Soviet Russia made a Lord of The Rings movie? (хранители – Khraniteli)
I love Lord of The Rings! And not just the Peter Jackson films, but also the more niche and obscure like Ralph Bakshi’s Lord of the Rings and the Rankin Bass Middle Earth Movies. So imagine my surprise when I found out that not only was there a Lord of the Rings adaptation that I had not watched before but that it was also made in Soviet-era Russia! Officially titled Хранители (Or rather Khraniteli – translated to The Keepers) – But basically known as the Russian Lord of the Rings – this incredibly unique adaptation of Tolkien’s iconic novel. In the article, I will break down the Development, Reception, and Story of Khraniteli – The Keepers of the Ring!
You can read the full history below.
Soviet Russia made a Lord of The Rings movie?
Soviet Russia made a Lord of The Rings movie? (хранители – Khraniteli)
Do you know what I love? The Lord of the Rings. And not just the Peter Jackson portrayals, but even the more niche and ludicrous depictions. In fact, I currently have 6 different videos on my channel talking about the different middle earth movies throughout the years… So imagine my surprise when I discovered that not only were there more Middle Earth films that I hadn’t watched, but that they were made in 1991 in Soviet Russia! My mind exploded! How did I not know about this? Well now I do, I watched the films and did as much research as I can so that you too, may know more about these incredibly obscure and honestly trippy films capturing the world of Middle Earth and the Fellowship of the ring.
So, before we start, researching this was unbelievably difficult, because much like the film itself – everything was in RUSSIAN! Yes, believe it or not, the soviet Lord Of The Rings was spoken 100% in Russian. And the title of the film is not what you would expect. The two-part movie series was not titled The Lord Of The Rings but actually “Khraniteli” which directly translated was Keepers – So to extend the title it would be The Keepers of The Ring… But yes, let’s break down the history, production, reception, and story of Khraniteli.
So Khraniteli (Which I will just call Keepers from now on) is a live-action adaptation of The Fellowship Of The Ring. It was made on an incredibly low budget by Leningrad Television and was aired in the final days of the Soviet Union in 1991. And that to me is the craziest thing… A Soviet version of the Lord of the Rings… A story that many thoughts were so complex that it could never be made. We saw how Bakshi attempted with his adaptation (I have covered his film in another video) so to learn that there was another version before Peter Jackson finally took the reigns blew my mind.
A big part of the mystic of the film was that the films were actually believed to be lost forever. Only being rediscovered in 2021 after being uploaded to YouTube by Channel 5 – Leningards successors.
Imagine that… A movie thought lost for 30 years, only being discovered by fans because it was uploaded to YouTube.
The film had a score composed by Andrei “Dyusha” Romanov of the Russian rock band Akvarium. And that is one thing you will notice very quickly about this film… An incredibly alternative take of the musical elements. There are so many scenes where the soundtrack just doesn’t match the actions on screen.
The film was also adapted by the 1982 Russian translation of Tolkien’s book by Vladimir Muravyov and Andrey Kistyakovsky. What is so great is that you can actually tell that the filmmakers genuinely tried their best to accurately adapt the dialogue and text of the novel – Something I cannot say about the production of the sets and costumes of the characters.
When it comes to the production of the film itself – It really was a wild ride. Sergey Shelgunov, who played Merry Brandybuck said that the entire shoot for both parts took only 9 hours and was shot in under a week… and honestly, it shows. I wouldn’t be surprised if every single shot used in the film was simply the first take with no reshoots. Technically speaking – I have never witnessed any other film or series be filmed in this particular way. In many ways, it feels like it was filmed exactly like a home video with a serious lack of planning and finesse. There are multiple shots that are out of focus and the audio varies in volume throughout the films, with some characters barely being audible in some scenes. There is also an effect that the filmmakers and cinematographers used that was clearly used to add a sense of mysticism and fantasy to the film. This soft-focus effect often felt like gel had just been smeared over the camera lens and more often than not, simply distracted from the actions on screen. The blur became overpowering and simply blocked the visuals of the viewer. It made the film incredibly difficult to watch as details and entire characters were often blocked from view.
The blurs and out-of-focus shots are only the tip of the iceberg when it comes to absurd decisions that affected the cinematography. Drops in frame rates, incredibly shaky cam, and an overabundance of zooming in and out for no particular reason make the viewing experience rather difficult at times… Random cuts to character reactions and shots that serve no narrative purpose all add to this amateurish feeling.
