Lord of the Rings fans pride themselves on the depth and breadth of their knowledge, from the many foodstuffs consumed over the many meals of the Shire’s average day to the elaborate lineage of dwarves, elves, and men. But even the most committed Tolkien diehards were surprised this past week at the excavation of one of the more obscure crannies of Middle-Earth ephemera.
The Guardian reports that Khraniteli, the little-seen televised Soviet version of the immortal fantasy epic, has at long last been made available to the viewing public following decades in offline obscurity. The 1991 adaptation, uploaded now to YouTube in two un-subtitled parts, offers a curious alternate vision for a text that Peter Jackson and Ralph Bakshi have defined so definitively for some audiences.
Russian speakers and Tolkien fans unconcerned about dialogue will be delighted by the low-budget production design (no inscription on this ring, as far as we can see) and electro score courtesy of rocker Andrei Romanov, two pieces of an overall ramshackle quality far removed from the multi-million-dollar polish of the Hollywood pictures that would come a decade later. The scant special effects have the professionalism one would instead expect from a poorly-funded student film.
The film ran on the Soviet channel Leningrad Television, into whose archives the only extant copy then disappeared, until the station’s successor 5TV pulled it from oblivion without warning. As the Guardian item notes, the video accrued over 400,000 views over the first week on the Internet, entrancing fans who thought they’d absorbed every last iota of Tolkien content.
It’s edifying to see the Google Translate garble-effect applied to an entire mode of filmmaking instead of mere text, as some interpretations remain intact while others are revised entirely. The Battle of Helm’s Deep may not have the epic sweep of Jackson’s take, but even at a smaller scale, it’s still a testament to the enduring potency of Tolkien’s writing.
Published 5 Apr 2021
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