The 1978 animated movie and Peter Jackson’s Oscar-winning early-2000s epic are not the only film adaptations of J.R.R. Tolkien’s timeless classic “The Lord of the Rings.” Though dramatically lacking in production quality, a version of the fantasy epic was created in the Soviet Union prior to its fall and was thought to have been lost until just recently.
The made-for-TV film was created in 1991 and is “the only adaptation of his Lord of the Rings trilogy believed to have been made in the Soviet Union,” according to The Guardian.
“Aired 10 years before the release of the first installment of Peter Jackson’s movie trilogy, the low-budget film appears ripped from another age: the costumes and sets are rudimentary, the special effects are ludicrous, and many of the scenes look more like a theatre production than a feature-length film,” reported the outlet. “The score, composed by Andrei Romanov of the rock band Akvarium, also lends a distinctly Soviet ambience to the production, which was reportedly aired just once on television before disappearing into the archives of Leningrad Television.”
“Few knew about its existence until Leningrad Television’s successor, 5TV, abruptly posted the film to YouTube last week [part one | part two], where it has gained more than 800,000 views within several days,” the report continued.
The Guardian further detailed the Soviet Union’s sordid history with Tolkien’s work, which began in 1966 when a banned translation of “The Fellowship of the Ring” was first produced:
The first Soviet samizdat translation of The Fellowship of the Ring was produced in 1966, more than a decade after Tolkien’s book of that name was published. And the first published translation came out in the Soviet Union in 1982, although its sequels, The Two Towers and The Return of the King, were not released until years later.
In 1985, Leningrad Television aired its first version of Tolkien’s work, a low-budget adaptation of The Hobbit featuring ballet dancers from what is now the Mariinsky theatre and a moustachioed narrator standing in for Tolkien. The abridged production, titled The Fantastic Journey of Mister Bilbo Baggins, the Hobbit, skips over the trolls and elves in an hour-long romp that was long believed to be the only finished Tolkien adaptation produced during the Soviet Union.
According to World of Fantasy, a 1991 animated version of The Hobbit called The Treasure Under the Mountain was scrapped, leaving only six minutes of footage that is available online.
Though it never came to fruition, in the 1960s, a version of Tolkien’s classic was pitched starring none other than The Beatles in the titular roles: Paul McCartney as Frodo, John Lennon as Gollum, George Harrison as Gandalf, and Ringo Starr as Samwise Gamgee. The project, however, fell apart after Stanley Kubrick declined to direct, not to mention the fact that Tolkien himself was not much of a fan of the band.
“The Beatles’ interest in adapting The Lord of the Rings came from Denis O’Dell, who had helped produce the band’s previous big screen musical effort,” reported ScreenRant. “With one more film left on The Beatles’ contract with United Artists, O’Dell thought his Fab Four would be ideally suited to the work of Tolkien, and that Frodo’s tale could be turned into a live-action adventure starring the band.”
“Unfortunately, two major obstacles would halt the project in its tracks, the first being a struggle to land a big-name director. John Lennon was reportedly the driving force behind The Beatles’ Lord of the Rings movie and was eyeing Stanley Kubrick to direct the feature,” it continued. “While Kubrick also had an affinity for the source material, he was skeptical about the feasibility of bringing Tolkien to live-action in the 1960s, and after failing to land their man, The Beatles began to lose interest in the idea altogether. Another major setback came directly from Tolkien himself. According to Peter Jackson, The Beatles’ journey to Mount Doom was killed off completely because Tolkien at this juncture still held the rights to his story and, not being an especially big fan of the band, refused to let four musicians on copious amounts of drugs adapt his life’s work.”
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