About the Company Licensing Filmography About Saul Zaentz Current Projects Contact



Based on the novels "The Fellowship of the Ring" and
"The Two Towers' by J.R.R TOLKIEN
Produced by SAUL ZAENTZ
Directed by RALPH BAKSHI


''The Lord of the Rings" is a chronicle of the Great War of the Ring forged by Sauron the Dark Lord, and its history spans many thousands of years until Middle-earth's Third Age. The Ring, through misdeed or oversight, at times fell to other hands until it came to be held by the Hobbit Frodo Baggins. To its wearer the Ring gave mastery over all living creatures but it was imbued with unparalleled evil and eventually corrupted the wearer past redemption. Eagerly sought by its Master, the Ring was the one thing he lacked to completely rule Middle-earth.

To Frodo fell the task of destroying the Ring and at the Great Council in Rivendell was appointed Ringbearer. Its destruction was possible only by casting it into the fires of Mount Doom and eight companions representing Elves, Dwarves, Men and Hobbits were chosen to accompany Frodo on his perilous journey to Mordor. But tragedy plagued the Nine and their Company was nearly shattered by the death of the Wizard Gandalf at the hands of Balrog. Thereafter their numbers continued to dwindle and scatter for Sauron's Ring was also coveted by the traitorous Wizard Saruman and the companions were set upon by his dreadful servants. Though the Ring was not captured its direction was altered so that only Frodo and Sam were able to continue their dangerous mission.

Terrible battles were fought so that two small Hobbits might be ignored as they crept closer to the lands of the Dark Lord whose powers extended far beyond his realm. His capture of the nine rings for men foretold greater terror for he turned their owners into Ringwraiths, ghostly shadows who roamed the world searching for the One Ring. Other hands also craved the Ring and a piteous creature known as Gollum followed Frodo and Sam. Made to swear on the power of the thing he most desired, Gollum promised to lead the Ringbearer safely into Mordor.

Now dangers to the quest were multiplied: against Frodo and Sam are waged the ominous might of two evil masters and the sneaky, tortured mind of Gollum. At the stone fortress of Helm's Deep, Saruman hurled overwhelming numbers against allies of the Ringbearer and would have been victorious if not for three things: the Riders of Rohan, Fangorn Forest and Gandalf. The Balrog had taken him into the fires of Khazad-Dum but he rose from the abyss to complete the tasks begun and once more lead the quest.

Unbeknownst to Frodo and Sam the companions have been reunited save for Boromir who fell in heroic combat against the Orcs. Without realizing unseen hands work to assure their success, the Hobbits draw closer to the Dark Lord guided by Gollum who scampers and grovels, much like a dog, at Frodo's feet. At times he resembles the Hobbit he once was albeit a very old, sick and lonely one. But the power of the Ring had created a twisted, tortured mind and even as he leads the Ringbearer and Sam into Mordor, he works only to one end - to have the Ring again.

An adventure fantasy pitting good against evil.


And now begins the third wave of public awareness of J.R.R Tolkien and his epic masterpiece, 'The Lord of the Rings" trilogy. It promises to be a tidal wave, engulfing not only the more than 20 million enthusiasts who have bought the books, but millions more who love film and who will be enthralled by the innovative and epic work fashioned by director Ralph Bakshi and producer Saul Zaentz in producing "The Lord of the Rings."

The first wave of the "Rings" came in the 50s, when the books became an underground phenomenon, and the first fan clubs were organized, with members speaking to each other using some of the Elvish and Dwarvish language invented by Tolkien. It was during those years that both Bakshi and Zaentz read the books. Bakshi at that time was a teenager, starting out as an animator at Terrytoons in New York. Zaentz was working at Fantasy Records, the company he later bought and built into the powerful and respected 'home' for jazz music that it is today. From the beginning both men individually understood the film potential for the books, but were unable to act upon it together until early 1976. The story of the peregrination of "The Lord of the Rings" through Hollywood until its rescue by Bakshi and Zaentz nearly parallels the dangers of Frodo the Hobbit's own journey with the One Ring.

