Wednesday, January 11, 2012

Old Hobbit Cartoon

No, not the Rankin-Bass version -- the Gene Deitch version from the 1950s. Apparently, the video below is a test for a proposed full-length version of The Hobbit. The video's been making the rounds at a number of sites, so my apologies if you've seen it before. I hadn't and I honestly can say that, after having watched it, I find myself with newfound respect for the fidelity of the Peter Jackson movies. Seriously, "taking liberties with the text" is too kind a way to describe what this cartoon does.

If you've got 12 minutes to spare and a strong stomach, take a look:

65 comments:

  1. Sorry, could only take about a minute of it!!

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  2. Deogolf, you are a braver man than I.

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  3. I don't know how I did it, but I did ... I watched the whole thing. Now if you'll excuse me, I need to run to the bathroom.

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  4. I like it. Hooray for interpretations.

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  5. I got to the 34 second mark and said to myself "Hell no". That is so bad even Mystery Science Theater couldn't make it better.

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  6. Haha, what are you talking about? This is awesome!

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  7. First off, the poor Deitsch guy apparently did have better plans originally. Although the princess bit wasn't one of them.

    Even this version had a few good things. Born's a good artist, and some of his drawings worked well with the story. The ent/troll relationship (from Deitsch reading LOTR) and the irony of Smaug bringing Dale's wealth back under the mountain was pretty good. "A green sea without a shore" was good. And Gollum's boat survived everything.

    There's also language geekery with "Torin", since many Norse cultures do pronounce Thor as Tor. Not Tolkien dwarves, mind you; but a lot of people make this assumption, so it's a valid guess.

    But yeah, the rest of it was pretty bad.

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  8. Like an English version of some henious cartoon from 50's Russia or something.

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  9. I like it. It reminds me of a Fractured Fairy Tale from the Rocky & Bullwinkle show.

    Gandalf's Tower is cool. The picture of Bilbo's forefather killing a dragon is funny, as is the "Hobbit & Garden" book. The "trolls" are gnarly (literally). Using the Arkenstone to kill Smaug - nice twist! Long live King Bilbo of Dale.

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  10. So that's what happened in The Hobbit. I guess I won't bother reading it now.

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  11. Interesting interpretation. I actually liked some of the art. Gandalf and the trolls looked a little like something from a Mullen painting.

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    1. Well I watched it..that was frightening.

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  13. Pretty bad, but pretty typical of lower-end 50s animation, I think. Compare it to the 60s Marvel cartoons, or the similar retro-style cartoon on the Incredibles DVD.

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  14. Reminds me (the look anyway) of Fractured Fairy Tales from the old Bullwinkle Show, only not anywhere near as good!

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  15. That was a pretty horrendous version there....some of the art was acceptable the narrative was bloody awful!
    I saw the Bullwinkle influence as well!

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  16. I like the art. Very MCM. It reminds me of Matt Stephens' work.

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  17. For the full story on how this version of the Hobbit came about..
    http://io9.com/5874282/watch-the-very-first-film-adaptation-of-the-hobbit-that-was-never-released

    It's a little more complicated than merely being a "test run".

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  18. I like how it reminds us that 1960 was a different time; Tolkien was not widely known, and Fantasy was not in the mainstream spotlight as it has become. It takes a lot of liberties, and is not so much an animated version, as a series of paintings tied together by narration. But I rather liked some qualities to it. The paintings are surreal in an almost Edvard Munch sort of way. I also liked that it emphasized Bilbo's ingenuity by using ventriloquism, and later on by constructing a giant crossbow. Made me think of how I wish the player's in my campaigns would think of such things instead of just rushing into a fight.

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  19. I for one can't believe my copy The Hobbit left out the princess!

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  20. I actually kind of like the Groans. Great explanation for a spooky grove.

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  21. My cousin and her kids visited for a few days last summer. Compared to some of the new cartoons they watched, the quality of this video was amazing!

    Nevertheless, I couldn't even make it to the halfway point. It really was pretty bad.

