The Bakshi Interview: Uncloaking a Legacy
Deal done in just two days
Even though United Artists had acquired the rights for some $3 million they were quick to give Bakshi the chance to make it. This criss-crossing deal took only two days. Compare that to the many years of wrangling it took to get the most recent “Hobbit” film trilogy made. In a few short minutes I learned more of the integral history of the players on the table and how, after one key player at U.A. was fired and the deal almost called off, Bakshi got Saul Zaentz to come on board.
Zaentz’s label Fantasy Records had released the soundtracks for Bakshi’s previous films but now he brought hard money to the table to buy out United Artists’ interest and actually produce “Rings.”
Bakshi was an original Ringer fan himself. He walked in the door simply as a visual artist who loved Tolkien’s books. What more earnest way to start such an endeavor? Zaentz brought his business acumen to bear and set up Tolkien Enterprises, which has ever since controlled and licensed all versions of “The Hobbit” and “The Lord of the Rings” in all media; including movies, stage musicals, video games, and merchandise.
Thus, a money-printing empire was built on the backs of the animators Bakshi had brought together with his singular vision for how Middle-earth could live on film. So it all worked out great for Zaentz, as you can imagine, whose Estate continues to license these properties to other producers, toy-makers, etc.
The shadow of the past
I figured my admiration for him would be apparent if I revealed how many other great artists I had already pursued to get stories about him. Even the late, great David Carradine (“Kung Fu,” “Kill Bill”) appears in “Ringers” with a surprising anecdote about trying to visit Bakshi at his offices in 1977 to convince the director to cast him as the lead role of Aragorn (which, of course, didn’t happen).
Bakshi wasn’t impressed nor did he seem to recollect the event.
When asked if he would ever revisit “LOTR” and make the ‘Part Two’ that never got made he grinned: “Well I don’t want to embarrass Peter Jackson by making a better film.”
We both genuinely laughed and I said “That’s funny,” but when he abruptly stopped, looking at me twice, I hoped he hadn’t taken it the wrong way.
Eddie Bakshi sold quite a few pieces of art, backgrounds, and design work from his father’s film to Three Foot Six, Jackson’s production company, while work on the new Trilogy was underway. Bakshi’s animation team was a golden group of talent he had carefully cultivated and was rightly proud of.
So [Jackson] got a good head start. We at Bakshi Productions were very few but great artists who did a lot of great designing to enable that film to be realized the way it was … We did a lot of work that certainly Peter Jackson should, and could, look at to get — even if he didn’t like it — to get an idea of a direction. When we started we had no direction at all. We created the direction of the “Rings,” and the styles and the designs, and the types of voices … Because I had to audition voices … All of this a lot of kids don’t understand. The voices of Gandalf, how he looked, Aragorn, all that, was directed and designed by my studio and myself and the choices we made — Treebeard — all very difficult to make … So everything we created no one else had done before. It was there for anyone to use that would make “Rings 2″ … And [it was] very, very difficult but I think we succeeded more than we lost.”
Unafraid of criticism… and to criticize
As you would expect from an artist who has created controversy (and its attendant notoriety) Bakshi is unafraid of criticism. He is also equally unafraid to criticize. He certainly doesn’t think Tolkien’s 1940’s vision of fantasy is appropriately represented by modern heaps of “special effects garbage,” preferring to show his animated fantastical realms on a controlled scale that can “encapsulate the fantasy and the dream.”
He acknowledges that true Ringer fans would likely never be satisfied by anyone’s adaptation of Tolkien: “You’re never gonna make fans happy because they’re fans. Each fan sees it in his own way. As they should!”
He later followed up with:
“All my dialogue was 100% Tolkien out of the book. I told Peter Beagle not to change anything. ‘Don’t add your great lines.’ Tolkien needs no help … So you guys finally get to interview me and I’m telling you this. And I’m wondering why it took you so long. I’ve got to be frank with you.”
I pulled out a photograph of both directors seated together at their first meeting at the 1992 Sitges Fantasy Film Festival, several years before Jackson would produce his film Trilogy.
Before showing him the image I said, “I read that Peter Jackson was so inspired by your version of ‘Rings’ that he …”
Bakshi’s incredulity was only half playful: “No shit! You’re kidding?! Are you kidding? You really—you really mean that?”
“I read it.”
“Oh my heart breaks.”
“And I heard him say it on an Audio Commentary track somewhere …”
Bakshi was suddenly Tom Cat toying with Jerry Mouse’s clueless nephew, Nibbles. “He DID say it?!”
“… He went on a cross-county train trip and because he had seen your film …”
“… he picked up the book and started reading it for the very first time, at that tender age.”
“Oh my God, tender… Tender as a knife in my gut.”Posted in Film Screenings, Headlines, John Howe, Lord of the Rings, LotR Movies, LotR Production, MGM, Miscellaneous, Out on a Limb, Peter Jackson, Ralph Bakshi, Tolkien, TORn TUESDAYS Live! on April 20, 2015 by Cliff Quickbeam Broadway