Tuesday 17 January 2017

Review of The Hobbit animated movie 1977

The Hobbit - Script by Romeo Muller, made for TV on 1977 by the Rankin/ Bass Studio (78 minutes)

Although my first view about a decade ago did not leave much of an impression; I recently rewatched this cartoon Hobbit, and enjoyed it considerably - being very impressed by the seriousness of intent that went into making it.

(Especially by contrast with the unskilled, self-indulgent and irresponsible Peter Jackson Hobbit movies which I find excruciatingly awful - except for the occasional scene such as Bilbo and Gollum.)

Aspiring screenwriter-adaptors could study Romeo Muller's truly masterful reduction of the approx 250 pages of the book into just about 80 minutes of movie; without any rushing or haste, with full value given to the key scenes - and focusing on the most psychologically important moments (e.g. Bilbo's interactions with Gandalf and Gollum, the sunlight on the keyhole, Bilbo's courage in creeping down the tunnel to Smaug, the conversation with Smaug, his scene at Thorin's death bed). This little cartoon gives the heart of the Hobbit.

Why isn't it better known then? The problem is the cartooning - or rather some of it. The backgrounds are very well done, indeed rather beautiful in a Japanese precursor-to-Ghilbli kind of way; but the characterisation of some characters is frankly hideous. To be fair, Gandalf is fine, Gollum is fine... but Bilbo himself is horrible, the dwarves pretty silly, the elves absurd, and Smaug is more like a long-necked fat pussy-cat than a dragon. The 'battle' of the Five Armies is just embarrassing.

Furthermore that actual animation, the movement of the cartoon, is very poor - jerky, insufficient frames, and indeed extremely crude - for instance in the movement of Smaug's jaw which looks like a piece of cut-out card being slid back and forth (rather like Captain Pugwash, which was done by real time filming of actual cut-outs). This was probably not the fault of Rankin/ Bass because animation was at a very low ebb in 1977 (the tide began to turn in 1978 with Watership Down - which is beautifully painted, but - again - jerkily animated).

On the plus side; the voice acting is excellent; for example Thorin is done by the great Hans Conreid, who was the Disney's Captain Hook - perhaps the best ever vocal characterisation? 

The songs are good - and even have a touch of magic about them:

I would recommend watching the movie, while doing your best to ignore the crudity of animation - and appreciating some wonderful cinematic story-telling.

Here is the whole movie (albeit with Spanish subtitles)




J. B. said...

I wonder if this review might give some animator/filmmaker the inspiration to re-make the film visually and marry the new visual form to the old audio. Same movie, same audio, same running time, but with wholly new and higher quality animation?

Laguna Beach Fogey said...

Excellent. After reading the book as a little boy in the late '70s, I discovered this film soon thereafter in the town library in New Canaan, CT. After school I would walk over and watch it on a little machine prepared for me by one of the librarians. The drawings of the Goblins and Wood Elves were never surpassed. Great dialogue, awesome music. 'The Greatest Adventure'...

Pat D. said...

"The backgrounds are very well done, indeed rather beautiful in a Japanese precursor-to-Ghilbli kind of way"

This is actually true - the animation was done by the Japanese studio Topcraft, which later became Ghibli.

Much better movie than Jackson's version.

Bruce Charlton said...

@JB - That would be a first rate movie!

Bruce Charlton said...

@Pat D - Ah! I'm quite a big fan of the Ghibli movies - must have seen more than a dozen of them.

Mike said...

I was especially impressed by Richard Boone's Smaug. His voice was rumbling and sinister, perfect for the role.

Don said...

Richard Boone and Hans Conreid were amazing but all the voices were great. As a "radio play" it works well even the songs catch the spirit of the story.

The Jackson movies are abominations. They could have been special instead they ruined the stories for millions of children. With modern animation it would be a winner. I hope that Jackson did not sour the Tolkiens on remakes.

Don said...

As an aside I would like to see all the books done as tv. However, I cannot imagine a film maker who would give it the respectful Christian treatment it deserves.

Don said...

Oh, and just bragging, my seven year old grandson is reading The Hobbit to _me_.

Bruce Charlton said...

@Don - The voice acting is indeed, outstanding all-round.

It has been good to see several comments that make clear this little movie has a place in the hearts of a surprising number of people. It is all-but unknown in England, however - and I had to import my DVD in the US format.

Bruce Charlton said...

Jobbar has left a comment:

I watched this animated movie. Especially the story of this movie is awesome. Thank you so much for sharing valuable information with us. I hope you’ll share some more about the hobbit movies in the future. I loved it. Please keep it up.