5 Parts the Animated LotR Films Did Better Than the Movies
Now let me set this straight, this is not me trying to run the Peter Jackson LotR films down, I love them!
They’re some of my favorites ever, but I feel as though I should be honest. Also, as I’ve stated in other articles the Rankin/Bass specials are often times given a bad rep. I say that not just because they were my gateway drug to the world of Tolkien, but in general I think they are some really well done films. Just a word of warning, don’t expect to see “Ralph Bakshi’s The Lord of the Rings”, I don’t especially care for it. I don’t think it’s awful, it just doesn’t appeal to me stylistically. As an animation fan I do respect him and what he did for adult animation the film just isn’t one of my favorites… that and I don’t care much for rotoscoping. Also this is meant for things the cartoon did better, for instance I almost put the portrayal of Smaug and Bilbo escaping Gollums cave on this list. Those examples and a lot of other things they do just as well in a different but equal way. Perhaps that will be the basis for a future article.
5.)Naming of Sting
Now I wasn’t expecting something grand, but the animated special did manage in just a few minutes with the music and placement that Bilbo’s “Now I will give you a name and I shall call you… Sting.” feels like an important moment. The Jackson version is set up as more of a joke. Bilbo hears a spider say “It stings!” as he kills it and then goes “huh Sting, that’s a good name.” That is disappointing enough, but even more so due to the fact they built it up in the first “Hobbit” film with Bilbo wanting to name his newfound sword before being informed that “swords are named for the great deeds they do in war.” then joked that it’s more of a letter opener than a sword. So we had a whole year in between movies to wonder how they would work in Bilbo coming up with the idea of naming his sword. You may be thinking this doesn’t seem terribly important and fair enough on the surface. I’d agree, but the thing is in fantasy stories the finding or christening of the sword of the hero is an important moment and it would have been nice to have seen this.
4.)Better integration of the songs
Now this speaks to how Rankin/Bass and the Jackson films are fundamentally different. The animated specials are musicals and the Jackson films are more traditional movies. They do have a few lines from a few of the songs. However, for The Hobbit trilogy Jackson and company did try to incorporate more of the full songs into the films. While their rendition of “Far Over the Misty Mountains Cold” is epic though more so in how they weaved it into the overall score. “That’s What Bilbo Baggins Hates” is at about the same level as Rankin/Bass’s version. However, the live-action “Down, Down, To Goblin Town” is… not terribly good. I get the idea that since it’s made by the Goblins themselves it’s ugly sounding and off-key and all that stuff, but still isn’t pleasant to listen to. The cartoon is oddly enough the more badass sounding of the two. In fact, the goblin’s entrance and capture of the dwarves in the tunnels is better too. They come out of the shadows while singing this awesome song. In “An Unexpected Journey” it was overly CGI heavy and just feels like a cartoon roller coaster at a moment that should have been terrifying and as a former director of horror this was doubly disappointing. Also, disappointing was the fact that the songs disappeared after the first “Hobbit” film. Admittedly I can’t see where else they’d add them but still the songs are a big part of the book and Rankin/Bass made sure they were ever present, even in their “Return of the King” where they were making them up mostly. “When There’s A Whip” anyone? If you don’t know already watch it on youtube and thank me later.
3.)Breaking the Gate
Now some may be like are you crazy?! (that could even be the heading for this article in general) That scene in the Jackson films where the Orcs are trying to break down the gate as Gandalf and Pippin ready themselves knowing they’re probably about to die as Gandalf tells him what it’s like to pass into the Middle Earth version of the afterlife. And yes that is one of the most powerful moments (and Ian McKellen performances) in the whole series… but it’s not the one I’m referring to. I’m referring to when the Orcs bring out Grond the battering ram. It is impressive in the live-action version and they even end the first disc of the extended cut with its reveal. However, this is a moment that Rankin/Bass just knocks out of the park. One I personally prefer the visual design of Grond in the cartoon, the movie is a bit too busy looking for me. Also while we’re on the subject the backgrounds are better looking, what I mean by that in the Jackson film during the attack on Minas Tirith the sky is just kinda cloudy and after the look of rain in the night during the battle of Helm’s Deep in the previous film it’s a bit less impressive. In the Rankin/Bass version its set at night with the smoke from all the fire giving it a dark gloomy air of death, like that any attempt to defend the city is just wasting time and energy. Anyway more to how the scenes are played out, quite simply the animated one just builds to a great crescendo of music and editing. It starts with the Orcs drumming their attack music (we’ve already established the music in these versions are great) and then the Lord of the Nazgul (Witch-King) arrives and as he gives his army orders in black speech it sounds like it’s bellowing out from deep within. Each hit with Grond feels important as it breaks through and the Minas Tirith soldiers flee all around as Gandalf and Pippin stand their ground in the middle as some of the most epic music plays as the Lord of the Nazgul rides over to him. Some points are lost as when he removes his hood and his voice changes to something like Starscream from “Transformers” but even that silly choice can’t undo the awesome line, “Do you not know death when you see it?” Even the extended cut of the Jackson film it just feels like a moment that just kinda happens, yes he destroys Gandalf’s staff in that version but it just ends up making his leaving feel all the more random.