I Watched That 1991 Soviet Russia Version Of Lord Of The Rings & Must Now Ask: What The Fuck

soviet russia lord of the rings youtube

After 30 years of being lost to the sands of time and ghosts of VHS machines past, it was revealed this week that a Soviet-era Russian adaptation of J.R.R. Tolkein‘s Lord Of The Rings was rediscovered and uploaded to YouTube.

A 1991 version of Frodo taking the ring to Mordor to yeet it into the lava that pre-dates Peter Jackson‘s cinematic masterpiece? Naturally, I had to experience it, if only to ask one question: what the fuck did I just watch?

Clocking up over a million views in under two weeks, Khraniteli, which directly translates to ‘keepers’ was a straight-to-video adaptation of Tolkein’s 1954 book, The Fellowship Of The Ring. It’s as utterly batshit as you can imagine it would be coming from a country that’s on the brink of a full political collapse.

Here’s Part 1, which I spent a lovely morning watching this week, by which I mean I laid on my bed, turned on the utterly pointless auto-generated captions, and tried to figure out what in ever-loving fuck was going on. Namely, why the hell was the dancing scene at Bilbo Baggins’ 111th birthday so fucking drawn out?

Much like the first film in the film series that propelled New Zealand to the forefront of ‘top tourist spots’ for Tolkein stans, the Russian precursor feels like it goes absolutely nowhere for the first half-hour at least. We meet Bilbo – who’s got the most heinous glued-on mutton chops – at his birthday celebrations, where he decides to pack it in and hand things over to his nephew, Frodo Baggins.

Gandalf shows up to celebrate Bilbo’s birthday, but with the ulterior motive to swindle Bilbo into coughing up the ring to Frodo so he can get rid of it or whatever. (Look, it’s been a while since I watched the Elijah Wood version, too.)

After the festivities, we’re also introduced to Smeagol/Gollum when Gandalf regales Frodo with the story of how the ring came to be in that wretched little gremlin’s possession.

A couple of things here: firstly, even for 1991 the production is bad. Surely, the film crew probably pulled this together on the cheap because I’m sure the arts weren’t a big priority when Gorbachev was watching the wider Soviet Union fall to bits. But my God, it’s like an over-exposed fever dream.

Secondly, I’m really not sure why the fuck Hobbits dance so much, or why that particular scene at Bilbo’s party needed to go for a solid 15 minutes. What purpose does that serve, beyond showing off that Bilbo was a popular bitch who basically had to be magically manipulated by Gandalf to hand over the ring?

Thirdly, what in all Hobbiton is going on with Gollum and why does he look like a cursed head of iceberg lettuce?

russian lord of the rings youtube
In Soviet Russia, the precious wears you.

If the absolutely heinous and borderline nonsensical auto-captions are to be believed, Gollum also calls the ring “my darling” in place of the later-iconic “my precious”, which I kinda love. It’s his beloved magic gold ring! The growling lettuce boy adores it with all his greedy little green heart!!

The film’s setting switches drastically from indoor (?) sets – which look more like a rock eisteddfod’s backdrop than a fully-fledged sound stage – to the harsh white of snow-blanketed outside to mark the travel of the Hobbits and the Nazgûl/Black Riders.

It’s essentially what I assumed the whole of Russia looked like at all times during its time in the Soviet Union; nothing but a desolate, unforgiving wasteland that’s as good on the eyes as looking at a piece of blank paper in the sun.

soviet russia lord of the rings youtube
Plenty of whatever this is.

Towards the close of the first chapter (and the beauty of YouTube is that the intermission between acts is as long as you like, say…forever?) we actually meet two characters that are rudely omitted by Peter Jackson in the 2001 edition. The Russian run at the epic fantasy includes the small plotline of Tom Bombadil and his wife Goldberry, who the Hobbits come across deep in the Old Forest.

From what I could gather from the really fucking terrible captions (I cannot stress how bad they are), the elusive Bombadil actually tells Frodo that there’s a power greater than what the ring possesses and that he can destroy the ring by going as far west as possible, or something.

They have dinner together and go to bed, and the shot perspective (and more excellently shitty green screen work) makes the Hobbits look about 30cm tall beside Bombadil and Goldberry.

soviet russia lord of the rings youtube
Tiny little men! Titchy, tiny little men!!

Look, that’s pretty much it for the first half, and that’s already 50 minutes of your life gone to something that’s very quaint, deeply cursed, and plain terrible all at the same time.

Will I watch Part 2 of the Russian Lord Of The Rings? Well yeah, I gotta see how this turns out for the crappily-costumed Hobbits and whether Lettuce Gollum comes back again.