J. R. R. Tolkien
's The Hobbit
was adapted into an animated television movie
Productions in 1977
. It manages to economically retell most of the story within its 78-minute duration. An LP
with the soundtrack 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. Harry N. Abrams
published a large coffee-table illustrated edition of the book featuring concept art and stills. A second album by Glenn Yarbrough
of music "inspired" by The Hobbit
was also released.
The film was first broadcast on NBC in the United States, on November 27, 1977 and is presented in a heart-warming style, featuring a lot of songs (many of which are based on poems and lyrics from the book). Much of the story has been simplified and several episodes and key scenes are omitted.
According to Arthur Rankin, Jr., the visual style of the film took its basic cue from the early illustrations of Arthur Rackham. Rankin further hoped that, with this particular film, he would add nothing to the story that wasn't in the original.
The story's hero, Bilbo Baggins, was voiced by Orson Bean, backed up by John Huston as the voice of Gandalf. Otto Preminger was the voice of the Elvenking, Richard Boone grumbled and bellowed as the dragon Smaug, Cyril Ritchard spoke for Elrond, Hans Conried voiced Thorin Oakenshield, and the comedian and performance artist Brother Theodore was chosen for the voice of Gollum. Rankin-Bass icon Paul Frees co-starred as Bombur; Don Messick portrayed Balin and the Lord of the Eagles; John Stephenson did double voice duty, first as the charming and proud archer Bard; then as Dori, the third major member of Thorin's Company; in addition, they and Jack DeLeon supplied the voices of the eight other members of Thorin's Company as well as the goblins. Thurl Ravenscroft performed the singing voices of the goblins.
The film was produced and directed by Arthur Rankin, Jr. and Jules Bass and adapted for the screen by Romeo Muller; with Rankin taking on the additional duties of production designer, and Bass adapting some of Tolkien's original lyrics, as well as contributing, along with Maury Laws, R/B's composer-conductor-in residence, an original theme song, "The Greatest Adventure (The Ballad of the Hobbit)", sung by Glenn Yarbrough.
While the concept artwork was completed in the US, a noted Japanese animation studio Topcraft, produced the animation for Rankin-Bass. Principal artists included coordinating animator Toru Hara; supervising animator/character designer Tsuguyuki Kubo; character and effects animators Hidetoshi Kaneko, Kazuko Ito; and background designer Minoru Nishida. The same studio and crew members were also used for The Return of the King.
The New York Times reported that The Hobbit cost $3-million.
At the same time as the broadcast of The Hobbit Rankin/Bass and the animation houses were preparing the sequel, taking elements from the last volume of The Lord of the Rings novel. The voice team including Bean, Huston, Theodore, Frees and Messick, would also return for the 1980 adaptation of The Return of the King.
The animation has been both praised and criticized. Some reviewers regard it as a strong point of the film, but inaccuracies in some of the character renderings have been the source of a lot of criticism from Tolkien fans: Gollum looks like some sort of giant amphibian the size of a hobbit with huge blank eyes without irises; Gandalf has a long nose; Elrond has a halo above his head, and has a beard; the goblins look like bulldogs without fur; the Wood-elves, rather than being the "fair folk," has gray skin and never wore boots, but seem as ugly as Gollum and the goblins; Smaug is extremely hairy for a dragon and, facially, has somewhat feline characteristics. Others object to the voice casting, with actors speaking English with American or German accents.
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. The adaptation has been called "excruciable and confusing for those not already familiar with the plot.
Changes to the story
Most of the changes are found as omissions rather than modifications of the plot.
In the film:
- All the Dwarves show up with Gandalf all at once in the film, rather than arriving in groups the day after Gandalf meets Bilbo and puts a mark on his door, and also in the book Fíli and Kíli play crucial roles and they have many lines, while in the film they speak in unison and have only three lines near the beginning and are silent the rest of the film.
- The company leaves Bilbo's house on ponies, but after that the ponies are not seen until they are lost in crossing the Misty Mountains. In the book, the company rode ponies from Bag End to Rivendell.
- Bilbo is noticed by the Trolls as he sneaks up to steal some meat rather than being exposed by the Troll's "talking" purse.
- The Dwarves flee in terror from the Trolls and are picked up one at a time instead of walking blindly into the camp and being ambushed (except for Thorin, who puts up a fight).
- Gandalf apparently has the power to make the dawn come earlier to dispatch the Trolls, rather than tricking the Trolls by throwing his voice.
- The Troll cave does not have a locked door.
- Gandalf gives Thorin Thrór's map of the Lonely Mountain and the key to Smaug's hideout in the troll cave rather than back at Bag End.
- Elrond has a beard (the only known elf that has a beard is Círdan) and wears a magical crown resembling a miniature swirling constellation of stars around his head.
- Elrond says that the moon-letters will appear when the moon shines behind them. In the book, the letters only appear when a moon of the same shape and season as when they were written shines behind them. The film notably mistakes the runes on the map's upper left (which has a drawing of a hand pointing to the Lonely Mountain and a rune inscription which states "Five feet high the door and three may walk abreast") as the moon-letters which state "Stand by the grey stone when the thrush knocks, and the last light of the setting sun on Durin's Day will shine upon the keyhole", whereas these moon-letters are actually located in the lower middle of the map (the portion of which is shown as written in plain runes in the film)
- References to Durin's Day have been omitted, thus making the above direction "''...And the last light of the setting sun will shine upon the keyhole.".
- Up in the mountains, there are no stone giants playing games amidst the storm.
- Gandalf is missing in the cave, rather than sleeping, when the goblins emerge. The Dwarves are not grabbed, but run into the tunnel.