At many times the film can feel a lot more like a theatrical production than an actual movie. This can be attributed to both the set design, direction, and the performers. The set for most scenes is limited to a simple set with a few props much like a theatre production – Or we get the characters etched out and on a generated background… The effect really doesn’t look good and often removes any immersion from the scene. Characters also often have a dialogue with one another, but rather than interacting with one another, or even looking at one another – Rather they are both facing the camera, and speaking their dialogue to the audience… Much like stage actors.
This film also made the rather unique in the decision to cast a woman in the role of Legolas, and to this day is the only occurrence of this happening. The actress who played Legolas was Olga Serebryakova, daughter of director Natalya Serebryakova.
The biggest accomplishment of this film in my opinion – Is something that neither Ralph Bakshi nor even Peter Jackson were able to accomplish in their films… That is the inclusion of the character Tom Bombadil. I legitimately freaked out when I saw him on screen! For those that are unaware, Tom Bombadil is an incredibly powerful character that is shrouded in mystery. He assists Frodo and the hobbits on their journey – but besides this adaptation has been neglected in all other adaptations.
The Keepers was aired in 1991, 10 years before Peter Jacksons’ first installment was released. The film was also made with a notoriously low budget, which was a common occurrence for films during this era and in this region.
So let’s break down the story of The Keepers in all its corny (Both intentional and unintentional) glory.
(хранители – Khraniteli) – Part 1
Part one starts with probably the most tasteful segment of the films. We are introduced by a closeup of the One Ring and what I can only describe as a ghostly chorus singing a sequence we are all too familiar with.
“Three Rings for the Elven-kings under the sky,
Seven for the Dwarf-lords in their halls of stone,
Nine for Mortal Men doomed to die”
But the melody quickly changes and we are face to face with the man who will be our narrator throughout the films. Followed by the title sequence and opening credits. But I just really want to expose the rather weird editing choices here. We have constantly been shown shots of the narrator smoking, but he hasn’t said anything yet. We have no context as to who he is. We also get cuts of the hobbits walking through the snow (But chronologically they are still in the shire and are unaware of the ring’s existence). We also get shots of the 9 black riders – But we only see three of them. We are also shown shots of a fire and a random woman who we never see again. All these shots are played after one another, with the same song as before. The visuals and melody don’t work together to tell a story that the viewer can understand as no context is given…. Honestly, you could cut the first 3 minutes of the film and you would not miss anything of worth.
But back to the story! Our narrator introduces us to Hobbits and their home the shire. We are introduced to Bilbo Baggins and are informed that he is celebrating his 111th birthday! Gandalf the Wizard then joins the party and celebration, entertaining the crowd with a fireworks show. The hobbits enjoy their feast as Gandalf and Bilbo retire inside. Here we learn about the ring of Power as well as Bilbo wanting to leave the Shire and leave all his belongings to Frodo. While Bilbo wants to keep the ring for himself, Gandalf is able to use his powers to intimidate Bilbo into leaving the Ring for Frodo.
I would like to point out, that if you are a fan of magic… Then you will be bitterly disappointed by this film’s depiction of it. While the Peter Jackson films may not have been magical showcases, when we saw Gandalfs power, it was something to behold. In this film, it is hard to even comprehend what is happening when magic is being displayed on the screen. Whether this is because of limitations in technology, or direction – Magic is often a cause of confusion for the viewer and one of the more ludicrous viewing experiences.
But ultimately, Bilbo agrees to leave the ring behind with Frodo. Bilbo then returns to the party, gets the attention of the party members, and calls Frodo forward… Yes… Frodo wears a Polka Dot bowtie in this rendition – But bilbo announces that he is handling the estate of Bagend over to Frodo before placing the one ring on his finger and surprising the audience as he disappears.
As Bilbo walks away, Gandalf confronts him and retrieves the ring from him… But here I have to ask. We can see the actors have been superimposed onto a background – but why? The actors have parts of the body clipped out, and the feather is incredibly harsh. I do not understand why scenes like this could not just be performed in front of a painted backdrop, especially when the background is blurred out anyway.
Gandalf takes the ring and begins conversing with Frodo. The two discuss Bilbo, the estate, and of course – The one ring. Gandalf reveals the power and evil of the ring, and that Frodo will have to destroy it! While Frodo carves a pointed stick – Gandalf describes the history of Gollum and his relationship with the ring, and again we see the terrible superimposing of characters on a screen. Again this could’ve just been a green painted backdrop, and it probably would’ve looked better. We also get a massive frame rate drop, and I can not tell if this was done intentionally or not – It may have been done to portray the emotional state of Smeagol in this scene (Which I doubt) But honestly – more likely it was due to the dim lighting. After the transformation of Smeagol to Gollum has been completed, Gandalf tells Frodo to take Sam, Mary, and Pippin and begin his journey to destroy the ring.
