The Hobbit (1977 film)

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The Hobbit
Hobbit 1977 Original Film Poster.jpg
Distributed by Warner Bros. Family Entertainment
Directed by Jules Bass
Arthur Rankin, Jr.
Produced by Jules Bass
Arthur Rankin, Jr.
Screenplay by Romeo Muller
Based on The Hobbit 
by J. R. R. Tolkien
Starring Orson Bean
Richard Boone
Hans Conried
John Huston
Otto Preminger
Cyril Ritchard
Theodore
Music by Maury Laws
Production company Rankin/Bass
Topcraft
ABC Video Enterprises
Budget US$3,000,000 (est.)
Language English
Original channel NBC
Release date
  • November 27, 1977 (1977-11-27)
Running time 77 minutes[a]

The Hobbit is a 1977 animated musical television special created by Rankin/Bass, a studio known for their holiday specials, and animated by Topcraft, a precursor to Studio Ghibli, using lyrics adapted from the book. The film is an adaptation of the 1937 book of the same name by J. R. R. Tolkien and was first broadcast on NBC in the United States on Sunday, November 27, 1977.

Plot[edit]

Further information: Plot of the novel

The plot of the animated production is in most respects similar to that of the book, which was already styled as a classic children's novel, and so is adapted in that vein for a younger audience; but certain plot points are significantly compressed due to the time limitations of the format. In addition, certain scenes are obviously edited for commercial breaks. In general, alterations include simple omission of additional detail, as the producers expressed their desire to adhere to the written text, including lyrics adapted from the songs in the book but in much longer and greater format.[2] When all the dwarves in the beginning just come out of nowhere, they come all at once. In the book, Gandalf put a sign on the door for all the dwarves to come and Bilbo had to keep opening and closing the door.

Voices[edit]

Background[edit]

The film was produced and directed by Arthur Rankin, Jr. and Jules Bass of Rankin/Bass Productions and was adapted for the screen by Romeo Muller, with Rankin taking on the additional duties of production designer. When interviewed for the film, Rankin declared that he would add nothing to the story that wasn't in the original.[2] The New York Times reported that The Hobbit cost $3 million.[2]

The story's hero, Bilbo Baggins, is voiced by Orson Bean, backed up by noted Hollywood director and actor John Huston as the voice of Gandalf. In supporting roles, the comedian and performance artist Brother Theodore was chosen for the voice of Gollum, and Thurl Ravenscroft performed the baritone singing voices of the goblins. The gravelly voice of the dragon Smaug was provided by Richard Boone, rounding out the cast of primarily American voice actors.

The Hobbit was animated by Topcraft, a now-defunct Japanese animation studio whose animation team would re-form as Studio Ghibli under Hayao Miyazaki. Topcraft successfully partnered with Rankin/Bass on several other co-productions, including The Last Unicorn. According to Rankin, the visual style of the film took its basic cue from the early illustrations of Arthur Rackham.[2]

While Topcraft produced the animation, the concept artwork was completed in the US under the direction of Arthur Rankin.[2] Principal artists included coordinating animator Toru Hara; supervising animator/character designer Tsuguyuki Kubo; character and effects animators Hidetoshi Kaneko and Kazuko Ito; and background designer Minoru Nishida. The same studio and crew members were also used for The Return of the King.

Harry N. Abrams published a large coffee-table illustrated edition of the book featuring concept art and stills.[2]

Soundtrack and story LP[edit]

Jules Bass primarily adapted Tolkien's original lyrics for the film's musical interludes, drawn primarily from the songs that feature prominently in the book. He also assisted Maury Laws, Rankin/Bass's composer and conductor-in-residence, in the composition of an original theme song, "The Greatest Adventure (The Ballad of the Hobbit)", sung by Glenn Yarbrough as the sole original song written for the film. This folk ballad came to be associated with Yarbrough, who reprised it in the soundtrack to The Return of the King (1980).[2]

The Hobbit first aired as an animated television special in 1977 with the goal of producing an accompanying tie-in storybook and song recordings for children, as in other Rankin/Bass productions.

The Hobbit was released on LP with the soundtrack[2] and dialogue from the film was also released in 1977 by Disney through its Buena Vista Records label, and an edited version, along with accompanying "storyteller read-alongs", was later issued for the Mouse Factory's Disneyland Records imprint. A second music album by Glenn Yarbrough of music "inspired" by The Hobbit was also released.

  1. The Greatest Adventure
  2. In the Valley, Ha! Ha!
  3. Old Fat Spider
  4. Roads
  5. Roads (instrumental)
  6. The Greatest Adventure (instrumental)
  7. That's What Bilbo Baggins Hates / Gandalf's Reflection
  8. Down, Down to Goblin Town
  9. Rollin' Down the Hole
  10. Gollum's Riddle
  11. Funny Little Things
  12. In the Valley, Ha! Ha! (Reprise)
  13. Misty Mountains Cold

Comparison to the source material[edit]

While the script adheres fairly closely to the book, several significant plot points are altered or missing:

  • The character of Beorn and the associated locale of Beorn's house and the Carrock. Beorn does not appear in the final battle or otherwise, and his sub-plot is cleanly omitted; the Eagles take the party to the edge of Mirkwood. In his absence, several additional dwarves die at the end from the main cast, including Bombur. As in the book, Bilbo witnesses only part of the final battle and its aftermath.
  • The Arkenstone and Bilbo's journey to the opposing camp. Although the film lingers on the dwarves' reclaimed treasure, the Arkenstone is not mentioned, and is replaced with truncated verbal negotiations and Gandalf's sudden appearance. Thorin's anger at Bilbo and subsequent forgiveness are still referenced in his final scene.
  • The Elvenking's feast and the dwarves' starvation after escaping from the spiders. These were incorporated into a scene which was storyboarded but apparently never filmed, leaving a reference to it without explanation in the subsequent dialogue (In their first appearance in the finished film, Bilbo announces that "the wood elves had returned.")
  • In the end of the film, Gandalf reveals to Bilbo that he not only knows of the ring, but knows that it is in fact the One Ring, and foreshadows the events of Lord of the Rings. In the books, the ring is not discovered to be the One Ring until Fellowship of the Ring.

