So we are starting off Rankin/Bass month off oddly enough by looking at a non-holiday TV special they made. It was the first attempt to translate JRR Tolkien’s epic fantasy novels to either big or small screen and while imperfect I enjoyed watching it.
I should state out front a couple of biases I have. First, I love the Peter Jackson Lord of the Rings movies. They are in the running for films I’d take with me on a desert island. Second, I hate his Hobbit movies. I found them deadly dull and without the moral weight of the LOTR movies. Third, I like the LOTR books, but do not like The Hobbit, which I have never been able to get through. There are no stakes in The Hobbit. It’s just an adventure and that’s not enough to draw me in (I’ve never been that into fantasy especially as a kid). I probably would have liked the Peter Jackson Hobbit films if he had made one or at most two.
All that out of the way, let’s talk about this film. It is traditional sketch style animation and aired on NBC in 1977. I’d say for a made for TV movie the production values are top notch. Everything from the voice talent of people like John Huston and Paul Frees to the wonderful music by Jules Bass and Maury Laws is done at a feature film level. There is also not as much rotoscoping as the Ralph Bakshi LOTR film, which I also see some value in and don’t hate.
The Hobbit of course tells the story of Bilbo Baggins, a Hobbit in Middle Earth who goes on an adventure to help his friend Gandalf, the wizard, Thorin and the dwarfs to burgle his way into the Lonely Mountain. The goal is to confront the dragon Smaug and get the treasure in the mountain that belongs to the dwarfs. Along the way they meet elves, a creature known as Gollum, a race of giant spiders, and have a Battle of Five Armies.
Amazingly enough what took Peter Jackson nearly 9 hours and 3 movies to tell, this film tells us in 1 hr 17 minutes! That’s a huge win in this films column for me! That said, there are times when if I hadn’t seen the Peter Jackson films I might be confused. The Gollum scene, for instance, makes sense because I know the book and live action films. If I didn’t I might wonder what the heck this strange creature was doing? It seemed to me this film assumes a cursory understanding of the Tolkein world for all of its viewers which may not be unreasonable given the popularity of the book.
There are also large sections of the book that are left out or are compressed into just a few minutes when I could have used a little bit longer. Particularly towards the end with the battle it felt very rushed.
The music is wonderful with much of it coming from lyrics in the novel. Folk singer Glenn Yarbrough has a beautiful tamber to his voice and it was really quite calming whenever his singing would come on screen. I particularly like The Greatest Adventure.
I will say if you don’t like this kind of folk music you won’t enjoy this film. It’s very predominant but luckily I do so I enjoyed it.
I appreciated some of the touches that were different than the Jackson films like the take on Gollum voiced by Brother Theodore was totally different than the Andy Serkis version. This is more like a monster with riddles than the more human-like characters we get with Serkis.
I guess enjoyment of this The Hobbit depends on how open you are to something different than the version you are used too. As I don’t care for the recent Hobbit films I was more than open to this different telling of the story. It’s very sweet and more like a fairytale than an epic quest of good vs evil in LOTR.
That said, there are some scary scenes for very small children such as when they are caught by the giant spiders. But in general if your kid is dying to see LOTR this may not be a bad option.
Like I said it is sometimes too jam packed and certain elements in the animation feel a little dated but for a made for TV movie from the 70’s I was impressed. It’s different and overall I liked it.
What about you? Have you seen this version of The Hobbit? What’d you think? Please put in the comments section.