Before Peter Jackson’s The Lord of the Rings, before The Rings of Power, there were others—claimants to the title of The Lord of the Screens. But the hearts of Hollywood are easily led astray…

In parts one, two, and three, we covered the wacky adaptations by Boorman and Zimmerman. This week we’ll be diving into the Bakshi films, and there is some tea to be spilled, folks.

Several years after the John Boorman script was shelved by the studio, Ralph Bakshi took up the mantle. The result was the animated Lord of the Rings film, released in 1978. Bakshi made use of rotoscoping technology to animate the movements of live-action actors. This method gets points for ambition but prompts the question: if Bakshi went to the lengths of filming live-action just to animate over it, why not just make the film live-action? The answer to this question is much more interesting than breaking down the film by its accuracy to the source material.

Yes, there are some problems with Bakshi’s The Lord of the Rings. Samwise Gamgee is turned into a complete buffoon, and it is unclear how he escaped the Shire’s adult daycare. The film is part one of two, but Bakshi was never allowed to complete his vision. Overall, Bakshi does a relatively decent job at adapting the source material, despite featuring a skirt-wearing Aragorn. It is the animosity between directors that bears discussion.

The Lord of the Rings 1978 trailer, Screenshot Created By Patrick Hackney for The Game of Nerds, United Artists/Warner Brothers

In an interview with the A.V. Club in 2000, Bakshi was questioned on Peter Jackson’s upcoming Lord of the Rings film. Bakshi’s animosity would be lost in summary, so the pertinent portion is as follows,

The Onion: Have you been paying attention to the hype over Peter Jackson’s new version of Lord Of The Rings?

Ralph Bakshi: No, not really.

O: Are you interested in seeing what he does with it?

RB: Why would I be?

O: Because your version has been the definitive one for 20 years, and this is the first new adaptation since your version.

RB: It’s hard for me to talk about, for reasons I’m not going to get involved in.

O: Do you plan to see it?

RB: Sure.

O: Do you think it’ll work as a live-action movie?

RB: I have no idea. I’ve always seen it as animation. I really don’t know what’s happening with the live-action version. I don’t understand it at all. Do I wish it to be a good movie? Absolutely.

O: What do you mean, you can’t understand it? Just the decision to make it live-action?

RB: I’m not going to go into this. You’ve got to read between the lines. I’m sorry. I mean, I don’t know the director. I have no idea what they’re doing. I wasn’t consulted. Certainly I love The Rings very much, and hope that my version stands up.

Ralph Bakshi Interview with The Onion, 2000

For Bakshi, the idea of a live-action Lord of the Rings film is unthinkable, despicable, something to be reviled. Contrarily, John Boorman said the following in The Emerald Forest Diary,

He [Tolkien] wrote asking me how I intended to make the film. I explained that it would be live action and he was much relieved. He had a dread that it would be an animation film and was comforted by my reply. His death spared him the eventual outcome: UA gave it to Ralph Bakshi, the animator. I could never bring myself to watch the result.

John Boorman, The Emerald Forest Diary, 1985.

Boorman essentially said Tolkien was better off dead than living to see Bakshi’s animated LOTR. He uses the term “animator” like a slur. The dynamic between these directors is hilarious, but there is a reason that both directors are bitter. Boorman, despite his disturbing proclivities, seemed to really care for the story and was crushed that he never got to make it. Ralph Bakshi had the rug ripped out from under him when the studio told him he would not be making the sequel. Then, twenty years later, Peter Jackson comes along and gets to make a live-action, massive budget, trilogy.

Next week we’ll dig into the Jackson Trilogy, and some long-held rumors are confirmed!