A second and larger wave of public consciousness of Tolkien and his works came during the 1960s. Tolkien's creations - Middle-earth, Frodo and the other Hobbits and their Shire, the Wizard Gandalf, the great warrior Boromir, the Dark Lord Sauron and all the elves, dwarves, orcs and other fantasy characters and lands - became symbols for many young people involved in the mass peace movement of the 1960s. In the custom of the time, this public acceptance was translated into buttons and bumper stickers and other paraphernalia which proclaimed, ‘Frodo Lives,’ or ‘Gandalf for President,’ new ‘head shops’ opened under such names as ‘Middle.-earth,’ ‘Hobbit’ and ‘Mithril’ (the substance more precious than silver).

But these were only surface manifestations of a more deeply felt identification by young people in the 1960s with the struggle between the clearly delineated forces of good and evil, as well as the unique physical and cultural world that Tolkien depicted in his trilogy. Yes, "The Lord of the Rings" is ‘only’ a fantasy, complete with its invented physical landscape, history, inhabitants, language and customs. Yet, the universal theme of the moral choice between good and evil in the story told by Tolkien within the boundaries of that exotic setting reached out to a mass readership that was in the midst of its own questioning and revolt against values which they felt had become distorted and corrupted. Although "The Lord of the Rings" was not a rallying cry for the young in the 1960s, it was a point of reference for them, a vision of a world in which honor, integrity and loyalty indeed did exist.

Along with all that, of course, "The Lord of the Rings" also was fun. The spirit of adventure in the books was hearty and contagious. Along with everything else, Tolkien's writings also are great escapist literature. Again, as in the 1950s, new fan clubs sprang up - many of them still in existence today - and some of the words and phrases devised by Tolkien for his elves and dwarves, crept into the language of young Americans. ‘Namarie’ was more fun than ‘goodbye.’ And it was just as much fun in Las Vegas as in London, in Mobile as in Manchester. Surveys show that "The Lord of the Rings" has a remarkably uniform sales record, that it was just as popular in Middle America as in the metropolitan areas on the East and West Coasts. Its popularity also has extended throughout much of the industrialized, non-English-speaking world, and has become a particular favorite of the Japanese, the Dutch and the Scandinavians.

While all that was happening with the Tolkien books, the attempt to make a film about the trilogy still was bogged down in Hollywood confusion. The film rights, after protracted negotiations, eventually passed to United Artists in 1968. There, both Stanley Kubrick and John Boorman failed in their respective attempts to put together a workable screenplay.

During the time United Artists held the rights, Ralph Bakshi exploded onto the American scene with his X-Rated animated film, "Fritz the Cat," and then the equally controversial "Heavy Traffic." During those years Bakshi made annual pilgrimages to United Artists, trying to convince the company that "The Lord of the Rings" should be an animated film and that he should be the one to make it.

Bakshi rested his case for animation on the premise that ‘Tolkien, above all else, asks us to suspend our imagination, to accept the whole physical universe of Middle-earth, its history and its inhabitants. How can you re-create all of that in live action without doing violence to it? Where do you get live action hobbits, elves, orcs and all the rest of what Tolkien created? The answer is, that you can't. Also a live action film, done on the scale we are doing "The Lord of the Rings," would cost $30 million,’ well over quadruple the final cost of Bakshi's film.

Finally, in late 1975, United Artists agreed that Bakshi's ideas made sense. Bakshi then turned to Saul Zaentz who previously had been among those who had helped him get "Fritz the Cat" off the ground. He did so, reluctantly, hesitant to risk the possibility of a business arrangement interfering with a personal friendship. Zaentz, however, who was just beginning to see his gamble on the filming of "One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest" pay off, reminded Bakshi that their friendship was secure enough for him to decline the offer if he wasn't interested in the project.

With the lessons of "Cuckoo's Nest" fresh in his mind, as well as his own love of Tolkien's books, Zaentz was quite happy to become involved in yet another literary classic that had become a virtual bible for young people but had stumped the Hollywood establishment.

Secure in the support of Zaentz and his Fantasy Films Company, Bakshi turned his full attention to the making of "The Lord of the Rings." From the beginning, he understood that he bore a special responsibility in his handling of the film. He knew very well that millions of Tolkien fans would be suspicious of any attempt by Hollywood to produce a film of "The Lord of the Rings." To that end Bakshi and Zaentz went to England and discussed their plans both with members of Tolkien's family and with his British publishers. Although not legally required to do so, since the film rights were owned outright, Zaentz and Bakshi felt morally obligated to obtain their blessing, which they did.

