After 30 years, a TV adaptation of J.R.R. Tolkien’s The Lord of the Rings long thought lost has resurfaced. The 1991 Soviet television adaptation has been uploaded to YouTube in two one-hour videos.
The film focuses on the events of the first book in the trilogy, The Fellowship of the Ring, and features many elements that were excluded from the popular global theatrical release by director Peter Jackson, including an extended sequence featuring the character Tom Bombadil—one of the biggest omissions by the bigger-budget 2001 film far more of us have seen.
Originally broadcast on TV in 1991 (and then never aired again), the film was thought lost to time by those who had seen it. But as reported in The Guardian, Leningrad Television successor Channel 5 uploaded the film to its YouTube page with little fanfare, surprising fans who had given up on seeing the production again. It is believed to be the only adaptation of these books produced in the Soviet Union.
For better or for worse, the primitive special effects and low budget are very apparent—moreso than in many other B movies of the time you may have seen. Grainy characters’ arms are cropped out in the middle of the frame as they are set against fuzzy fake backgrounds. And the film employs a visual language that is altogether alien to modern cinema, with sets and costumes that look more at home in a low-budget theatrical production and characters who gaze into the camera directly when they speak with eerie commitment.
In other words, an Andrei Tarkovsky masterwork it is not. But the nostalgia is strong, in particular thanks to the soundtrack by Andrei Romanov, who performed with the popular Russian rock group Akvarium.
Titled Khraniteli (“Keepers”), the film is believed to be based on a Russian-language translation of Tolkien’s work by Vladimir Muravyov and Andrey Kistyakovsky, and it is of course in Russian. But if you don’t speak Russian, fret not: YouTube’s autogenerated English closed captioning is adequate enough to give you the gist of what’s happening.
Listing image by 5TV