Ralph Bakshi’s Lord of the Rings has not aged well, Indeed, it creaks painfully like a high school rostrum in places, but it’s animation history and it’s Tolkien history, and I like it. In its day its rotoscoping (of which there are both great and poor examples in the film) was regarded very highly by animators – lest we forget that, one day, Peter Jackson’s efforts too will be subjected to harsher criticism than they’ve had so far. For my part however I like Bakshi’s work because after my brother’s telling of the story, this is the version I encountered Tolkien in, and bits of it are still with me. I actually think the Moria sequence is one of the more effective and faithful parts of the movie – but it does feel rushed, and maybe this recovery shows why.
The Balrog scene is, alas, infamous for showing up some of the film’s shortcomings. Chiefly, it’s a pivotal scene diminished by time and budget pressures – the rotoscoping is jerky in places, the design work is in serious need of a rethink (I’ll abstain from criticising the look of the Balrog itself as there is plenty of this on other sites already); in the end the actual battle between Gandalf and Durin’s Bane is truncated, replaced by Bakshi’s much more exciting looking concept paintings. What Eddie Bakshi has done is restore and reassemble the animation produced but abandoned – something that an enterprising animator might have been able to have done in recent times, but for the willingness and the time, I guess. Heck, I had links to those very brief sequences on Ralph Bakshi’s own website for a long time, but have no idea how to put it together seamlessly myself. In the mean-time Bakshi Sr flogged off cuttings of the Rings sequences (including, presumably, this piece) in recent years, further imperilling the chance of the footage being ever restored. I presume, however, that those reels which did get snapped up fell into the hands of enthusiasts – and Ralph Bakshi certainly has those, even if they’re not strictly from the Tolkien fan community (who can be no less snooty than everyone else about the film, it seems.)
So there’s hope we might see more of Bakshi’s Rings out there; sure, bits and pieces – we’ll never see the story completed with a further movie as intended, nor indeed a complete Balrog sequence in this recovered style, but there are storyboards which provide tantalising snippets of what might have been – the Ents’ storming of Isengard being one. And if Eddie’s not for the task then there are fans of Bakshi’s work who have proved themselves enthusiastic – in the heyday of the last trilogy a fan-made movie script to complete Bakshi’s was being passed around the Bakshi forums, and there are fans with knowhow and determination – witness the brave soul who has made it is purpose in life to [NSFW!] restore the censored gore and general disrobedness of Teegra in Bakshi and Frazetta’s Fire and Ice. Amazingly, that man is married with children. Sir, I truly don’t know what to say.
Maybe if there’s anything positive that comes from the work of Eddie Bakshi, it might be to inspire another young animator with an interest in traditional animation and Ralph Bakshi’s vision of Middle Earth (not to mention the free time) to bring this forlorn chapter to life once more.