The 1991 Lord of the Rings

Channel 5 Russia (a government TV network) apparently was scrounging around in its backrooms for Soviet films made by its predecessor organization, and found the long-lost video of a two-part TV movie version of Lord of the Rings.

The name of the movie is Хранители (Khraniteli, which means “The Keepers” or “The Guardians”). The same title was used for the Russian release of Watchmen, so make sure you get the right one. It’s a “telespectacle,” which apparently meant a film adaptation of a stage play, with some outdoor scenes filmed. (Very similar to some opera adaptations.)

It was made in 1991, when glasnost was in effect and the Soviet Union was about to dissolve, and money seems to have been a little tight. For example, the Black Riders couldn’t find any black horses, as nobody dyed their coats or hooves; and the Riders are wearing jeans. Later on, the horses doubled as Tom Bombadil’s ponies. (And one pony gets fed part of a potato.)

OTOH, some of the cheesy special effects are typical of elaborately cheesy Soviet-era fairy tale productions, so you can’t blame money. There’s also a lot of Soviet/Russian “comic relief.”

However, the soundtrack is by a guy from the band Akvarium (Aquarium) which was a good listenable band, even if it was Soviet-approved, and which did a lot of fantasy songs.

The general idea seems to have been a last-ditch attempt to make an LOTR trilogy of films –while they could still take the Soviet approach of ignoring foreign copyrights, but while no censors were likely to stop them. (LOTR was only circulated in samizdat until 1988, because obviously the storyline was about free peoples fighting evil, God and angelic powers, and monarchy restoration.) The film was shown once on TV, but disappeared shortly thereafter, never to be seen again until it was posted on YouTube by Channel 5, on March 26.

There’s no English captioning, but you know the storyline. The Russian captioning seems good. The videos were publicized today in UK newspapers, so expect them to be taken down soon.

Khraniteli, Part 1. (Only gets to the Barrow Downs. Holy cow, must be a lot of Tom Bombadil.)

Khraniteli, Part 2. (From the barrow to the breaking of the Fellowship.)

There’s also a 1985 Soviet live action Hobbit, and a 1991 Soviet animated Hobbit series pilot, both available on YouTube.

Re: identity of the Hobbits: When Bilbo comes onstage at his party, 5 minutes in, he names and embraces Pippin, Merry, and Lobelia (named something else?). Gandalf shows up 7 minutes in. Frodo is the red-haired guy with the big polka dot neckcloth and the messy hair.

I like the Bilbo actor a lot, and the costuming for him is pretty good. The Gandalf is good, too, although his costume stinks.

Actors apparently do all love the Gandalf and Bilbo ring scene, because it just has a lot of inherent drama. But screenplay writers seem to have a lot of problems with it! Leave it alone, guys….

The Gollum backstory… um. Especially the “Gandalf questions Gollum by threatening him with fire” scene. I know it’s implied in the book, but that’s not a kid’s stage play!

Five minutes of Old Man Willow trippily messing with the Hobbits is five minutes too long. OTOH, it makes you really glad to see Tom Bombadil! Unfortunately, it just gets trippier. Still, I do like the “manly Bombadil” interpretation, even if I don’t like the size thing.

The laid out Hobbits are effective, but the barrow wight is… um… not exactly as described by Tolkien. Um.

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