In addition, while the majority of visual stylistic choices mostly drew on the book for some inspiration and detail illustrations, the characters of the wood elves are inexplicably given green skin, short stature, blond hair and Otto Preminger's German accent; highly unlike the more typical elves of Rivendell, such as Elrond.

In depicting Gollum, the animators chose to emphasize his more monstrous and amphibian appearance in Tolkien's early descriptions of the character, although retaining a humanoid form and a tortured personality familiar to readers. The "Hobbit scale" of his design would become more apparent in Rankin/Bass's artwork for The Return of the King (1980 film). Gollum's own dialogue and riddles are included largely intact, one of which is included as background music, with the accompanying lyrics 'chanted' by a female chorus, presumably under the direction of choral director Lois Winter.

Critical reception[edit]

In 1978, Romeo Muller won a Peabody Award for his teleplay for The Hobbit. The film was also nominated for the Hugo Award for Best Dramatic Presentation, but lost to Star Wars. A few days before its first airing, John J. O'Connor wrote in The New York Times that "Rankin and Bass Productions have now carefully translated 'The Hobbit' into film. The result is curiously eclectic, but filled with nicely effective moments. […] The drawings frequently suggest strong resemblances to non-Tolkien characters… The goblins could have stepped out of a Maurice Sendak book. But […] the Dragon and Gollum the riddle aficionado bring some clever original touches… Whatever its flaws, this television version of 'The Hobbit' warrants attention."[3]

Critics primarily focused on adaptation issues, including the unfamiliar style of artwork used by the Japanese-American co-production team, whereas some Tolkien fans questioned the appropriateness of repackaging the material as a family film for a very young audience. Douglas A. Anderson, a Tolkien scholar, called the adaptation "execrable" in his own introduction to the Annotated Hobbit, although he did not elaborate;[4] and a few critics said it was confusing for those not already familiar with the plot.[5] On the other hand, critic Tom Keogh praised the adaptation as "excellent", saying the work received "big points" for being "faithful to Tolkien's story" and that the "vocal cast can't be improved upon."[6]

Review aggregate website Rotten Tomatoes, which compiles reviews from a wide range of critics, gives the film a score of 67%.[7]

Home video releases[edit]

The Hobbit was released by ABC Video Enterprises in the early 1980s on Betamax and VHS by Sony, and CED by RCA. Warner Home Video released the film on VHS in 1991, again in 1996 (as part of the Warner Bros. Classic Tales VHS line), and on DVD in 2001 (through Warner Bros. Family Entertainment). Parade Video released the film on DVD and VHS in 2004. The earlier 1980s and 1990s videocassette releases contain sound effects that were edited out of the 2001 DVD without explanation.[b]

The film was released on DVD by Warner Bros. for the DVD trilogy boxed set along with The Lord of the Rings and The Return of the King. The Warner Bros. edition DVD is now out of print. A remastered deluxe edition DVD was released on July 22, 2014. The sound effects that were missing in previous DVD releases are also absent from this release as well.[10]

Sequel[edit]

Before The Hobbit ever aired on NBC, Rankin/Bass and its partner animation houses were preparing a sequel.[2] Meanwhile, United Artists released J.R.R. Tolkien's The Lord of the Rings in 1978, an animated adaptation directed by Ralph Bakshi, originally intended as the first part in a two-part film.

Their own sequel having been cancelled after a disagreement with Bakshi, Rankin/Bass proceeded with their plans to produce their own television installment of The Lord of the Rings, bringing back most of the animation team and voice cast. Taking elements from the last volume of The Lord of the Rings which had not been used by Bakshi, they developed the musical The Return of the King. They were unable to provide continuity for the missing segments, developing instead of a framing device in which both films begin and end with Bilbo's stay at Rivendell, connecting the later film directly to the better-received Hobbit.

See also[edit]

Notes[edit]

  1. ^ The film has a running time of 77 minutes; several Internet sites list the full 90 minute air time.[1]
  2. ^ E.g. goblets clanking and hammer-tinkering noises omitted, spider death screams, along with several lines of dialogue.[8][9]

References[edit]

  1. ^ "Rankin/Bass 'The Hobbit' Follow Up", The One Ring net (archive) 
  2. ^ a b c d e f g h i Culhan, John. Will the Video Version of Tolkien Be Hobbit Forming? The New York Times, Nov 27, 1977.
  3. ^ O'Connor, John J (25 November 1977), "TV Weekend: "The Hobbit"", The New York Times 
  4. ^ Anderson. Douglas A. The Annotated Hobbit
  5. ^ Kask, TJ, "NBC's The Hobbit", Dragon Magazine, December 1977.
  6. ^ "The Hobbit", IMDb (reviews) 
  7. ^ "Tomatometer for The Hobbit (1978)". Rotten Tomatoes. Retrieved 2013-01-03. 
  8. ^ "The Hobbit", Mimsy (review), Hoboes 
  9. ^ "The Hobbit DVD vs. the hi-fi Hobbit", YouTube (video), Google 
  10. ^ "Hobbit: Orson Bean, John Huston, Otto Preminger, Jules Bass, Jr. Arthur Rankin: Movies & TV". Amazon.com. Retrieved 2014-05-16. 

External links[edit]