Until now, Tolkien fans have had pretty lean pickings to rely on in the movie-adaptation department.

In the '70s, the children's animation team of Rankin and Bass tried adapting The Hobbit and The Return of the King, and came up short, yielding a couple of treacly musicals (who doesn't remember chestnuts like "Roads Go Ever Ever On" and "Where There's a Whip, There's a Way"?) distinguished only by the inspired use of John Huston as the voice of Gandalf. Little wonder the team is better known for its rendition of 'Twas the Night Before Christmas starring mice.

That same decade, vampiric producer Saul Zaentz hired animator Ralph Bakshi to adapt the trilogy into one film, then cut off funding mid-project, leaving Bakshi to cobble together a compromised product. Released as The Lord of the Rings in 1978, the film is known, somewhat unfairly, as a complete botch job. It may not work as a condensation of the books--it peters out somewhere around the middle of The Two Towers--but its then-revolutionary, now-quaint rotoscoped style, full of oddly terrifying grotesques and expressionistic vistas, lifts Bakshi's entertaining mess at least into the arena of interesting failure. Interesting enough that unmistakable traces of it are detectable in Peter Jackson's new completist version, if not as homage, then certainly as unconscious inspiration. The big difference is that unlike Bakshi, Jackson didn't run out of money.

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