Very early on, Bakshi determined that he could not be faithful to the full and intricate storyline of the trilogy by attempting to condense it into one film; two films would have to be made, a decision which immediately doubled the size of the project. Yet, Zaentz readily agreed.

The first drafts of the screenplay were written by young Tolkien scholar Chris Conkling. Respected fantasy/non- fiction writer Peter S. Beagle then was brought in for final revisions and polishing of the script. Bakshi's instructions to both writers were to "become as Tolkien as they could get in remaining faithful to the books." He feels that the writers succeeded admirably and that, ‘give or take a fallen leaf,’ both the essence of the story and the nuance of atmosphere and character have been captured for the film.

Now armed with the screenplay, Bakshi simultaneously began shooting a live action version of the script and supervising his animators and background painters on the work of translating the action into an animated film. Bakshi had been building his company of animators and painters through the years, working on "Fritz the Cat," "Heavy Traffic" and "Coonskin," and his most recent and biggest commercial hit, "Wizards." Coming off "Wizards," his company numbered just under 100 people. Within two months, he had hired another 100 production personnel, many of them young art students from around the country but particularly the Art Center College of Design in Pasadena and the California Institute of the Arts. Bakshi hired his illustrators and animators strictly on the basis of portfolios sent to him. He soon had in operation the largest apprentice program for animators in Hollywood, and at the same time had begun directing the most ambitious animated feature film ever made.

It was at that point that Bakshi achieved a breakthrough in animation which will make "The Lord of the Rings" as exciting for its technique and for what it promises for the future of animated films as for the actual triumph of the film itself. Following through with the tentative beginning he had made in the animating of "Wizards," Bakshi made some tests of his early live action sequences and then came to the revolutionary decision that his entire film first would be made in live action and then totally transformed into animation. Not only would this technique require unprecedented quantities of work - i.e., more than 10,000 painted backgrounds rather than the normal few hundred to a thousand -- but also a quality never before attempted let alone achieved. Bakshi is employing the talents of illustrators who normally would be designing the covers of the old Saturday Evening Post and other such major magazines which either no longer exist or have switched from hand-drawn graphics to photography. The styles are as diverse as the worlds encountered in "The Lord of the Rings," but art aficionados will readily detect the influence of Brueghel, Rembrandt, Winslow Homer, Wyeth and many other masters. Bakshi's use of live action as the foundation for the film's animation, however, will provide audiences with visual delights they've never seen before. One of these will be the first use of animation in slow motion.

Another innovation involves the density of action on the screen. In animated films, audiences are accustomed to seeing no more than three or four characters on the screen at any one time. Yet, Bakshi has perfected the ability to animate extensive battle scenes in which hundreds of characters, many of them astride horses, joust and have at each other as realistically as in any live action film.

The fact is, the scenes originally were shot in live action, with Bakshi and his team of 200 animators and background painters finally able to solve the incredible difficulties of re-creating the film frames into "moving paintings." In scene after scene, the screen is filled with talking, eating, fighting, moving characters, all on a scale never before attempted in animation. In perfecting the technique Bakshi and his crew, which range in age from 17 to 80, had to devise new paints, papers and colors in dealing with the most complex intricacies of illustration.

So real are the actions and movements of the characters, that audiences very frequently will forget they are watching animation. From the beginning, Bakshi has stressed that ‘real’ rather than ‘realistic,’ is the correct description of the new animation style.

The entire production was completed in less than three years, a startlingly short time for an animated feature of this magnitude. This includes the complete live action version of the film, directed by Bakshi on soundstages and on location in California and in Spain. The Spain location was utilized for its classic castle in the spectacular Helm's Deep battle sequence. Bakshi also spent several weeks in London, recording the film’s dialogue using the talents of top British actors.

For the final touch, Zaentz and Bakshi decided to bring in Leonard Rosenman to write the original music for the picture. Rosenman, who has won Academy Awards for "Barry Lyndon" and "Bound for Glory," plus an Emmy Award for "Sybil," recorded his original score for "The Lord of the Rings" late in the summer of 1978. This was the last step before the final mix of the film for its presentation to the public in November 1978.

Released: November 1978

{back to top}
©the saul zaentz company 2010