    Unlike others here though, I liked the name slag for the dragon. Considering he laid waste the surrounding area, I thought it was quite appropriate. Smaug (smog) always seemed to me to be some sort of veiled statement on society that broke the immersion of the story.

    Good or bad, it's always interesting to see a different perspective.

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    1. But Smaug doesn't rhyme with smog ;)

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  22. Thanks for posting this James, I thought it was pretty cool. As an "alternate universe" version of The Hobbit! And I really like some of those paintings!

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    1. Huh. Hard to believe Gandalf the Gray, err, BLUE could be that passive in *any* universe...

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  23. Princess who the what now?

    "If you are all afraid then I shall go alone!"

    "Hon, you need to learn to adapt. Let go."
    …at least, that seems to be Gandalf's attitude.

    Actually, I kinda liked it - the map moment, later relentlessly ripped off by Dora the Explorer, swipes the plot from LoTR, which I never would've thought of, but is obvious in retrospect. "This stupendous scene of both beauty and ugliness." "He fashioned a powerful crossbow from old mining tools." Awesome.

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  24. Well, clearly this movie would have been good back before men ruined magic forever.

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  25. Nice story, classy kids' book illustrations but, to borrow from Maréchal Bosquet... C'est magnifique, mais ce n'est pas "The Hobbit"!

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  26. I'm with the Wordmonger. It's nice but it ain't the Hobbit.

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  27. @Old Guy Nah, it's just Tolkien's language geekery. "Smeag" is an Old English word for "worm, reptile".

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  28. Whats the whinge? It sounds more like Some drifter from the War of the Ring overheard the story of the Hobbit from A Dwarf in a Tavern and for a free ale in another Tavern spun something that sounded 'bout right...

    Its the sort of thing You as DM might tell the Players to confuse the hell out of them...

    Next they will be spinning a tale of how Kitiara slew the Queen of Dragons with the Dragon Lance and was turned on by the Knights of Solmania because they didn't want to admit being saved by a woman.

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  29. The dialogue for some reason really reminded me of the Doctor Seuss films (the original cartoons not the more recent ghastly things).

    I liked the artwork but there's not much actual animation and, of course, it bears no relation to The Hobbit :)

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  30. sounds more like Some drifter from the War of the Ring overheard the story

    this is totally the true version. That Tolkien character didn't know what he was talking about. Goddamn college professors.

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    1. Don't be ridiculous. It is obvious to *me* that this is a re-counting of Bilbo's tale by an drunken Hobbit teenager-- probably Sam's oldest son. just pray Samweis doesn't catch his son in the prancing pony AGAIN...

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  31. I suspect it would be much more tolerable if the narrator had a posh British accent, rather than a Brooklyn-ish accent.

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  32. The artwork and animation are gorgeous. Of course, I'm a huge fan of limited animation like this.

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  33. I loved it! The artwork is quirky and wonderful. The Shire looks like it was painted by Miro.

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  34. The art reminded me of Samurai Jack. Which leads me to a new desire- When PJ is all done with Tolkien I vote we kidnap Tartanofsky and make him do an 5 hour animated version of LotR and a 3 hour animated version of The Hobbit.

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  35. I'm gobsmacked. I loved everything about this. It feels like you're comparing myths from different cultures that share a common origin, proto-Tolko-Middle-Earthian.

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  36. Look past your Tolkein geekery. Yes, this obviously has no fidelity to the source. But, judged ON ITS OWN MERITS, I find it rather charming. Try looking at it while imagining, for a few minutes, that there is no book. Trust me - it won't hurt.

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  37. Judging it on its own merits? It's an example of 1950s low-budget cartoonery. There's a reason that's a pretty esoteric artform right now. If there were someone swearing to me that it was the pinnacle of the artform and I must watch it, I might, but I haven't sat through the Academy Award-winning Moonbird (which I have on DVD), either.

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  38. "There's a reason that's a pretty esoteric artform right now."

    So?
    Does that make it inherently worthless?

