St John Karp

Ramblings of an Ornamental Hermit

The Soviet “Lord of the Rings”

Gandalf riding on the back of an eagle. Badly.

I don’t write blog posts about everything I watch. Some movies are too good, and there’s no point in writing a blog post saying, “Watch Being There, it’s an amazing satire on how the media shapes social narratives!” By the same token some movies are so excruciatingly awful that there’s no point making fun of them. I can’t add anything to Caroushell — if you’ve seen more than thirty seconds of it, then you’ll know how terrible it is.

A ghost thing? I dunno.

Then there are others like Хранители, a two-part Soviet TV adaptation of The Fellowship of the Ring from 1991. It’s… special. Obviously it’s a TV play, so I’m not here to make fun of a bunch of people in mediaeval costumes clomping around on an obvious stage. I grew up watching 1960s English TV, I know what television plays are and I’m very used to TV shows that are more theatrical than cinematic. But the Soviets had clearly got their hands on some greenscreen technology they were very excited about and wildly unqualified to use. I mean wildly unqualified. I wouldn’t have minded a stage version of The Lord of the Rings, but this? With it’s endless dance sequences, surreally awful costumes, chain-smoking narrator, corpse-like acting, Hobbits wearing lipstick, funky Leningrad rock music, and a simply breath-taking shot of Gandalf escaping Isengard on the back of an eagle? This is something special.

Definitely Gollum.

All I can tell you to do is watch this. There are no English subtitles but you don’t need those, all you need is half a bottle of Scotch and it’ll all start to make sense. Probably that’s the only way it’ll make sense. Part 1 and part 2 are both freely available on YouTube thanks to the station that originally made this. I also strongly recommend reading Khraniteli: The Soviet take on Lord of the Rings, an interview with a Russian artist who gives some very necessary background on why this is the way it is.

It was a desperate attempt to present a much-loved book to the masses through the medium of television. They made it without anyone’s help. There was no money, there were no experts. People at that time would go for half a year without getting their wages paid and they didn’t know how they would feed their own children.

Where’s the Man Candy?


Unless you like short dumpy men with sideburns, four eyebrows, and lipstick (I’m not judging), there isn’t all that much man candy in this movie. Ope, but let’s not close the book on this too quickly. Who’s this rangy character with the tousled hair and the thousand yard stare? Step aside, Viggo Mortensen, I think we have the real Aragorn right here.