - and even desirable - that some condensation of material would take place; that's to be expected, and the scene would be unwieldy for an audience if you didn't. But since this is the exposition scene which lays the framework for all the rest of the plot, giving yourself a good solid six to ten minutes to do it properly is an investment of time which will benefit you for the rest of the story. By rushing this scene, however, it cuts off all the rest of the movie from any moorings it may have had in the plot... and the result is, inevitably, a disjointed and pointless film.

23. The Council of Babel.
During the narration-moment at the beginning of the scene, everyone around the table is talking at once. It's visually interesting, but not appropriate to the tone of the scene. Indeed, it starts one off with the immediate impression that all the heroes are buffoons.

(still: Boromir and his hat) 24. Boromir The Hornhead.
Boromir, like Sauron, is wearing a silly-looking horned helmet. I keep waiting for him to say, "Ni!"... or, worse still start singing about Spam. (If Bakshi had filmed Part Two, perhaps we would have seen Denethor demanding that Aragorn prove his heritage by cutting down "the mightiest tree in the forest wiiiiiith... a herring!")

25. Elendil.
Aragorn announces at the Council that he is the descendant of Elendil, and that he has the Sword that was Broken. Unfortunately, the movie never explains who Elendil is, or how the sword got broken to begin with. The narrator hastily jumps in and tells us that Aragorn is Isildur's heir; but no explanation for who the hell Elendil is, or why the hell the sword's being broken should be significant, is ever offered.
It would be better to have left Elendil completely unmentioned than to have him put in this meaningless and confusing appearance.

26. Why Are We Going To Mount Doom?
"We cannot keep it, we cannot destroy it," Elrond says of the Ring. A moment later, he says: "We must send the Ring to the fire where it was made - to Mount Doom." Curiously, he doesn't say why it is necessary to do so. Those of us who have read the book know it's to destroy the Ring; but how is the rest of the audience supposed to know that? After all, he just finished saying that "we cannot destroy" the Ring, didn't he?...

27. Tolkien's Greatest Hits.
"What foolishness is this? Why do you speak of hiding and destroying?" Boromir says of the Ring. Unfortunately, since most of the dialogue from the book has been cut, nobody has spoken of "hiding and destroying"... except Elrond, who says we can't do those things anyway.
A lot of the movie's dialogue has this problem: it assumes you already know the story, and so just skips ahead to the next interesting bit without bothering to add all the information and characterization that glue the story together and give it life and coherence.
As a result, the movie starts running like a record of "Tolkien's Greatest Hits": all the neat bits of the story, but none of the framework that helps the neat bits make any kind of sense.

28. Anduril.
Outside the gates of Moria, Aragorn draws his sword. It is no longer broken. The movie never bothers to explain this change, and so it comes off looking like a continuity error rather than the missing plot-element it actually is.

29. Hack Hack Hack.
In the book, when the Watcher in the Water attacks Frodo, Sam dashes up and slashes at one of its tentacles with a knife; the rest of the Company do not have time to react. In the movie, Aragorn and Boromir run up with swords drawn and hack away at the monster as well. Indeed, Boromir gets a good deal of screen-time standing there hacking away at tentacles which spew luminous green blood for the camera with every stroke. It's as though somebody in the production office saw the first half-hour of the movie, and then demanded to know why there hadn't been any gratuitous swordplay in it yet.
They needn't have worried. As the movie goes on, the gratuitous swordplay will increase exponentially.

30. The Slowest Orc In The World.
The book does describe the Orc-chieftain who "turned Boromir's sword and bore him backwards" with his shield, dove under Aragorn's sword "with the speed of a striking snake", and "thrust his spear straight at Frodo" (Fellowship p. 339). It does not, however, say anything about his doing all this in slow motion.

31. The Balrog. (still: a really silly-looking Balrog)
- It has big red-and-black wings, kind of like a Monarch butterfly.
- It has the head of a big stuffed lion.
- It has big silly-looking feet. In fact, the Balrog is clearly wearing oversized fluffy bedroom-slippers.
...It's also noisy as hell, and makes a lot of big roaring Balrog-style noises. Obviously Bakshi had no access to Tolkien's Letters, particularly #210 to Forrest Ackerman:
"The Balrog never speaks or makes any vocal sound at all... [he] may think he knows more about Balrogs than I do, but he cannot expect me to agree with him."
Most curious, though, is this: unlike the original, Bakshi's Balrog can fly. This addition to the story raises an obvious question: if the Balrog can fly, why didn't it just fly back out of the chasm when Gandalf broke the Bridge?

32. It's Pronounced "Keleborn", Not "Sell-a-born".
It's the first note in Appendix E, for God's sake. Didn't they research the pronunciation of names at all?
...But, of course, the filmmakers don't care about such details. They can't even decide whether the name of the Wizard at Isengard is Saruman or Aruman. Later on in the movie, we'll also learn that Gandalf and Aragorn don't even agree on the pronunciation of "Edoras".
Sadly, this kind of sloppiness and lack of attention to detail can be seen in all the other aspects of the film as well.

33. Galadriel And Celeborn.
They come off as the most pretentious people in the Universe. I guess with Gandalf still lost in Khazad-dum, they had to have somebody sound pretentious.
Being Elves, they too are exposed three F-stops too bright.

34. The Lothlorien Junior High Children's Choir.
Not only is the music unbearably nauseating, but in addition the Elves in the distance are exposed at least five F-stops too bright. Indeed, they're so bright it's hard to even tell they're people.

(still: Boromir and a big rock) 35. Playtime in Lorien.
My fondest memory of this movie is the absurd shot of Boromir filing the burrs out of his sword by scraping it against a rock.
I guess they haven't heard of whetstones in Lorien yet.

36. The Eye Of Sauron.
According to the Mirror of Galadriel, Sauron's watchful Eye is in fact a kaleidoscope.

(still: Nenya on Galadriel's hand) 37. Nenya.
Galadriel holds up her hand, and Frodo sees the Ring of Adamant upon her finger. But how could he miss it? The moment she holds up her hand, Nenya lights up and spouts colored sparks and rainbows and sprays of glitter-dust which distract us from listening to her next six lines of dialogue.
This seems to be the only motif which is carried out with consistency throughout the movie: If it's magic, it's bright and sparkly.

38. The Breaking of the Fellowship.
The sequence beginning with the Argonath and ending with Frodo and Sam's departure from the Fellowship comes as close as anything does in this movie to working, and because of that it bears examination. The music ceases, for a time, to be overbearing; (still: Boromir gestures excessively) the Fellowship stops and converses without lots of unnecessary dramatics or hyperactive gesturing (except for Boromir, who milks at least one Giant Cow in his conversation with Frodo); and the dialogue and action are, at least, moderately coherent and serve to forward the plot. Curiously, though, the sequence still doesn't really work.
The problem here seems to be in the editing. The pacing of the scenes, and of the cuts within scenes, simply doesn't work. The pacing doesn't build a scene up to a climax, or provide any emphasis for any of the action taking place. It's as though we were viewing a rough-cut of the scene rather than the finished product.
It should be noted that the entire movie is shot and edited like this; it's just harder to notice the rest of the time because of all the other distracting problems.

39. The Death Of Boromir.
Though they can't seem to decide whether to pace the scene quickly or slowly, it works fairly well. I think they were beginning to realize the battle-scenes didn't require as much dialogue or exposition, and so they weren't as hampered here by these recurring weaknesses as they were elsewhere.
Unfortunately, this only encourages them to do less storytelling and more battle-scenes.

40. Gollum.
Difficult as it is for me to say anything good about this movie, I actually think that Peter Woodthorpe did a good job as the voice of Gollum. Intriguingly, Gollum did not sound like a gecko with a sore throat (in spite of the fact that he's the one character who safely could have).


Part Three: Let's All Fight A Lot.

Having discovered that Boromir's fight scenes were moderately effective, and that they could be shot with a minimum of character and exposition, the filmmakers finally abandon the plot to fend for itself and rely on more and more combat to keep the movie going. Without the plot, though, the battles become so confused that even the filmmakers soon have trouble figuring out who's winning.