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  39. The art of adaptation is subtle. I think that too many people assume in that, in order to succeed, an adaptation must maintain absolute fidelity to its source material. The degree to which the adaptation deviates from the original is the degree to which it fails aesthetically.

    But some of the the most successful adaptations succeed precisely because they deviate from the original. An example of this would be Stanley Kubrick's The Shining, a film that took significant liberties with the Stephen King novel upon which it was based, but still captured its spirit. King hated the film, but Kubrick realized that what works on the page doesn't always translate well to the screen.

    I think this short version of The Hobbit is delightful in large part because it so dramatically revises Tolkien's original. A kind of playful dialogue and tension is thus set up between this and original, an achievement which all good adaptations should aspire to in my opinion.

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    1. True, Ironbeard! However, this "adaption" (and I have a hard time of thinking of that movie as an adaption of THE HOBBIT) works even within its own context: as a piece of art utterly divorced from Tolkien's original.

      Because it is a quite charming short movie for small children. And it tells a charming storie about an unlikely hero, a princess and a dragon...

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  40. Ironbeard -- I think you've got a basic aesthetic/neural difference going here. Many people, when they read books, want to be totally absorbed into the world of the book. They want to see and hear only the book, and they don't want anything to mentally distance them from it. Many people also feel this way about movies, which is why it's rude to talk in the theater. These people generally feel the same way about plays and opera, and therefore have a limited patience with anything too self-conscious in the way of theatrical presentation. (This is why a lot of people don't like opera, even when it is absorptive; and this is why opera has become more concerned with traditional-style acting in recent years, instead of just working the conventions and standing around singing. People already fans are willing to just listen to nice singing while looking at costumes; new opera fans need to be convinced to live inside a story with songs.)

    Playful dialogues with tension can only take place if the reader/watcher is prepared to stand considerably back from the action, being an observer and not fully a participant, or participating with some characters and not others. For example, Mystery Science Theater 3000, or Rosenkrantz and Guildenstern Are Dead.

    Both styles have their merits; but there's a lot more heart and gut in the absorptive style. So yes, I want fidelity to the story of a novel, so that I can stay in the story. Something like a play or an opera, which already comes with multiple interpretations, probably has more room to play around; but not an infinite amount of such space. If the adaptation isn't faithful, it should be so much in the style of the original that I doubt my own recollection later, and don't notice it while I watch.

    For example, the movie version of The Hunt for Red October. There are a lot of liberties in some ways; but the small things are so Clancy-like that the big things blow right by the audience.

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  41. Contrariwise, if you keep the story exactly the same and just change the background of it -- or if you change the story but warn that it's unreliable narration -- that can be a very strong and absorbing adaptation.

    If we'd had a prologue telling us that this is how the Men and Hobbits of the faraway eastern plains of Rhun tell the story, in lands that remember the blue wizards before they went bad and the hounds of the great huntsman but have never seen the Shire or Gondor, I don't think the drawings would have gone over so badly. (For example.)

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  42. Suburbanbanshee - I think you are absolutely right. It's all a matter of taste of taste after all.

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  43. And of course, there's also the total rewrite adaptation and conquest, like the opera La Boheme vs. the original novel, or the Disney version of certain books.

    Sometimes, the totally different movie version is better. Not often, but sometimes -- or at least, it's better in the context. La Boheme's source material was totally not suitable to be a popular opera subject. It's still kind of weird and icky as a family opera outing, if you think about it. But opera librettists and composers specialize in not letting you think about it. :) Separating the coquettish, bitchy, survivalist side of Mimi from the sweet, devout, kittenish side of her, and making her essentially into two different characters, was brilliant. (And a lot easier to understand on stage.) It wasn't so much a rewrite as stripping the novel for parts, and that's how a lot of operas and plays did adaptations back then. Movies are probably the successors of that tradition.

    The funny thing is that, in Tolkien's case, there's already a lot of theatricality and drama in how he writes out his scenes. Style of dialogue and body poses and the stage setting (in landscape or building) were important to him. Shakespeare is very close, not in language but in attitude.

