The Hobbit

(1977) dir. Jules Bass, Arthur Rankin, Jr.
viewed: 02/05/10

I rented this for the kids for Friday night and then wasn’t so sure that I would write about it here or not, it being a made-for-TV movie, not a theatrical release.   But last year I watched Steven Spielberg’s debut, Duel (1971), so the classification had already been brought to bear.

I remember when I was first introduced to The Hobbit, which was around this time.  I don’t recall seeing this on television before having my 4th Grade teacher read it to the class over a period of time.  The book, as I found it at the time, was pretty enthralling.  And my memories of the made-for-TV movie were positive but not enthusiastic, as I’d recalled, though I might have had some cultural effluvia related to it, too.

While Peter Jackson has made or re-made The Lord of the Rings series in mostly very good live action filmmaking, and has had plans to either direct or produce a version of The Hobbit too, well, I can’t say as it wouldn’t be worthwhile.  There is a significant earnestness to this film, with lyrics to songs from the book and some very heinous folk music to accompany it.  The film is made to be as good as it can.  As good as American-produced, made-for-TV animation could be in the 1970’s. which is to say about as good as a Hanna-Barbera cartoon, though with much more uniquely-styled characters.  The could well use the re-boot.

Some years ago, I’d revisited the Ralph Bakshi version of The Lord of the Rings (1978), which came out on the heals of the popularity of this version of The Hobbit, but they ultimately failed to make themselves memorable.  Though in 1980, director/producer team Jules Bass and Arthur Rankin, Jr. made a version of The Return of the King.   I think that at the age of 10 or 11 I had burned out after the 2nd book and though I wanted to find out how it ended, I didn’t feel like reading it all the way through.  Sort of like where I am today with the “Harry Potter” franchise.

The characters are largely nicely designed, particularly Gandolf, Smaug the dragon, the spiders, the goblins, and Gollum.  It’s a shame that poor quality production couldn’t help along these elements.  And it’s not like it’s a shabby voice-cast.  John Huston, Otto Preminger, Orson Bean, and Hans Conried, among others make the voice-acting sound good.

But the film tries to fit too much into too short a run-time.  At less than 90 minutes, the film speeds through sequences so fast that the kids can hardly take them in properly, and whole sections, understandably, are omitted.  Most lame of all is the “battle of the 5 armies” which is shown from above as a bunch of dots moving around on a blank-ish landscape.  Not just cheap but lazy too.

Really, the film’s earnestness, its relatively nice aesthetic (though Bilbo’s hair is like the worst thing ever drawn), the film pretty much sucks.  Felix and Clara liked it alright, which is partially why I decided to try it on them.  I thought we might try reading it and I wanted to gauge their potential interest.  Victoria was down with us, and she’s never been one for scary things.  She complained twice, aptly in my opinion, “Why is this movie so depressing?” (I think the Glenn Yarbrough folk tunes stuck in her craw — though now it’s painfully stuck in my head) and when Gollum comes on the scene talking “Preciousss…”, she almost left, saying “Now this is getting freaky.”

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