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The Hobbit (1977 film)
Cover of 1991 USA video release by Warner Home Video
|Based on||The Hobbit
by J. R. R. Tolkien
|Written by||Romeo Muller|
|Theme music composer||Glenn Yarbrough|
|Country of origin||
|Running time||78 minutes[a]|
|Original release||‹See TfM›
|Followed by||The Return of the King|
The Hobbit is a 1977 American animated musical television special created by Rankin/Bass, a studio known for their holiday specials, and animated by Topcraft, a precursor to Studio Ghibli. 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.
The plot of the animated production is in most respects similar to that of the book; but certain plot points are significantly compressed or removed due to the time limitations of the format. In addition, certain scenes are obviously edited for commercial breaks. In general, alterations are confined to simple omission of detail, and the story follows the source text. The lyrics of the songs are adapted from songs in the book, but are generally longer.
The film was produced and directed by Arthur Rankin Jr. and Jules Bass of Rankin/Bass Productions in New York City, 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. The New York Times reported that The Hobbit cost $3 million.
In a 2003 interview, Rankin stated, "I love the Tolkien work," and explained that he was able to make the film because The Hobbit was still in the public domain at the time, despite claims to the contrary from the copyright holders.
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, with Hans Conried as Thorin Oakenshield, rounding out the cast of primarily American voice actors. The film was the final Rankin/Bass project to star the Australian actor Cyril Ritchard, here playing the voice of Elrond.
The Hobbit was animated by Topcraft in Tokyo, a now-defunct Japanese animation studio whose animation team re-formed as Studio Ghibli under Hayao Miyazaki, while some of the animators went to establish Pacific Animation Corporation. Topcraft successfully partnered with Rankin/Bass on several other productions in traditional animation, including 'Twas the Night Before Christmas (1974), The Stingiest Man in Town (1978) and The Last Unicorn (1982). According to Rankin, the visual style of the film took its basic cue from the early illustrations of Arthur Rackham.
While Topcraft produced the animation overseas, the concept artwork was completed at the Rankin/Bass studio under the direction of Arthur Rankin. The Rhode Island-based artist Lester Abrams did the initial designs for most of the characters; Rankin had seen Abrams' illustrations to an excerpt from The Hobbit in Children's Digest. 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.
Soundtrack and story LP
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 1980 animated film The Return of the King.
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 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.
Original Soundtrack Songs
|The Hobbit: Original Soundtrack Songs|
|Soundtrack album by|
|Label||Buena Vista Records|
|Producer||Rankin/Bass Productions Inc.|
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."
Criticism 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; and a few critics said it was confusing for those not already familiar with the plot. 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."
Director Arthur Rankin Jr. was proud of The Hobbit, and in an interview in 2003 he described it as "a good film", stating that the simplicity of the story made it easy to adapt to the screen.
Before The Hobbit aired on NBC, Rankin/Bass and its partner animation houses were preparing a sequel. 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.
United Artists's sequel having been cancelled after a disagreement with Bakshi, Rankin/Bass proceeded to produce a 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 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.
- Orson Bean – Bilbo Baggins
- Richard Boone – Smaug
- Hans Conried – Thorin Oakenshield
- John Huston – Gandalf / Narrator
- Otto Preminger – The Elvenking
- Cyril Ritchard – Elrond
- Brother Theodore – Gollum
- Paul Frees – Bombur, Troll #1
- Jack DeLeon – Dwalin, Fíli, Kíli, Óin, Glóin, Ori, Nori, Bifur, Bofur, Troll #2
- Don Messick – Balin, Goblin, Lord of the Eagles, Troll #3
- John Stephenson – Dori, Bard, Great Goblin
- Glenn Yarbrough – The Balladeer
- Thurl Ravenscroft – Goblin (singing voice), Background voice
- Producers/Directors – Arthur Rankin Jr., Jules Bass
- Writer – Romeo Muller
- Based on "The Hobbit" – J. R. R. Tolkien
- Music – Maury Laws
- Lyrics – Jules Bass
- Production Designer – Arthur Rankin Jr.
- Animation Coordinator – Toru Hara
- Animation Supervisor – Tsuguyuki Kubo
- Character Designers – Lester Abrams, Tsuguyuki Kubo
- Background Designer – Minoru Nishida
- Animation Directors – Katsuhisa Yamada, Koichi Sasaki
- Animators – Kazuyuki Kobayashi, Tadakatsu Yoshida, Hidemi Kubo, Yukiyoshi Hane, Hidetoshi Kaneko, Kazuko Ito
- Sound Effects – Tom Clack
- Sound Recorders – John Curcio, Dave Iveland, Bob Elder
- Choral Director – Lois Winter
- Associate Producer – Masaki Iizuka
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 also released on DVD by Warner Bros. as part of the DVD trilogy boxed set, which includes Ralph Bakshi's The Lord of the Rings and the Rankin Bass production of The Return of the King. A remastered deluxe edition DVD was released on July 22, 2014. Sound effects missing in previous DVD releases are absent from this release as well.
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