Hobitit (1993) – The Lord of the Rings on Finnish television
I seem to be acquiring a taste for obscure Tolkien adaptations. Yesterday, I took a look at the Soviet adaptation of The Hobbit. Today, I worked my way through Hobitit (‘The Hobbits’) – the 1993 Finnish television adaptation of The Lord of the Rings. I stand to be corrected, but think it might be the only example of The Lord of the Rings ever being adapted for the small screen.
[Edit: Turns out I was wrong. The 1971 Swedish version counts too: https://phuulishfellow.wordpress.com/2020/12/02/sagan-om-ringen-1971-the-swedish-lord-of-the-rings/]
Like the Soviet Hobbit, Hobitit has a framing narrator, in this case an elderly Sam telling the story of his adventures to a group of young hobbits. This has the advantage of allowing significant jumps between scenes, and this adaptation isn’t shy about doing that – since the story is literally focused on Frodo and Sam, the entire War of the Ring gets narrated away, in favour of showing the action in Mordor.
There is no Denethor or Faramir, no Théoden or Éowyn, no Helm’s Deep or Battle of Pelennor Fields. We are told about Aragorn becoming King, but we never see it. In fact, he literally disappears after Boromir’s death. Same with the destruction of Isengard – the Ents (whose nature is never actually explained) defeat Saruman off-screen. The latter third of the series (there are nine 20-25 minute episodes) really is a case of taking the heart of The Lord of the Rings – Frodo/Sam/Gollum – and dispensing with the rest, in a way that would probably make it confusing as hell for any non-book-reader.
If Hobitit leaves out so much, what is actually in there? A surprising amount. In contrast to both the 1978 Bakshi version, and 2001-2003 Jackson, this version of The Lord of the Rings features the Old Forest, Tom Bombadil (who has a vague Native American vibe about him), and the Barrow Wight. That Tom hands out the Barrow blades becomes all the more odd, given that we never get to see Merry use his against the Witch King – it’s a plot-element that becomes a loose-end, because of the cuts elsewhere. This TV Rings also gives us The Scouring of the Shire, if not the actual Grey Havens.
I mentioned that there is considerable focus on Frodo, Sam, and Gollum. The famous Gandalf-Frodo dialogue (“many who live deserve death, and many who die deserve life…”) is here given to Frodo and Sam. Gollum’s internal debate is featured in full, complete with contrasting voices depending on which side of his personality is speaking. Finnish Gollum, in contrast to Jackson’s, is very well-fed, and basically comes across as an insane and solidly-built cannibal in a loincloth, rather than the skeletal figure we generally associate with the character. Gollum’s backstory, including his transformation, is also featured in full.
Part of the charm of Hobitit is the low-budget nature of the production. We see Gandalf falling into a hole in Moria with accompanying narration, but we never see the Balrog (which is named later). We see Frodo caught in a web, but we never see Shelob – I’m vaguely disappointed there, since even the Soviets at least gave us plastic spiders. The journey down the Great River doesn’t actually feature a boat – it’s our actors sitting in the studio, with Aragorn pretending to row, intercut with some quite pretty stock footage of waterway and forest.
We never see the Dark Tower – Sauron is a floating eye (an actual eye), and Mount Doom’s eruption looks more like a munitions explosion than a volcanic eruption. Speaking of Mount Doom, it rather takes away its impressiveness when Gollum is climbing up it, since it is clear we are dealing with a model a few metres high (he and Frodo climb to the summit, incidentally, rather than having the Sammath Naur scene).
Then there are the funny little side quirks. I’ve already mentioned plump Gollum, but there is also Galadriel as a Face in a Lake, Legolas never speaking (why bother with him?), and Narsil being reforged in record time. Barliman Butterbur looks like the lovechild of Boris Johnson and Meat Loaf, the Shire looks decrepit, dark, and vaguely slum-like, Tom Bombadil has a greater screen presence than Gimli, Bilbo isn’t kept young by the Ring (he grows a truly impressive moustache, by the way), and most bizarrely of all… Boromir is given something resembling a Japanese samurai costume, complete with top-knotted hair. If Bakshi’s Boromir is mockable for his Viking get-up, this Boromir could pass for Kai from Lexx, complete with unsmiling demeanour.
So is Hobitit worth watching today? For sad Tolkien geeks like myself, the entire story being wrapped up in around four hours makes it a reasonable time-investment; if you actually want to see Tom Bombadil on-screen, there aren’t too many other options, and as a Finnophile, hearing Gandalf tell Frodo that he has ‘sisu’ makes me smile.
Objectively, what screws this adaptation even more than the budget is the pacing. If you include the Old Forest, but cut all the Rohan and Gondor action, you are left with a nine episode series. Bree takes up the majority of the fourth episode, and the Fellowship only leaves Rivendell in the sixth(!) episode. You can rationalise it as Old Sam’s faulty narration, but even then – Moria is surely more important to the story than the Old Forest? Couldn’t we at least see Gandalf fighting with something dark and shadowy before falling? Oh well, there’s always Boromir to laugh at, and some surprisingly catchy musical numbers.
Addendum: The series has now been scrubbed from YouTube. But see here.
Addendum II: The series has been (thankfully) restored to YouTube, albeit without subtitles: