Behind The Scenes

Making The Animated ‘Lord Of The Rings’ Was Such A Nightmare The Director Still Can’t Watch It  

Jacob Shelton
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J.R.R. Tolkien’s The Lord of the Rings novel inspired many people. But reviews for Ralph Bakshi's 1978 animated Lord of the Rings movie weren't great, and the director didn't take the criticism well. By the time Peter Jackson picked up the series for a live-action rendering, Bakshi had almost entirely washed his hands of the project.

Some people in Hollywood probably assumed Bakshi couldn't get his act together, but maybe the director was ahead of his time. Almost all Ralph Bakshi's movies push the envelope in one way or another; his take on The Lord of the Rings does so with gusto. The art is mind-boggling, the production is fascinating, and the writing is true to Tolkien’s work. But still, the film nearly wrecked its director.

Bakshi Didn't Trust Anyone But Himself To Adapt 'The Lord Of The Rings'
Bakshi Didn't Trust Anyone But... is listed (or ranked) 1 on the list Making The Animated ‘Lord Of The Rings’ Was Such A Nightmare The Director Still Can’t Watch It
Photo:  Warner Bros.

Since the mid-'70s, when Ralph Bakshi helped convinced MGM and United Artists to work out a deal for the rights to The Lord of the Rings, the director has felt uniquely capable of understanding the J.R.R. Tolkien classic.

According to Bakshi, before he had the property, John Boorman and Rospo Pallenberg's original script was 300 pages long and wildly altered from Tolkien's work. Bakshi claimed: 

It wasn’t a major property in those days! No one knew it - everyone hated it... They couldn’t read all those books. And that’s why I got it - because I knew it was great. The guy they gave it to couldn't do it - he didn’t understand it. He took three books and tried to make one picture with new characters; maybe he put Superman in there too, I don’t know…

Led Zeppelin Almost Scored The Film
Led Zeppelin Almost Scored The... is listed (or ranked) 2 on the list Making The Animated ‘Lord Of The Rings’ Was Such A Nightmare The Director Still Can’t Watch It
Photo:  Warner Bros.

Ralph Bakshi approached Led Zeppelin about scoring the film, and the group seemed thrilled. The producers couldn't get the rights to the band's music, though, as their label contract was incredibly strict about producing outside music. 

Looking back, Bakshi seemed to regret the loss, once saying:

[The producer] got me Leonard Rosenman [to compose the orchestral soundtrack]. [Rosenman] was good. I didn’t mind him. He had a good reputation. But Led Zeppelin would have blown off the roof of the picture. So I lost that one.

Mick Jagger Wanted To Play Frodo
Mick Jagger Wanted To Play Fro... is listed (or ranked) 3 on the list Making The Animated ‘Lord Of The Rings’ Was Such A Nightmare The Director Still Can’t Watch It
Photo:  Warner Bros.

Mick Jagger popped down to Ralph Bakshi's animation studio, hoping to land the role of Frodo in the animated film - but he was too late. All the audio was recorded, and the live-action sequences were filmed.

Bakshi didn't remember much about the meeting, but he did recall a riot breaking out while the director tried to show Jagger around. He shared:

[My studio on Hollywood and Vine] is full of college kids all graduated from art school, a very young group. So I’m walking through the studio with Mick Jagger, and the girls start to scream and faint. I had 2,200-3,000 people working on four floors, and the word spread to each floor that Jagger is walking around, and people got from one floor to the other through the staircase, and there was thunder like horsemen coming down, shaking the staircase.

But would Jagger have made a good Frodo? According to Bakshi, "He’d be a pretty good Frodo, I guess. I don’t know."

Bakshi Didn't Finish The Series Because He Hated The Producers
Bakshi Didn't Finish The Serie... is listed (or ranked) 4 on the list Making The Animated ‘Lord Of The Rings’ Was Such A Nightmare The Director Still Can’t Watch It
Photo:  Warner Bros.

In spite of the mixed reviews for the film, Ralph Bakshi had the option to make a sequel, thereby allowing audiences to see Frodo toss the ring into Mount Doom. Purportedly, though, Bakshi no longer wanted to deal with the producers.

A messy fight allegedly helped him decide against moving forward with further projects. The director recalled:

We came from a different breed in those days. Life was too short to spend your time with a bunch of people that you didn’t want to be with. In other words, people that would screw you over that way after you made so much money for them. You don’t want to spend another eight years with those guys. That wasn’t an easy decision to leave, because I loved Tolkien.