More observations about Rankin/Bass' "Return of the King"

ROTK cover artFor some reason, my webpage about Rankin/Bass' Return of the King has become one of my most popular pages. After an e-mail exchange with cartoonist/writer Scott Roberts about that movie, I just HAD to watch it again, just for the chuckles.

There isn't any need to detail the plot itself this time, as I had done that already. Instead we'll take a look at the additions and omissions that Rankin/Bass had done to their adaptation of ROTK. In the case of the additions, we'll see if these add anything useful, and if they have some internal logic in them that makes sense in the context of the story. As for the omissions, we'll see if the overall story can survive without them, or if we have seemingly irrelevant references to people, things and events with no explanation about what they are and why they're there.

Scott's commentary is in green, and my commentary is in yellow.

Most of our observations fall into these general categories:

A) "laugh out loud" moments
B) completely contrary to the books
C) newly made-up and makes things even more confusing or nonsensical
D) omits such key parts of the story that their version is something else entirely
E) "all of the above"

LOL moment: Gandalf's opening narration. "Concern yourselves with blah blah blah...Consider no less yak yak yak." And how many times does he say "Behold"?

LOL moment: After all these years since Bilbo left, Frodo still keeps the Ring on a velvet pillow in a bell jar on the mantle. Sure he does.

LOL moment: Sam eagerly poking his head in the window of Bag-End, like they're getting ready to go fishing. Once they start their journey, Sam's hat has the jaunty feather. How come Sean Astin didn't get one of those? Bet he was jealous. Sam's choice of headgear adornment makes better sense than Frodo's. Frodo had a pipe tucked in the flap, making one wonder why it just didn't fall out during the long trip.

Frodo and Sam leave the Shire aloneKey plot omission: The fellowship never existed, Frodo and Sam set out alone, had some adventures not worth mentioning, and now our story begins.

Key plot omission: Aragorn had been doing his own thing all along off in some distant land, completely divorced from any sort of involvement with Gandalf, Hobbits, the Ring, etc. There was some silly prophecy that promised him a kingdom, provided that someone else did all the hard and dirty work of destroying some Ring, not that Aragorn knew anything about that.

Additional confusing moment: Sam and Frodo arrived ALONE at Rivendell to attend that all-important Bilbo's 129th birthday party. Which makes it unclear of how and when Merry and Pippin arrived to attend the same party. Did Merry and Pippin beat them to Rivendell? Were Merry and Pippin Johnny-come-lately's? Why'd they split up at all and arrive separately?

Puny Sting SwordLOL moment: Sword proportions.... even Bakshi had this wrong too. According to Bakshi and R/B, Sting, and any other sharp metal instrument carried by a Hobbit is perfectly sized as a hobbit's dagger. The blades are about 10" long (hobbit's measurement) and the hilts are proportioned to a hobbit's hand. BUT... since these blades were supposed to have been forged by Elves or the Dúnedain for their own use as daggers, they're supposed to be sword-sized in proportion to a hobbit. The hilts should be thick and somewhat oversized in a hobbit's hand. So Sting and the other blades were originally ... Elvish cheese-spreaders or little cocktail swords for spearing cherries in a goblet of sweet wine? Only Peter Jackson got the sword thing right.

Speaking of swords, the prologue shows Frodo randomly swinging his sword at... nothing, after leaving a dark tunnel. Sam follows with a concerned look. Not the look of "Oh dear, look at that ugly dangerous spider", but the look of "Is Frodo going mad? He's flailing at nothing". Why couldn't R/B add a silhouette of a spider or something?

Worry-wart GandalfKey plot omission: Frankly, Gandalf doesn't seem very wise and powerful in Romeo Muller's script. More than anything, he appears to be a worry wort and wet blanket. He sits and gazes out on the battlefield predicting nothing but doom, and seems unable to lend a hand in any way. What's the use of having a wizard like this on hand? For this he fought the Balrog and became Gandalf the White? Sure he confronts the goofy voiced Witch King, but so what? He's just going to go back and sulk later anyway.

Prize for the most annoying character has to go to Pippin. Having Kasey Kasem voice him in best Shaggy style wasn't a good move. And listen to him asking what the Palantír is when Denethor reveals it. Like Pippin of all people never saw one before!

LOL moment: The palace guard who yells at Pippin "His word is law!" in his best Saturday morning, bad acting voice. Heck, if Pippin is going to be straight out of Scooby Doo, why not?

Contrary to book: Merry is "dispatched" from Minas Tirith to summon help from Théoden. That means that Merry and Pippin were BOTH at Minas Tirith together! Once Théoden agrees to come, he's perfectly OK to have Merry, on a little pony (slowing down the pace of the other horsemen) ride with him and go into battle. Then, when Théoden is killed, Merry wails, I will AVENGE MY LORD!". When did Théoden become his lord? On the ride from Rohan to Minas Tirith, where they met each other for the first time, apparently?

Reluctant OrcsAdditional confusing moment: Do you somehow feel a tinge of sympathy for the Orcs after hearing "When there's a whip, there's a way?". Sad-eyed, long-suffering Orcs are forced to march by their captains, and those poor "average Joe" Orcs are just trying to avoid the lash. Maybe it would have better if this scene had been removed, because a viewer rapidly starts to feel sorry for the Orcs, completely forgetting about their innate wickedness, appetite for cruelty and torture, and hatred for Elves, Men, Hobbits, etc. Those same Mordor Orcs were the types who chopped off the heads of the men of Osgiliath and used them as catapult ammo during the siege of Minas Tirith. How can one reconcile that with the Orcs singing, "We don't want to go to war today, but the lord of the lash says nay, nay, nay. We are the slaves of the Dark Lord's war".

