The Hobbit: Soviet adaption of Tolkien’s book

A footage from the Soviet version of "The Hobbit" adapted for the screen - "The Fairytale Journey of Mr. Bilbo Baggins the Hobbit.” Source: Kinopoisk.ru

A footage from the Soviet version of "The Hobbit" adapted for the screen - "The Fairytale Journey of Mr. Bilbo Baggins the Hobbit.” Source: Kinopoisk.ru

While Peter Jackson’s "Hobbit" is currently shown in Russian cinemas, RBTH introduces a Soviet adaptation of John Tolkien’s iconic book that came out in 1985.

The first real attempt to turn Professor Tolkien’s book into a film took place in St. Petersburg Studios, with a budget that ran not even close into the millions. Russia Beyond the Headlines takes a closer look at Bilbo Baggins’ film journey.

As the third part of the epic film adaptation of Tolkien’s “The Lord of the Rings” appeared in cinemas at the end of 2003, with box-office takings surpassing those of both its predecessors, it appeared to be only a matter of time before the same team would bring the prequel to the big screen.

Tolkien wrote the story of how the Ring of Power came into the hands of Frodo’s uncle Bilbo in 1937. Now, 75 years later, “The Hobbit” is being retold in three films. The total budget for the films is around $500 million; this is how much it will cost to transport moviegoers to Middle Earth over one-and-a-half years.

But this is not the first time the book has been adapted for the big screen. Back in 1977, the U.S. studio Rankin/Bass produced a 77-minute children’s cartoon for NBC. Furthermore, Peter Jackson’s über-successful Hollywood offering is by no means the first film adaptation to use “real actors.”

Filming for Leningrad Television

St. Petersburg residents have long since known what has remained a secret from the rest of Europe: in 1985, director Vladimir Latyshev adapted Tolkien’s book for Leningrad Television, under the title “The Fairytale Journey of Mr. Bilbo Baggins the Hobbit.” Back then, the crew had neither the budget nor the equipment that the New Zealand filmmaker has.

Source: medsss1 / Youtube.

They had to come up with some creative ideas in order to be able to present the epic range of the book in film. Issues regarding rights were apparently also left open; Zinovy Gerdt thus narrated “his” story, without ever introducing anyone as “Tolkien.”

The carved pictures of the old professor in his rocking chair allows for generous leaps in the action, without the danger of viewers losing the thread. Thus, the chapter on the meeting of the trolls and the wood elves were omitted. Neither Elrond, the leader of the elves, nor Beorn appeared.

The hobbits as well, as the dwarfs, were played by normal-sized people who had to be shown in the studio from comparative camera positions, since the painted or video-composed backdrops only allowed for a limited change in perspective.

Smaug the dragon and the spiders in Mirkwood were puppets. Gollum and the orcs were played by human performers, with relatively little makeup and without prosthetics. The dialogue was, however, kept very close to the original text.

The music plays a similarly significant role as it does in the book. The dwarves’ songs were performed in several voices, and the orcs’ dance (when they took the dwarves captive in the mountain) was professionally choreographed.

It would be unrealistic to expect the 75-minute adventure to captivate today’s viewers the way Peter Jackson’s films do. It is, however, in its own way, partially responsible for the growth in popularity of the fantastic world of Tolkien behind the Iron Curtain.


The Film

Title: “The Hobbit” (Сказочное путешествие мистера Бильбо Беггинса Хоббита)

Production: Soviet Union, 1985

Running time: Approx. 74 minutes

Starring: Zinovy Gerdt as the “Professor,” Mikhail Danilov as Bilbo, Anatoly Ravikovich as Thorin Oakenshield and Igor Dimitriev as Gollum.

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