THE RETURN OF THE KING (1980)
Article 4684 by Dave Sindelar
Directed by Jules Bass and Arthur Rankin, Jr.
Featuring the voices of Orson Bean, John Huston, Theodore Bikel
What it is: Tolkien adaptation
Samwise must figure out a way to rescue Frodo from the tower of Cirith Ungol, while Minas Tirith must prepare for an invasion by the legions of Sauron.
When it became obvious that Ralph Bakshi had no intention of making a follow-up to THE LORD OF THE RINGS (which takes us a little less than halfway through the trilogy), Rankin-Bass (who had previously helmed an adaptation of THE HOBBIT) decided to mount their own adaptation of the third book in the series. Between these three movies, it could probably be said that roughly the whole series had been filmed before Peter Jackson tried it, and in fact, I saw the three movies all packaged together in a Best Buy recently. Still, I would imagine anyone watching the whole set as a single whole would be rather disconcerted by the change of voices in the movies as well as the stylistic differences between Bakshi and Rankin-Bass, not to mention that huge chunks of “The Two Towers” are missing from the story. However, taken as a stand-alone film, THE RETURN OF THE KING can’t help but be a clumsy affair; the story is so lopsided and rushed that it is anything but a satisfying experience. It doesn’t help that the movie comes to a screeching halt every five minutes for song after song after song. Granted, the songs have the proper epic atmosphere for the story, but there are just too many of them. Nevertheless, I’d definitely jettison that “Where There’s a Whip, There’s a Way” orc marching song for the title alone. Most of the voices are well chosen, but I’m afraid Casey Kasem’s as Merry has such a familiar voice in TV animation (he was Shaggy in the Scooby-Doo cartoons, among others) that it takes me out of the movie every time Merry opens his mouth. All that being said, the movie does manage to maintain the right tone, and the book is taken seriously enough, even though the dialogue is often stilted and melodramatic. Still, if you aren’t familiar with the book, you’ll probably have a hard time figuring out what’s going on in this one.