1978 animated movie, directed by Ralph Bakshi, 135 minutes.

We all know the major plot threads, right? Good. Because Tolkien's entire The Lord of the Rings trilogy is really too complex and involved to make a comprehensible 2-hour movie. Bakshi's interpretation really covers only the first book of the trilogy, and glosses over some major elements; the character of Tom Bombadil, for example, is entirely absent. For someone unfamiliar with the books, the movie could well be cryptic and confusing.

So let's turn to the appeal for viewers versed in the story. Bakshi and the writing team (including Peter S. Beagle, whose name, at least, should be familiar to sci-fi/fantasy readers) do a decent job of capturing the major scenes of LotR, within their chosen scope. And the visuals! I can't rave enough about the Bakshi's distinctive blend of live-action with animation (similar to his 1977 Wizards). Don't let the cartoony cover art fool you, the direction is often stunning, sophisticated, magical. On the downside, I have to question the pacing, which is slow in parts, when there was so much story to work with.

The reader will bring in some preconceptions of Tolkien's creatures and characters, so there will inevitably be some discontent with their rendition here. Bakshi's Gollum is a marked improvement over the design in the animated The Hobbit, although Treebeard and the Balrog may be on the disappointing side. The live-action basis works wonders for the orcs, horses, Ringwraiths, and worgs, and lends a mystical feel to the scenery. Here, I believe, Bakshi's work is equal to Disney at his best. There are nice subtle touches, too, such as the shimmer of Frodo's mithril-chain tunic.

Bakshi's The Lord of the Rings is an invaluable contribution to the genre. We can only mourn the circumstances that prevented Bakshi from completing his take on Tolkien's epic.