LORD OF THE RINGS - Duford Circle.
Those who have not read the J.R.R. Tolkien trilogy will find the film "The Lord of the Rings" incomprehensible. If you don't already know the names, characteristics and languages of the countries Tolkien invented, the types of creatures who chase one another through them, and the powers and histories of the rings that motivate their adventures, you're not going to find out from this film, in which the made-up nomenclature is flung out by cartoon figures in a big hurry on a mission that's never fully explained.
If, however, you are a Tolkien devotee, you may have a worse problem. Here you've been claiming, all these years, that the books about hobbits and elves and orks and rings symbolizing different types of power form a new mythology, in the tradition of that Gotterdammerung crowd at Valhalla. And now your friends who have stubbornly resisted reading the books are seeing it all as nothing more than a primitive old Crusades theme with cutesy little critters being chased by big scary monsters.
For children, the movie is too complicated, because of the confusing names and allegiances; for adults, it's simplistic, with even the basic symbolic point - that it's power, not people, that is corrupting - mired in the mess. And while the film is nearly 2 1/2 hours long, its form is not going to satisfy anyone because it chops the trilogy in half, ending in midair with some geogaphical but no moral progress having been accomplished in the mission of destroying the Ring of Power.
For whom, then, is this film? Those responsible for it, Saul Zaentz and Ralph Bakshi, had hoped that it would begin a new era in film animation. Both had been involved in the X-rated animated "Fritz the Cat." "Lord of the Rings," opening at the same time as the full-length animated film of "Watership Down," was supposed to mean that animated films for adults have come of age, it were. It was intended to mark the break from the Disney tradition that has so long dominated that field.
Has it? If you didn't know otherwise, you would think you had wandered into Disney World. The hobbits, small people who go barefoot, could pass for Dopey, Sneezy, Sleepy and Grumpy if they would put little shoes over their hairy legs and feet. The wizards all have knee-length white beards that float as they move - a peculiar hallmark of Disney animated hair. The ringwraiths look like headless horsemen from the cartoon version of "The Legend of Sleepy Hollow."
It's true that other visual traditions have been used. When the wizard sends magic help, it's a sparkly white flying substance that looks and travels like the white tornado of television cleanser advertising. The two women who appear briefly in the entire film, with batting eyelashes and pale princess outfits, may be slightly more Barbie than Disney; and the elve of the fellowship has a touch of Prince Valiant in him, as well as that besotted look of Disney princes. All evil creatures, as well as their horses, are black with red glowing eyes; the evil orks, with their spears and shields, add the unpleasant suggestion that this is indended as racial identification.
The only original methods are the occasional use of watercolor-like scenery, which is pretty but is so unrelated in style to the characters superimposed on these landscapes as to be jarring, and a battle-scene technique of having dark drawings superimposed on the bodies of live actors, the result of which is that of watching film negatives.