    That's why it was so puzzling that Jackson chose to do Theoden's transformation with special effects, when it was obvious that Tolkien was thinking of actors like Barrymore and Chaney "transforming" in full view, with nothing but expression and some makeup. You could easily produce LOTR or the Hobbit without advanced F/X, were the great Victorian and Edwardian actors available to us.

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  44. @aycorn: That does make it worthless as a medium for the appreciation of mass audiences. You can get an honest assessment that it might, for all we know, be the best of its genre. That doesn't mean that we want to watch it or that we would enjoy it if we did. There's a lot of artforms whose enjoyment is confined to a limited group of people.

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    1. "@aycorn: That does make it worthless as a medium for the appreciation of mass audiences. You can get an honest assessment that it might, for all we know, be the best of its genre. That doesn't mean that we want to watch it or that we would enjoy it if we did. There's a lot of artforms whose enjoyment is confined to a limited group of people."

      Again ... SO?

      The enjoyment of old-school role-playing games is confined to a limited group of people, too.

      For that matter, the enjoyment of fantasy is confined to a limited group of people, as well.

      I don't want this to degenerate into a flamewar, but who's "we"? You? The rest of the people who read this blog (some folks here, like myself, seem to have seen some virtue in it)? Everyone in the world?

      Declaring something worthless simply because of its age or style is not a sign of sophistication.

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    2. You said "Try looking at it while imagining, for a few minutes, that there is no book." You don't seem to like the response that there's reasons not to like it besides the book.

      Again, I acknowledge that there are people who like this stuff. Why can't you acknowledge that there's a reason most of us don't?

      I didn't declare it worthless. I said it was "worthless as a medium for the appreciation of mass audiences." If you want to believe that one day we will all sit around and enjoy watching Clutch Cargo, or listening to Deicide, or playing 1830 or Labyrinth Lords, well, it ain't ever going to happen.

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  45. Prosfilaes -

    Again, au contraire. Read what I said.

    "Judge the film on its own merits" - the overwhelming majority of the comments were based on the film's lack of fidelity to the source material - and nothing else. My point is to judge it for what it is, for good or ill. I myself find it an amusing trifle, nothing more. Calling it vomit-inducing struck me as a rather extreme overreaction.

    Of course it's not going to appeal to a mass audience. So what?

    You're posting a comment on a blog that celebrates out-of-print and out-of-fashion RPG's and pulp fiction from the 30's - 50's. That sort of thing is hardly going to appeal to a mass audience either. James himself often posts about such things as Lin Carter's lousy pastiches, arguing that they need to be judged on their own merits. Therefore it's pretty safe to assume that most people who follow this blog are going to be sophisticated enough to judge something on its own merits - whether it's a piece of crappy 70's fantasy fiction or a cartoon from the 50's. I don't think that's beyond the ability of most people who are likely to read this blog regularly.

    You keep talking about "we" and "most of us." You're speaking only for yourself - just as I am speaking only for myself. This is true even if a majority of posters share your views (and would be equally true if a majority shared mine).

    Please go back over my posts and find and where I said, or implied, that "we" (whoever "we" is) would all be watching Clutch Cargo (also an amusing trifle but not something I'd care to watch again), listening to Deicide (not me - I hate metal!) or playing Labyrinth Lord (I'm a BRP person - but I think a lot of people here do play Labyrinth Lord - and even James has endorsed it). You're jumping to conclusions here and putting words in my mouth.

    If it's a lousy film, it's a lousy film - because it's a lousy film.
    It's not lousy because it doesn't follow the book (funny, no one ever complains about the liberties taken with L. Frank Baum in the 1939 "Wizard of Oz").
    It's not lousy because it's low budget.
    It's not lousy because it's from the 50's.
    If it's lousy, it's because it's lousy. Period.

    And it isn't bad, or good, enough to warrant outraged emotional response.

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    1. "If it's a lousy film, it's a lousy film - because it's a lousy film."

      If it *is* a lousy film, which it *isn't*.


      "It's not lousy because it doesn't follow the book (funny, no one ever complains about the liberties taken with L. Frank Baum in the 1939 "Wizard of Oz")."

