Lost Bakshi Lord of the Rings footage found

If you remember the first film adaptation of The Lord of the Rings, the 1978 animated version by Ralph Bakshi–the legendary outsider director behind Fritz the Cat, Wizards, American Pop and Fire and Ice–you’ll recall the experience was a mixed bag.

The movie was a dark, moody, oversaturated vision of Tolkien’s world, with stunning design and many memorable scenes. Bakshi used rotoscoping to trace live footage for animation, and posterization to give it a rough, hand-made look. Both techniques allowed many corners to be cut, but at the time, the film’s PR claimed Rings was the “the first movie painting.”

Sadly, Bakshi’s 133-minute film left viewers stranded after the battle at Helm’s Deep, just as Gollum is about to lead Sam and Frodo into Mordor. Roughly two-thirds through Tolkien’s three-part story, Bakshi didn't get to make the final installment. Rankin-Bass, the studio behind the 1977 TV adaptation of The Hobbit, churned out The Return of the King as a “sequel” in 1980, with little artistic resemblance to Bakshi’s vision.

Now, quietly, some of the scenes from that 1978 classic have been rescued from the “cutting room floor,” Bakshi, now 75, said when I reached him via email this week.

Eddie Bakshi, Bakshi’s son, has been busy scanning in original “cel” artwork from Bakshi's archives, timing them to the cartoon’s original exposure sheets, and posting the scenes on Bakshi’s Facebook page. (The Facebook page also includes clips from Bakshi’s other films, though it appears none of these are new.)

The particular Rings footage that has been restored comes from the Gandalf vs. Balrog fight sequence, and it is brief. One clip is a three-shot, 12-second sequence of the two characters falling into the void, titled “Gandalf recalls fighting the Balrog.” The other is a 10-second shot described as “Gandalf duels with the Balrog and smashes into the endless staircase.” In the film, the Balrog battle was recounted via minimally-animated still images.

“If you’re getting close to delivery, it’s better to cut the animation out to make the scene work, than racing to reanimate it to make the cut work,” Bakshi said, recalling the hectic atmosphere as the film’s deadline loomed.

Asked why Gandalf and the Balrog look quite different in these new scenes, compared to the rotoscoped Gandalf and Balrog seen on The Bridge of Khazad-dûm, Bakshi said, “Well, it’s hazy, but I was trying to make memories different than the real time story. I was wrestling with trying to separate the styles.”

It’s unclear what other lost scenes from The Lord of the Rings might be found, shot and posted. Due to low budgets and little wiggle room to fix, reanimate or make cuts, “Very little or nothing ended up on the floor,” Bakshi said. If any gems are discovered, Eddie Bakshi will decide whether they are worthy of reshooting. For the elder Bakshi, it’s “been there, done it.”

Bakshi fans should feel nostalgia for this old footage, which evokes the days of hand-drawn animation: “It was great to see it again,” he added, “but I got aggravated at the animator again for making the mistake 30 years later.”

Still, Bakshi was effusive in his praise for his team of artists who made the movie, which included a young Tim Burton, in his first job out of college.

“My animators–old school–were the greatest ever," Bakshi said, "barring none.”

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