Adventures In Celluloid

Film critic Dominic Corry celebrates, clarifies and justifies his love for all things film.

Dominic Corry: Revisiting Ralph Bakshi's LOTR on a curved TV

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How does a movie from 1978 look on one of those flash new curved TV screens? Dominic Corry takes a look.
A Samsung curved television on display. Photo / AP
A Samsung curved television on display. Photo / AP

Although I spend a lot my time extolling the virtues of seeing movies in a theatre, I still very much relish the experience of watching a film in the comfort of my own home.

There's nothing like a scary, weird or atmospheric movie on a cold wintry night when the lights are off and the house is warm.

On a recent evening that fits the above description, when I happened to be in temporary possession of a 65" Ultra HD 4K Curved television, I decided to watch a blu ray of a movie that could easily be called scary, weird and atmospheric - Ralph Bakshi's animated/rotoscoped 1978 film of The Lord of the Rings.


A still from Ralph Bakshi's The Lord of the Rings. Photo / YouTube

The nice people at Samsung lent me the curved TV for the express purpose of forming an opinion in regards to how the new concave shape informed the film-watching experience, if at all. I formed that opinion while watching Bakshi's The Lord of the Rings.

I've never been a big HD enthusiast (I think I was the last guy in the world to give up on VHS) and I remain steadfast in my long-held view that 3D should just go away, a stance which extends to home viewing.

Unlike 3D however, the effect of the TV's concave curvature was much more subtle that I expected. Especially in light of prolonged exposure to this.

In addition to significantly reducing the amount of reflections on the screen, the inward-leaning shape gently evokes a theatrical, cinematic quality. I found the effect to be pleasingly immersive for the most part, an assessment that extends to live action movies as well, but which especially applies to Bakshi's one-of-a-kind film, which positively oozes with the kind of visual story-telling ambition that is well-served by a concave presentation.

Bakshi's smash-hit mounting of the first two thirds (give or take) of J.R.R. Tolkien's epic trilogy had been on my 'revisit' list for a long time. One of my earliest film memories is watching the film on a bunch of pillows in the basement of the (surely haunted) Leys Institute Library in the early '80s, and having the living heck scared out of my five-year-old self.


Ralph Bakshi. Photo / Creative Commons

Although I was familiar with the books, Bakshi's Rings served as my hazily-remembered childhood entry into the visual side of Tolkien's world, long before I discovered the illustrations of Alan Lee and John Howe. All three sources would go on to heavily inform Peter Jackson's work, Bakshi's film in often surprising ways.

I'm ashamed to admit it, but I was also surprised by how awesomely weird, original and entertaining I found Bakshi's film to be. As a child I recall reading about, eagerly anticipating, then being wholly befuddled by Bakshi movies like Wizards and Fire and Ice, both of which got traumatically weird at times. I think.

This may have subconsciously contributed to my delay in watching his take on The Lord of the Rings as a grown up, but having now witnessed the variety of wonders on display there, I'm looking forward to revisiting Bakshi's other fantasy works, free from the fickleness of youth.

As much as I love and repeatedly enjoy all three films in Peter Jackson's Lord of the Rings trilogy, I've always considered their absolute highpoint to be the first five minutes of the first film.

Both the tangible wonder and nightmarish dread evoked in The Fellowship of the Ring's opening prologue remained unmatched in power by anything the subsequent trilogy up. Not that there's anything wrong with the films, all three are historically great. They just happened to be preceded by five minutes of the most devastasting cinema ever committed to film.


A still from Peter Jackson's The Lord of the Rings: The Fellowship of the Ring.

So I was naturally curious to see how Bakshi opened his take, and his prologue (which comes after some ominous credits) is similarly fascinating.

The sequence immediately demonstrates the film's ability to generate a unique kind of foreboding - one that sits somewhere between the beloved BBC radio adaptations and Jackson's boldly visual interpretation.

Bakshi utilised a variety of techniques which prevent the film from being truly described as 'animated'. In a nifty foreshadowing of the groundbreaking motion-capture work done for The Two Towers, Bakshi rotoscoped much of the action in the film, a cost-saving process which entailed drawing over footage of actors mining out the scenes.

It's not the only time the technique has been used (see: Heavy Metal. Seriously, do), but the way it is employed here directly informs the dark medieval tones of Tolkien's setting, especially interspersed with traditional animation, some freaky-ass silhouette imagery and another process which exposed a desaturated image of the actor ala Tron.

While occasionally jarring, the collision of styles overall creates a welcome sense of psychedelic other-worldliness that you would struggle to find anywhere near a modern blockbuster, even with their recent increased focus on this sort of story.

In addition to having one of the great movie posters of all time, the film also features a litany of stunning painted backgrounds which take on an enhanced storybook quality when viewed on a curved screen.

Some of the action may be a touch rudimentary, and Boromir looks frankly ridiculous, but overall the film stands as a fine and equal counterpart to Jackson's trilogy. Well, two-thirds of it.

Bakshi's The Lord of the Rings is a superlative achievement that alone cements the often under-appreciated filmmaker's genius, and can't help but inspire nostalgia for a time when such an iconoclastic talent could deliver his work to a broad mainstream audience, with the vision intact.

It also looks really great on a curved TV.

* Fan of Bakshi's The Lord of the Rings? Got a curved TV? Like it's effect on movies? Comment below!

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