Khraniteli (1991)

dir. Natalya Serebryakova

This Soviet-era adaptation of Tolkien’s The Lord of the Rings: The Fellowship of the Ring aired on Soviet television once. Just once. Then it was considered lost, until almost thirty years later, when it was rediscovered and posted on YouTube for all the world to enjoy. With the caveat that the production is in Russian with no currently existing foreign language subtitles, it is fair to say that even notwithstanding the language barrier for non-Russian speakers, Khraniteli is pretty much an insane fever dream that makes no sense. Sure, a viewer acquainted with the story beats of Fellowship can just about work out what’s supposed to be going on. There’s Bilbo’s birthday party; there’s Tom Bombadil; there’s a Barrow-wight; there’s Bree; there’s Aragorn; there’s Rivendell; there’s Saruman; there’s Moria; there’s Lothlórien. And yet, alongside this reasonably faithful adaptation come so, so, so many baffled questions that it’s difficult to keep track. Why are everyone’s wigs and fake Hobbit feet so disconcertingly dishevelled? Why does Gandalf look less like a mighty wizard and more like the Burger King mascot? Is there a reason Tom Bombadil and Goldleaf have been superimposed to be about ten times the size of the Hobbits? Why does the Barrow-wight look like Harley Quinn went on a bender after failing her audition for clown college? How come Legolas is played, quite obviously, by a woman, and thus never allowed to speak? Any reason that the scene of the eagles rescuing Gandalf utilises a horrifying bug-eyed bird prop slowly looming towards the screen? What’s with Gollum’s giddy dancing? And why, why, why is the entire thing punctuated by appearances from a pipe-smoking narrator, who sometimes pops in to deliver narrative, but many other times is simply captured staring silently into the camera for a few seconds before the movie resumes? Whether or not the audience speaks Russian, Kraniteli is a joyful low-budget mess clearly put together by someone who adores The Lord of the Rings, even if they don’t seem to have particularly understood it.

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