It was Sunday, November 27, 1977 that I first saw something that amazed me. It opened a new world to me, the likes of which I had no idea existed. Tonight marks the 34th anniversary of the first airing of Rankin-Bass’ animated version of THE HOBBIT. Though nowhere near the spectacle that Sir Peter Jackson is currently preparing to unleash upon the world in two parts, it was my first exposure to the world of Middle Earth, and no doubt it was the same for many others. I first became aware of THE HOBBIT during the Macy’s Thanksgiving Day parade a few days earlier, when a huge dragon in his lair wheeled down the street. Rankin-Bass had made a huge float of Smaug, and the announcers said that the special would be airing on NBC that coming Sunday night. I sat glued to the screen the entire hour and half.
Anyone that’s read my blog generally knows what happened next as far as my personal history after seeing THE HOBBIT so I won’t bore you with the details yet again. For anyone NOT familiar with it, you can get an idea of it on the ‘About Me’ page, which has a link at the top of this page.
Looking back at it now, it may have had some faults, like how it really covered just one storyline – getting the Dwarves to Lonely Mountain and liberating the treasure from Smaug the Dragon – without any mention of Beorn and his animals; or the fact that it as hard to imagine that Gollum had at one point BEEN Hobbit-like, considering his appearance was almost lizard-like; or the failure to mention the Arkenstone at all; or that weird crap flying around Elrond’s head; and the appearance of the wood elves. Yes, looking back at it now, after all that’s come since (and the fact that I’m not a 13 year old watching it) these might now be thought of as flaws, but back then, it was fantastic.
The voice cast was unforgettable. Sir John Huston was Gandalf, also serving as narrator for the beginning of it. Orson Bean, who I’d seen as a semi-regular on Match Game, provided Bilbo’s voice and Thorin Oakenshield’s voice was brought to life by Hans Conreid. Smaug the Dragon was brilliantly given voice by Richard Boone, best known from his starring TV roles on Have Gun Will Travel and Hec Ramsey. These voices have always stayed with me. With apologies to Sir Ian McKellan, Huston for me is, and always will be, the voice of Gandalf. Gollum was eerily voiced by TV personality ‘Brother’ Theodore. Voice veterans Paul Frees and Don Messick provided other voices as well.
The music from the special also left an indelible mark on pop culture, especially the film’s main theme, THE GREATEST ADVENTURE, as performed by Glenn Yarborough. The rest of the songs were adapted from the lyrics of poems and songs that J.R.R. Tolkien had within the text.
For you Anime fans, the animation team, Topcraft, would go on to form the famed Studio Ghibli.
I guess it’s a little fitting that I’m writing this entry at this moment in time. Currently, on my TV is the extended edition of THE LORD OF THE RINGS: THE FELLOWSHIP OF THE RING, to be followed by the other two extended versions, being shown in celebration of LOTR’s 10th Anniversary (already??) next month. The other wonderful coincidence is evidence of how that viewing, 34 years ago changed me – my 2 month old kitten, Frodo, was sleeping in my lap for the first half of writing this.