You might think you are familiar with Lord of the Rings, but nothing can fully prepare you for an adaptation of JRR Tolkien’s classic fantasy text made in the Soviet Union.
It was made into a television movie and was first broadcast on Leningrad Television in 1991 and was considered lost on time, as first reported by The Guardian. But the station’s successor, 5TV, recently dug up a copy of its archives and uploaded the entire work to YouTube in two parts.
With a driving time of about 1
Instead of the epic Hollywood fantasy captured so well by Peter Jackson, this adaptation feels like a strange tale told by a pipe-smoking lunatic in the woods. In other words: it captures a completely legitimate aspect of Lord of the Rings, just not one we are necessarily used to.
If you do not have time to see it all, there are a few choices as helpfully identified and timed by YouTube user Chris Staecker in two comments:
- The opening sequence. With music composed by Andrei Romanov from the Russian rock group Aquarium, an incredibly sad shot of one ring and excerpts of Nazgûl running through the snow.
- Sméagol fights against Déagol, claims one ring and becomes Gollum. To the Soviet adaptation, there is none of the “slow transformation into a heinous shadow of his former self” for Sméagol. No: he puts the ring on and suddenly he loses green skin sneaky hands. And why does the choir “rrrrrr” go in the background again and again? That, my friend, is a little thing called atmosphere.
- The Hobbits set out on their adventure. If this bit looks like behind-the-scenes footage from a theater group from the 1990s, it’s because it is. Where did the sled come from? Why is one hobbit arguing with a mouthful of food? Who gives a curse. Also jump ahead to see them trapped in the old forest.
- It’s old Tom Bombadil, the happy guy! Here he is: one of the strangest of Tolkien’s characters, a mysterious figure who may be god, and who was left out by Peter Jackson’s adaptation to be alien to the action. He can certainly be removed from history without much harm, but it is still a joy to see him here with his wife Goldberry.
- Frodo meets Aragorn on The Prancing Pony. As Staecker notes, the creators at this point have given up trying to make the hobbits look smaller than the other characters. Soviet Aragorn certainly has less sexy mystery than Viggo Mortensen, but really who does not.
- Council for Elrond. It feels more like a scene from one of Shakespeare’s story pieces than the lush elegance of Jackson’s Rivendell, but it does the job. Jump forward to see Saruman warn Gandalf of the coming orc army, beautifully rendered as little guys in horned helmets swinging nothing at the bottom of the screen.
- Fighting orcs in Moria. Orcs here are less outrageous creatures and more just “some dudes I guess.” What lacks special effects is more than compensated for with appalling camera work. Jump on to see them cross the Khazad-dûm bridge and Gandalf is dead, I think ??
- Enter Galadriel and the magic of dance …. This is pretty much how I remember this scene from the books. Elves are immortal and live forever in strange enclaves. That means you’re basically a cult. Meanwhile, the hobbits are stunned at how good they are at dancing, and then they get stunned. Jump a few minutes forward and you can see Galadriel being tempted by one ring.
- Frodo cracks an apple in two with his hands! No, I know that this scene is otherwise a bit boring and is mainly about Boromir getting weird and sticky, but the apple thing is still cool. Have you ever tried to do this? It’s damn hard.
- Frodo and Sam do it for themselves. Everyone else is ruined by power: only friendship is left! I absolutely love the ending here, especially the music choice. This is really what Lord of the Rings is about the heart: only guys are dudes.
And that’s it! What’s really great to consider is that this adaptation was also aired just a decade before the first of Peter Jackson’s giant trilogy. If only the Soviet Union had survived a little longer, we could have seen similar renditions of The two towers and The king’s return.