To them, it’s called Khraniteli. To us, we’ve come to know it by the more familiar title of The Lord of the Rings. To them, it was a made-for-television Russian movie. To us, it was a multi-billion-dollar feature film franchise. But after 30 years and plenty of searching, the Soviet Union-era adaptation of the J.R.R. Tolkien’s novel was rediscovered, uploaded to stream on YouTube, and can be watched for free.
Khraniteli is the Russian 1991 made-for-TV film that is based on the first novel of Tolkien’s The Lord of the Rings trilogy, The Fellowship of the Rings. The film, which is at once cheesy, is believed to be the only J.R.R Tolkien adaptation made in the Soviet Union. Part one can be seen below.
The Russian version of The Lord of the Rings came out a good decade before Peter Jackson’s epic trilogy and the difference between the two couldn’t be starker. We can start with the costumes and sets. Whatever money was put into the Russian production would probably buy a good 30 seconds of screen time on Jackson’s first Tolkien entry. The sets look more like something that would come from a stage play. A poor one at that. Moving on to the special effects. Today’s six-year-olds could produce better on their tablets. The movie’s score was composed by Andrei Romanov, who we all know comes from the Russian rock band Akvarium and delivers a thoroughly Soviet sound to the production.
Not many knew of Khraniteli a.k.a. Russian The Lord of the Rings, which apparently was aired but one time on Soviet television before disappearing into the nether regions of Leningrad Television. So, imagine the surprise when Leningrad Television’s successor, 5TV, posted the film to YouTube last week. It comes in two parts with a total running time of nearly two hours. That equates to practically nearly two hours too much.
The novelty of the film isn’t so much what is on screen but the simple fact that a Russian version of The Lord of the Rings exists. “Fans have been searching the archives but had not able to find this film for decades,” says World of Fantasy, a Russian-language publication that has, in its past, spoken many times about the works and adaptations of J.R.R. Tolkien. One comment remarked on the posting of this film, “There should be a statue to the person who found and digitised this.” Another comment touched on the nostalgia aspect of the film by writing, “It is as absurd and monstrous as it is divine and magnificent. The opening song is especially lovely. Thanks to the one who found this rarity.” The song in question was one sang by Romanov, who offers a rough translation of Tolkien’s wonderous description of the rings of power’s origins.
During the time of the Soviet-run Leningrad Television and country, the works of Tolkien were hard to come by. Some were even convinced that stories involving elves and dwarfs, and alliances of men banding together to fight a totalitarian power had been blocked by censors. They were probably correct in that assumption. It also has been surmised by some that the intricate plots and language J.R.R. Tolkien employed in his Lord of the Rings musings were too difficult to translate into Russian, which would eventually leave Russian audiences confused as to what the hell Tolkien was rambling on about.
One notable plot difference between the Soviet version and Jackson’s masterpiece is that the Soviet film includes an appearance by forest dweller Tom Bombadil, who was cut from Jackson’s film as he was too long-winded and failed to forward the plot.
Peter Jackson’s Lord of the Rings trilogy was a massive hit in Russia when the movies premiered. The first film, The Fellowship of the Ring, brought in a little over $7 million at the Russian box office while the second film, The Two Towers, saw a modest rise bringing in $8.8 million. The third film, The Return of the King, saw the biggest jump when it hauled in $12 million. It’s nice to know the tight iron grip has been loosened, even if just a little bit.
If you understand a little Russian and wish to add some cheese with that vodka (you may need that vodka to get through it), sit a spell and check out Khraniteli. You may turn it off after the first five minutes or utter shock may keep you glued to your screen.