41. The Rohirrim And The Orcs. (still: Orcs and Rohirrim senselessly lined up)
Here's how the Rohirrim and the Orcs do battle:
1: The Orcs and Rohirrim stand in two big long lines facing one another.
2: They stand like this, not moving, for 22 seconds.
3: One Rider of Rohan then rides down between the two lines, and shoots an Orc and kills him with an arrow. The remainder of the Orcs stand there and, inexplicably, cheer the rider. (Three or four of the Orcs do pull bows and try to shoot him in return, but an Orc-chieftain dashes up and, oddly enough, tells them to stop.)
4: They continue to stand there and do this for most of the night. The camera wanders off and does a scene with Aragorn and Legolas while we're waiting. Merry and Pippin also escape during the interminable pause. Still the Orcs and Rohirrim continue to stand there repeating the same tiresome game.
5: One of the Riders finally comes too close to the Orcs, and they kill him. This drives all the other Riders berserk, and so now they suddenly decide to charge and attack.
...I guess they must have figured that, as long as somebody's getting killed, the scene doesn't have to make any sense.

42. Treebeard.
It's hard to know what to say about Treebeard, since the movie ends before he really gets a chance to do anything. Since the Ents never get to attack Isengard, never see Gandalf, and never appear at Helm's Deep, their inclusion in the movie makes no sense. Treebeard just becomes another Tolkien's-Greatest-Hits element that gets gratuitously tossed in. Pity, really.
But here's another question: Why is it that Treebeard spits leaves whenever he talks?

43. The Dangers Of Rotoscoping Live-Action Footage.
Gandalf, ressurrected, reappears before Aragorn, Gimli and Legolas. He jumps up, leaps onto a rock, and... his cape gets wrapped around his head.
Couldn't they have corrected this when they animated the sequence? Or, indeed, filmed the live-action shot more than once?
(series of stills: Gandalf has obvious problem with costume)

(still: Grima Wormtongue)

44. Wormtongue Looks Like A Jawa Straight Out Of "Star Wars".
You'd think George Lucas' lawyers would have filed a complaint.

45. Saruman's Pep-Rally.
Bakshi has added a strange scene to the story: Saruman stands before his armies of Orcs, and gives them a good Knute Rockne-styled pep speech. "Our time is at hand," he tells them. "Theoden's hundreds will face your tens of thousands!" The Orcs cheer and beat drums. Shortly thereafter, as the Orcs approach Helm's Deep, they are all singing... singing fight-songs.
I tell you, the only things missing are the cheerleaders and the pom-poms.

46. Eowyn.
Why does she look like the Wicked Queen from some Disney movie?

47. Varied And Subtle Musical Themes.
Quick! Get out your kazoo. Now play this:
D above middle C, then A above middle C
Congratulations! You have just learned how to play the horn-call of Boromir. And the horn-call of the Riders of Rohan. And the horn-call of the Horn of Helm. And the horn-call of the Orcs. And, no doubt, the famous Horn-Call of Buckland as well.
What's the matter? Couldn't they afford to write more than one horn-call? Did Leonard Rosenman only have room left on the score for two notes?

48. The Blasting-Fire.
It's not enough to have explosives used at Helm's Deep, as in the book. Oh no! That's not nearly dramatic enough... so the explosives are now magical ball-lightning, hurled all the way from Isengard some eighty miles away. The filmmakers just don't seem to feel Tolkien's work is interesting enough to stand on its own... so they glitz it up.
Unfortunately, this sort of ignorant tampering makes the movie less interesting.

49. The Glittering Caves.
Gimli is bound to be disappointed, since the caves are completely uninteresting.
Curiously, even inside the caves Theoden is unwilling to get off his horse.

50. Sam's Concern For His Master.
"After that?" Frodo asks sadly, when Sam asks about how they'll eat after reaching Mount Doom. "If the Ring goes into the Fire, and we're at hand? After that? Dear Sam! I wouldn't worry. Just to get there... just to get there! Oh, the Ring is so heavy now, Sam..." And Frodo casts his eyes downward, feeling again the acute weight of his burden.
After a moment Sam gets bored, stands up and begins to walk about whistling to himself.

51. The Final Battle of Helm's Deep.
The filmmakers, seeing the end of Part One in sight, simply give up all pretense at this point - not only that the movie should make sense to us, but even that it makes any sense to them. The final battle at Helm's Deep, therefore, is ludicrously confusing. At the end, even the filmmakers don't seem to know who's winning.
As the scene begins, the Orcs are using battering-rams to try to break into the Glittering Caves. The Horn of Helm is sounded (unless, of course, it's the Horn-call of Buckland, or maybe Boromir returning from the dead), and all the Orcs decide to drop the battering-ram and make a blind run for it for no discernable reason. They fall back in rout, even though there are no enemies present anywhere yet.
The Riders of Rohan burst forth from the caves, Theoden leading them. Though not an Elf, Theoden is nonetheless a good F-stop brighter than all his men. He and Aragorn and the Rohirrim ride about slaying the Orcs. (Slaying Orcs has become a familiar and favored pastime to the filmmakers by now, so they have fourteen on-screen slayings in the next 58 seconds.)
The tide, however, turns. After 58 seconds of being the clear victors, it slowly dawns on Theoden, Aragorn and the other riders that they are, in fact, surrounded by countless Orcs. Funny how they missed it before. The Orcs, rather than simply charging in and killing them, slowly begin to tighten their circle around them; Theoden and Aragorn look around, now clearly realizing the hopelessness of their situation.
...At least, that is how the scene looks. The orchestra, however, has something completely different in mind, and begins playing heroic triumphant music which is completely at odds with the hopeless situation onscreen. Evidently they no longer know or care who's winning. (Or maybe they're rooting for the Orcs?)
One of the animators evidently gives over to apathy for a moment as well. Surrounded by enemies, Theoden actually smiles at the approaching Orcs for the briefest of seconds before resuming his look of worry.
(Still: Gandalf comes to rescue) Luckily, Gandalf comes riding to the rescue with a contingent of the Rohirrim. Succumbing to a moment's Elvishness, Gandalf is exposed a couple of F-stops too bright and looks for all the world like Moses descending from the Mountain rather than a wizard. The Orcs are again driven back in rout, though this time nobody has to blow a horn to tell them when to leave.

52. Sam Peckinpah.
The orchestra now begins playing Christmas music as Gandalf rides Shadowfax through the Orcs, slaying at will. He begins killing them in hideous detail, and in gruesome slow motion at that. Two Orcs fall dead over the camera, the backs of their heads spraying blood. What the hell! Since they've already gone this far, they may as well make Lord of the Rings into a slasher flick too! Why not just give Gandalf a chainsaw and be done with it?


A Final Observation.

Many of you reading this, having only seen the movie in revival screenings or on videotape, may not have been aware of one other unique aspect of its' original release.


53. The Bait-And-Switch.
Needless to say, when they first opened this movie it came forth with lots of pre-opening publicity and advertising. Many exciting facts about the movie were revealed in an effort to get people into the theatre.
Unfortunately, one of the exciting facts that was not revealed was that the movie was incomplete.
That's right: they publicised the movie as Tolkien's complete Lord of the Rings, giving no hint to anyone that it was, in fact, only Part One. It was even advertised that way. And they kept you on in that belief right up to the very moment when you had paid for the movie, sat through the whole thing, and were waiting to see how they were going to screw up the ending - my friends and I were actually looking forward to it in a perverse way, since a glance at our watches told us they'd have to tie up all the loose ends very quickly - when suddenly the narrator announces that Part One has just concluded and the credits begin to roll. The advertising for this movie was so brazenly deceptive I'm surprised there weren't any lawsuits.

On the other hand, I suppose I should be thankful that it stopped as soon as it did.

In fact, it might have been a better movie if they'd stopped Part One at, say, Weathertop. That, at least, could have been looked at as an act of mercy. :)

Back to the Tolkien Sarcasm Page
"[The scriptwriter has added] a great many Eagles, not to mention incantations, blue lights, and some irrelevant magic... He has cut the parts of the story upon which its characteristic and peculiar tone principally depends, showing a preference for fights..."
-J.R.R. Tolkien, commenting on M.G. Zimmerman's
(thankfully unproduced) film treatment of Lord of the Rings
(Letters of J.R.R. Tolkien, #210).
[an error occurred while processing this directive]