- The Dwarves do not fight the goblins in the tunnel.
- Bilbo specifically asked Gollum what he has in his pocket rather than muttering it aloud to himself. Gollum does not even try to guess, instead of demanding three guesses. Only four riddles are posed in the film (there were ten in the book).
- Bilbo pulls the ring out of his pocket after Gollum says he's looking for his "golden ring, magic ring".
- Bilbo has no trouble getting out the back door (no goblins to sneak by, tight spots to fit through or tricky terrain).
- Gandalf seems to know exactly how Bilbo escaped from Gollum in the movie and alludes to his knowledge of the ring by stating that Bilbo's story "has the 'ring' of truth. Yes, it 'rings' true."
- Rather than meet the Wargs in the forest, the goblins come with them, riding on them and wielding torches (despite the Wargs' fear of fire in the book).
- The Great Eagles do not take the company to their eyries, but to the edge of Mirkwood, bypassing Beorn (who does not appear in the film, but is present in very early pre-production sketches, suggesting he was originally intended to be present).
- The incident at the enchanted river, including Bombur's magical sleep, is omitted.
- The feasts of the Wood-elves are omitted (yet are referred to when the Wood-elves capture the Dwarves).
- Bilbo has to fight and kill only five spiders rather than dozens and dozens.
- Bilbo's sword, Sting, always glows in the film regardless of whether goblins are nearby or not.
- Thorin is captured with the other Dwarves by the spiders and then the Wood-elves.
- There is no stop-over from the journey via barrels from the Wood-elves' castle to Laketown.
- There is no Master in Laketown; Bard the guardsman runs the city.
- The company does not make camp at the base of the mountain (They are shown together with Bilbo in front of the Secret Passage, with Thorin sleeping just beside him).
- Balin does not go with Bilbo into the secret entrance.
- Bilbo has only one audience with Smaug and the thrush is present. Bilbo orders the thrush to seek Bard to tell him of Smaug's weakness.
- The Arkenstone and all that goes with it is omitted.
- Roäc the raven is omitted. In the book, the ravens tell the Dwarves that Smaug is slain and is sent to Dáin to call for assistance. In the film, the Dwarves wait, lost inside the Lonely Mountain, for a week, and it is never explained why Dáin arrives at such an opportune moment.
- The company discovers the two armies coming when they are on the doorstep, rather than being warned in advance.
- Bard and the Elvenking only have one parley with Thorin.
- Bard demands gold because of the fact he killed the dragon. In the book, his reason is a lot more selfless, a good part of the gold was taken from Dale, and he wishes a portion returned to them. He also thinks that Lake-Town should be compensated for the damages it suffered from Smaug, which he finds the Dwarves partly responsible for.
- Bard is made king of the Men of Lake-town. In the book, he leaves Lake-town to rebuild Dale.
- In the movie, Bilbo does not give any of his gold to the men of Laketown. In the book, he gave his share of the gold to Laketown.
- Thorin becomes angry with Bilbo due to what he perceives as cowardice on Bilbo's part (since Bilbo is unwilling to fight in the battle) rather than because Bilbo handed the Arkenstone to Bard and the Elvenking.
- Thorin and the dwarves plan a suicidal last stand against the Elves and Men in a pitched battle outside the mountain and are pleasantly surprised when Dáin's army arrives. In the book, not only did they know Dáin was coming ahead of time, but their plan was not to battle Bard and the Elves, but attempt to wait them out.
- Ravenhill is not mentioned.
- Gandalf at the centre of the battlefield appears as the Battle of Five Armies is about to start. In the book, he appears at the last of the meetings with Thorin, Bard, and the Elvenking.
- The armies in the Battle of Five Armies are divided differently (Bilbo counts the Goblins and Wargs as one army, the Eagles are counted as a separate army).
- In the film, the Battle of Five Armies was won when the Eagles appeared. However, in the book, although the Eagles helped win the battle, it was Beorn as a bear who decisively killed the goblin leader Bolg.
- In the film, the armies remain on the plains to fight. In the book, the elves, dwarves, and men fight from mountainside.
- In the film, Thorin and his group are fighting throughout the entire battle. In the book, Thorin and company launch an attack from Lonely Mountain during the height of the battle.
- In the book, only Thorin, Kíli, and Fíli die in battle, leaving ten dwarves still alive. In the film, Thorin, Bombur, and five other unnamed dwarves are killed. (In fact, Dwalin, Gloin, Dori, Nori, Bifur, Bofur and Bombur are all still alive in The Lord of the Rings. (The Fellowship of the Ring: HarperCollins, 1999: 300).
- Most of the return journey, including winter at Beorn's home, a stop at Rivendell, and digging up gold they buried by the troll camp, is omitted.
- The auction back at Bag End is omitted.
- Balin and Gandalf's visit, years later, is omitted.
- Bilbo's Ring is shown as being displayed in a glass case atop the mantelpiece whereas the book states that Bilbo kept the matter of the Ring a great secret.
Video and DVD releases
was released on video by Sony
and ABC Video Enterprises
in the late 1970s/early 1980s. The film was released on the second video by Warner Home Video
, and again in 2001
(through Warner Bros. Family Entertainment
The film was released on DVD by Warner Brothers for the DVD trilogy boxed set (the second DVD was The Lord of the Rings, and the third DVD is The Return of the King). The DVD of the film is noted for a compromised soundtrack with many missing sound effects cues, along with several lines of dialogue. To date Warner Bros. has not issued a corrected disc or a statement about the problems with the soundtrack. Comparison made with earlier VHS tapes confirms these omissions.
- Screen captures from the CED edition. Also features links to galleries of screen captures from other Tolkien animated films.