      Well, could it be that no one complains about it because just about all "liberties" from The Movie were in truth *improvements*? Except for merging the two good witches into one, of course. But then again, even Baum itself had his problems with the first Good Witch Dorothy ever met, and never used her again. but still, her role could've easily been enlarged for the film. She could've ended up as a prisoner of the Wicked Witch, for instance...

      "It's not lousy because it's low budget.
      It's not lousy because it's from the 50's.
      If it's lousy, it's because it's lousy. Period."

      But it is *not* a bad movie per se.

      Granted, it *is* a horribly bad adaption of Tolkien's book. Even I thought that the first time around, and could, in fact, not continue to view the short, because it has less to do with THE HOBBIT than the Dragonlance Chronicles do.

      But try to view the movie as a low budget relict from the Fifties. Try to judge the film on its own merits. It's not a feature film, like Peter Pan.

      And, for that matter, it's not an animated short film, either.

      It's a tv reading of a picture book story, even though the "picture book story" originated within the movie itself.

      The short is really not that bad. It's nothing special, but neither is it trash. Try viewing THE SIMPSONS...

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    2. We are judging it for what it is. The fact that you don't like the standards we're using is irrelevant. That it doesn't follow the book is an entirely valid reason to dislike an adaptation of a book.

      You're mighty judgmental against people who don't like stuff they don't enjoy, who are apparently unsophisticated barbarians if they can't look at a cartoon that could have been made by a couple of college students for a class project and not consider it good art.

      "It's not lousy because it's low budget.
      It's not lousy because it's from the 50's."

      I'll note that the pseudo-objective standard of "lousy" is your word. Of course being low-budget or from the 50s does not cause a cartoon to be lousy. However, there is a very strong correlation between being a low-budget cartoon of the 50s and not being enjoyed by mainstream modern audiences. That is, not being fun for most people. _Not fun_.

      "If it's a lousy film, it's a lousy film - because it's a lousy film."

      That's almost meaningless and yet still false. There is nothing objective about being lousy. Audience expectations and desires change a lot.

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  46. Well, the first time around, I was like "UGH!!", and could only watch it until "Gandalf's" tower showed up.

    But the second time, I watched the short in a calmer and toleranter mood. And now, I kinda *like* that short.

    Sure, it ain't Tolkien; even less than Disney's Jungle Book was Kipling.

    But the movie has a certain charm, even if it is an old-fashioned, slightly surreal charme. If we don't expect to see something that follows Tolkien's text with religous fervor (or, indeeed, follows Tolkien's text at ALL), you can enjoy it, too. Judged on its own merits (rather than on the merits of being the adaption of THE HOBBIT, which it is in name only), the movie is fine. At least for its budget and for the time it was made.

    But... How comes Tolkien never thought of introducing the princess and marrying her off to Bard?!

    But, seriously, Bard (although he was one of my favorite HOBBIT characters, alongside Bilbo, Gandalf, Beorn, Smaug and the Wood Elves' King) always seemed a bit... superfluous plot-wise. He only apeared pretty late in the book, killed the Dragon, was made village lord and that was it already. Having the princess in the book to serve as Bard's love interest would've enlarged both his role in the plot and importance to the overal book.

    Oh, well...

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  47. Beyonder wrote (in response to: It's not lousy because it doesn't follow the book (funny, no one ever complains about the liberties taken with L. Frank Baum in the 1939 "Wizard of Oz").")

    "Well, could it be that no one complains about it because just about all "liberties" from The Movie were in truth *improvements*?

    Aycorn sez: sure, but that's subjective, too. Personally, I thought the deletion of Tom Bombadil was an enormous improvement in the Jackson films. But a lot of Tolkein fans love TB and wanted to see him.

    ("It's not lousy because it's low budget.
    It's not lousy because it's from the 50's.
    If it's lousy, it's because it's lousy. Period."

    But it is *not* a bad movie per se. )

    You're saying the same thing I am.

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  48. As I see it is very outstanding adaptation.

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