The long-lost Lord of the Rings adaptation from Soviet Russia is a glorious fever dream


You may think you are familiar with it Under the spell of the Ring, but nothing can really prepare you for an adaptation of JRR Tolkien’s classic fantasy text, made in the Soviet Union.

The made for TV movie was first broadcast on Leningrad Television in 1991 and was believed to have been lost through time, as was first reported by The GuardianBut the station’s successor, 5TV, recently pulled a copy from the archives and uploaded the entire work to YouTube in two components

With a running time of approximately 1 hour and 50 minutes, this adaptation focuses only on the first book of Tolkein’s trilogy, The Fellowship of the Ring, and is a riot of cheap special effects, bizarre camera work and Soviet mood music.

Rather than the epic Hollywood fantasy so well captured by Peter Jackson, this adaptation feels like a weird fairytale told by a pipe-smoking madman in the woods. In other words, it captures a completely legitimate aspect of it Under the spell of the Ring, but not one we are necessarily used to.

If you don’t have time to check it all out, here are a few pick points, as conveniently identified and timestamped by YouTube user Chris Staecker in two comments

  • The opening sequenceWith music composed by Andrei Romanov of the Russian rock group Akvarium, an incredibly blurred recording of the One Ring and fragments of the Nazgûl driving through the snow.

  • Sméagol fights Déagol, claims the One Ring and turns into Gollum Before the Soviet adaptation, there is none of that “slow transformation into a hideous shadow of his former self” for Sméagol. No, he puts on the ring and suddenly he’s mister green skin sneaky hands. And why exactly in the background does the chorus go “rrrrrrr” again and again? That, my friend, is a little thing called atmosphere.

  • The hobbits went on an adventureIf this piece looks like behind-the-scenes footage of a 1990s theater troupe, that’s because it is. Where did the sledge come from? Why does that one hobbit fight over a bite of food? Who cares. Also jump forward to see them stuck in the Old Forest.

  • It’s old Tom Bombadil, that happy guy! Here he is: one of Tolkien’s strangest characters, a mysterious figure who could be god, and which was left out of Peter Jackson’s adaptation because he was foreign to the plot. He can certainly be removed from the story without much damage, but it’s still a joy to see him here with his wife Goldberry.

  • Frodo meets Aragorn at The Prancing PonyAs Staecker points out, at this point the creators have given up on making the hobbits appear smaller than the other characters. Soviet Aragorn definitely has less sexy mystique than Viggo Mortensen, but really who doesn’t.

  • The Council of ElrondIt feels more like a scene from one of Shakespeare’s historical plays than the lavish elegance of Jackson’s Rivendell, but it does the job. Jump ahead to see Saruman warn Gandalf of the arrival orc army, beautifully rendered as little guys in horned helmets wiping to nothing at the bottom of the screen.

  • Fight Orcs in MoriaOrcs here are less monstrous creatures and more just “some guys I guess.” What’s lacking in special effects more than makes up for with shaky camerawork. Jump forward to watch them cross the Bridge of Khazad-dûm, and Gandalf is dead I guess ??

  • Frodo breaks an apple in two with his hands! No, I know this scene is otherwise a bit boring and mostly about Boromir getting weird and affectionate, but the apple part is still cool. Have you ever tried this? It’s damn hard.

  • Frodo and Sam do it for themselves All others are corrupted by power: only friendship remains! I absolutely love the ending here, especially the choice of music. This is really something Under the spell of the Ring is essentially about: just guys who are guys.

And that’s it! What’s really amazing to consider is that this adaptation also aired just a decade before the first of Peter Jackson’s blockbuster trilogy. If only the Soviet Union had existed a little longer, we could have seen similar performances The two towers and The return of the king