Soviet Lord of the Rings

Originally published at: Soviet Lord of the Rings | Boing Boing


As I mentioned in follow up, I was going to link to it last week re Tom Bombadil but when I was trying to watch it I wasn’t actually sure if it was Tom Bombadil or not. Maybe someone can confirm the section? Any Russian speakers who can link to specific sections with context? I struggled to make sense of it.

I didn’t even try the second section.


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.

that just describes dr who


i watched it the other day, and i rather love it. it’s so interesting to see what they chose to keep, and what they chose to skip, and just the characterizations in general. it’s hard to remember what i imagined for characters and things before the Jackson movies came out, but i know lots of what he did pretty much lined up with my own imagination, so it’s interesting to see this take from a russian translation… for instance, the hobbits all dress like russian peasants (of course!). I had to laugh that the character notes for Sam must’ve said “he eats a lot,” because that’s what the actor does in almost every scene.

i was stunned that they skipped the Bridge of Khazad-Dûm scene, but it was probably because they couldn’t figure out how to do the balrog. the crazy time jump at the very end is also jarring. everyone’s in Lothlorien, and then BAM, Sam and Frodo are off on their own. Breaking of the Fellowship? what’s that? CYA!


The fuzzing out of everything outside a small circle in the middle makes this unwatchable for me. I was trying to remember where I’d seen this effect overused. Some Jim Henson thing? Fraggle Rock? But I looked up a couple of Fraggle Rock videos and (thankfully) they don’t use it.

YouTube auto-translate on the captions was working okay for me, though I didn’t look very much.


In Soviet Union, ring is lord of you!


Um, that’s the way it worked over here too.


In Soviet Union, Sauron disappears you.


I agree that the “look how terrible the production values are!” angle is very overplayed. jonboy_nemo’s remark about Doctor Who is right on the money: most BBC SFF was absolutely this bad in the 1980s, only a few years earlier.

And even the BBC stuff that got hailed as high-quality during the era (such as its late-80s C.S. Lewis adaptations) is really just a better team playing in the same league. It’s still shot on video, with harsh lighting and chroma key effects, stagey makeup, and theatrical production values.

Ghormenghast, from 2000, strikes me now as the transition point (at least for UK television) where they stopped making stuff like this. It was expensive and had all the talent in the world at hand. But the compositing effects have aged badly and it has that peculiar stagey videoness to everything that speaks to the same basic production style.

But a couple of years later, they’re making Rome with HBO, which still looks and feels contemporary.

I guess the difference is just switching from “theater on TV” to “cinema on TV” and the costs involved. Ghormenghast was £6m for four hours of TV, while Rome (largely financed by HBO) was £63m for twelve hours



I’ve only skimmed the videos, but:

Tom Bombadil is there, starting from around 41:30 in the first part doing a rather less impressive version of the Trololo song, and again after 5:20 in the second part, where he rescues the hobbits from the Barrow-wights.

The bridge is there (44:00 in the second part), though Gandalf is shown being overwhelmed by goblins before that. Aragorn notices that Gandalf is missing when doing a head count at the other end of the bridge.

Boromir tries to convince Frodo to give him the ring while still apparently in Lothlorien, and without violence (long scene at the end of part two).

And since we’re on the topic of Tolkien in Soviet times, here’s a random anecdote. There was a Lithuanian translation of The Hobbit published as a standalone fairy-tale at some point during the Soviet occupation, where the translator apparently did not have access to The Lord of the Rings or any other of Tolkien’s writings. In The Hobbit, the nasty enemies are mostly referred to as goblins, except for this one sentence at the end of chapter 8 where Gandalf mentions that the Grey Mountains “are simply stiff with goblins, hobgoblins, and orcs of the worst description.” The translator thought that “goblins” and “hobgoblins” were not distinct enough to warrant different names in the translation (which is fair enough), but “orcs” presented trouble. Presumably, the translator opened a dictionary, and instead of “orc” could only find a definition for “orca”, aka killer whale. This didn’t make a whole lot of sense, but, being out options, they just decided to put a poetic spin on it and call it a day. So in Lithuanian, there are “whale-fishes” living the Grey Mountains.


Well if it’s proper translations of The Hobbit you are looking for may I direct you to Michael Everson’s Evertype?

He no longer lives in Ireland but did from the 80s until recently and I used to regularly meet him with friends.
Breton, Yiddish, Cornish, Irish translations await. They also specialise in many versions of Lewis Carol.


yes, i know it’s there – even watching at 1.5x speed it took Aragorn forever to work his way across it, lol – but there is definitely no balrog. they suddenly realize Gandalf is gone and start crying.

well yes, and that plays out more or less like the book (although he tries to choke Frodo! wtf!), but i was thinking specifically of the death of Boromir, the capture of Merry & Pippin, and the formal ending of the Fellowship beyond Frodo and Sam just ghosting.


Related, but requiring less irony to enjoy, are these gorgeous Soviet illustrations from The Hobbit (or “Хо́ббит”).


I love how the auto-generated English subtitles refer to the One Ring as Bingo, rather than Precious.

And Bingo was its name-o!


I am 100% certain that the budget for this film is not what caused the decline of the Soviet Union.




Headcanon accepted.

Reminds me, I have to get back to the Italian version of “Lo Hobbit” that I bought a while back to help with my language practice…


Never knew Faerie Tale Theatre left such an impression on the Soviet Union

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Real Soviet joke:

Under capitalism, man exploits man. Under communism it’s the other way round.