LOL moment: The happy Orc who waves at Sam and Frodo in Sam's dream of times to come. Aw, now they're all buddies!

Chucking the RingLOL moment: Sam imagining how Frodo will reach the Cracks of Doom and casually toss the ring over his shoulder. They probably went for a sundae right after.

Key plot omission: Where the heck does Gollum come from, and what relationship does he have to them? Why is Frodo his Master and how did Frodo trick him? If you're going to leave huge chunks of story out, then don't refer back to them! And why is Gollum played by Kermit the Frog?

Contrary to book: How did Gollum become a frog? His people were forefathers of the Hobbits. We can understand it if the Ring corrupted his features and wasted away his body, but to turn him into an entirely different species? LOL.

LOL moment: The lyrics to the song THE CRACKS OF DOOM.

LOL moment: "Aragorn..... he who would be 'our' King", says Gandalf. Aragorn will be Gandalf's king too? Gandalf will become Aragorn's subject and do him fealty and obeisance?

Contrary to book: It's implied that it's all Frodo's fault that Théoden died on the battlefield. The Battle of Pelennor Fields and Frodo's claiming of the Ring at Mt. Doom happened simultaneously (instead of 10 days apart, like Appendix B in the book says). As the soldiers crowd around Theoden's fallen body, Gandalf even says, "What event at that moment caused evil to enlist such power?" Cut to the events at Mt. Doom where Frodo succumbs to the Ring's temptation. By adding 1 + 1 together, one can see that evil got emboldened and stronger because of what Frodo did. And evil used that extra power boost to kill Théoden and almost win the battle. Now poor Frodo has the weight of Théoden's death to carry around, in addition to all the other psychological damage the Ring caused him!

LOL moment: The second the Witch King starts cackling at Gandalf. Gee, maybe when Éowyn slays him, he should've said "And I would've got away with it too, if it hadn't been for these pesky kids!"

Sneering at GandalfContrary to book: Aragorn has little respect for Gandalf and thinks he's a coward. During "The Last Debate", Aragorn addresses Gandalf by occupation, as "Wizard", as if Gandalf were of lower status. Also, listen for the tone of oozing contempt in his voice as he asks Gandalf, "Does the mere thought of Sauron's vast forces (sneer) overwhelm (sneer) your spirit?"

LOL moment: The eagles airlifting the entire army.

LOL moment: Frodo and Sam trying to outrun the flowing lava. "Die well, Samwise!"

Key plot omission: On Coronation Day, the crowd sings a song about the "Return of the King" that goes, "He [King Aragorn] will rule with a true healing hand". LOL, this must be wishful thinking. Where did the people of Minas Tirith get THAT idea from? Did Aragorn actually HEAL anyone, like, say, Éowyn or Merry? Nah. They were perfectly fine after their encounter with the Witch King. The Houses of Healing? Who needs 'em? Athelas? No need for that either.

Additional confusing moment: Then the song intones "The bearer of the Ring we hail, praise them with great praise!" Ummm, praise them? Praise whom? How? No one can see the hobbits way up there in that high parapet. Why aren't they riding alongside the new King in honor, just like what's-his-name, that dark haired, clean-shaven fellow who's making googly-eyes at Éowyn? Did that dark-haired guy do to something to deserve that honor, something that completely eclipses whatever minor heroics the hobbits did? Why are the hobbits smiling at each other, way up there, instead of thinking, "shouldn't we be down there too?"

Younger Hobbbits are not largerAdditional confusing moment: As Gandalf tries to explain his newfangled evolutionary theory (Hobbits will evolve into Men someday), notice how he hammers home that each successive generation of hobbits get larger (with the camera angles showing the younger hobbits as MASSIVE critters). Yet the size difference is non-existent in earlier parts of the movie! In fact, at the very beginning, Merry looks like a li'l shrimp, sitting in a chair next to Sam, at Bilbo's 129th birthday party! This is extremely bad continuity!

LOL moment: At the end, Bilbo napping in the pouring rain on board the ship. There's no cabin?

Additional confusing moment: What's with the cover illustration on the DVD box? Two Samwises astride a horse, holding a sword (Anduril?) and the ring- The Ring- as they ride in triumph from Sleeping Beauty's castle. Guys, what happened to destroying the ring? Riding off with it in triumph is what got Isildur in trouble. Accompanying them are two dwarves- Happy and Grumpy? Or is that Thorin Oakenshield alive and well? Oh and look, there in background- Smaug! Yeah, he's in this story! Sure. There must be a thousand artists looking for work who have actually read the book.

Z's note:

Actually, I'm not truly a Tolkien purist. I can accept some changes, as long as it still makes for a coherent story afterwards, or if it adds a new and exciting dimension to characters or events. For example, in my opinion, Glorfindel was not a necessary character, and his activities at the Fords of Bruinen were not something that only he could do. Bakshi's replacement of Legolas for Glorfindel at the Fords doesn't bother me at all. As for Peter Jackson's replacement of Arwen for Glorfindel... I'm all for it. We could always use a little more "grrrl power" in Tolkien. The replacement of an extraneous character for someone that we would get to know more intimately is fine with me.

Related Pages:
Rankin-Bass' Return of the King

Ralph Bakshi's Lord of the Rings

This article is Copyright 2006 K.F. Louie and Scott Roberts (as noted).

May not be reproduced without the written permission of the author.

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