We then cut to the four hobbits beginning their journey, and while we know the names of the hobbits, we are not actually introduced to them, so we don’t know who is who. We are just watching Frodo with 3 other hobbits walking around. But thankfully, they seem to be color-coded – So just remember that one is red, followed by a green, yellow, and brown hobbit. This was how I told the difference between the hobbits until later in the movie when I learned their names.
After the hobbits have been wandering through the snow they have their first interaction with the forces of Sauron as the black riders ride past them. I think this is a great scene to really compare the three renditions of the lord of the rings. First, we have the iconic Peter Jackson scene as the hobbits cower under the roots of a tree as a Nazgul stalks them – Before that, we had a similar scene from Ralph Bakshi with a more decrepit Nazgul – But in The Keepers, the black riders simply ride past, unaware of the hobbits as they simply crunch behind a pile of snow… I think these scenes accurately display the different styles and moods each film was trying to produce.
After the hobbits evade the Nazgul, they enter an inn and have a brief break from the cold of the winter outside. But ultimately the following scene holds no significance over the rest of the story, and if you removed it, it would not impact the story in any way. So I am going to skip right through it and move on.
The hobbits are once again wandering through the snow until they find themselves in a dark forest. They realize a curse has been cast upon them as they begin to fall into a magical sleep. We then witness arguably the most horrifying display ever captured on camera… The most horrifying yet confusing display… Frodo is then woken up as Merry’s foot brushes against his face as he gets swallowed by the forest. The free trio of hobbits attempts to save Merry to no avail as Frodo begins to hear music!
Then the unthinkable happens! We get the on-screen debut of the mystical Tom Bombadil! When I say I lept from my seat at the sight of this man due to pure excitement I am not exaggerating! This small production was able to include a character that evaded both Jackson and Bakshi and couldn’t have been a bigger surprise to me!
When it comes to Tom Bombadil we see arguably the best effects used in these films. Bombadil towers over the hobbits like a giant, and the way the team behind these films was able to illustrate that really took some creativity. By simply splicing two different shots together, the editors were able to increase the scale of Bombadil to make him appear larger. This effect is later used with marigold as well. The only issue with this effect is that the actors obviously had no idea where to look and this becomes increasingly identifiable during dialogue sequences.
Tom then sings a melody that helps free Mary and he invites the hobbits to join him and his wife for supper. And during this dinner sequence, we once again see the effects of scaling in work, with a few clipping issues. This is probably the most enjoyable sequence for me as all the different elements just seem to work so well together. The music which has felt predominantly tacky throughout the film feels homely in this scene, the subtle blur of the lens creates a feeling of warmth when mixed with the visible orange lighting. The placement of the actors also creates a feeling of intimacy and helps paint Bombadil and Marigold in a true hospital and kind light. It is honestly, a really well-made scene that I really enjoy watching.
After a good night’s sleep marigold sends the hobbits on their way as they journey back into the frozen landscape. But just before Part one comes to an end, we get a quick cut to the narrator, followed by a skull and a woman with her face painted white. We then see Frodo is alone and separated from the group yelling for help… Before the credits roll.
And that is the end of part 1!
(хранители – Khraniteli) – Part 2
Part 2 begins with Frodo stumbling through what appears to be a cemetery. The rest of the hobbits seem to be scattered around this location as well. The hobbits then begin to be taunted by a barrow wight – A wraith-like creature who laughs at the situation the hobbits have become entrapped in. Frodo then begins calling Tom Bombadil for help – And the mystical merry man appears to save them and send them on their way.
The narrator then informs us that the hobbits are growing bolder and braver throughout their journey and that they will soon arrive at a bar where they can rest for a while. Now the hobbits are supposed to be keeping a low profile, Gandalf even informed Frodo to use the name Underhill, but what do you think he does? He becomes drunk and disturbs the canteen through song and dance, alerting everyone to his presence.
After his escapades, he realizes the attention he has drawn and puts on the ring to disappear. When he removes the ring he reappears infront of a hooded individual who begins conversing with Frodo and seems to know more than we think. The three hobbits then retire to their room for the night expecting to get a good night’s rest but find the exact opposite. The hooded man and barkeep join the hobbits and inform them of the black riders. Here we also learn the identity of the hooded man – Aragorn! He removes his hood and boldly proclaims his name… ANd I have to say… This is by far the scrawniest depiction of the future king we have ever seen. The Hobbits and Aragorn then agree to form a pact and leave the tavern to avoid the black riders.
After a brief montage of the black riders on Horseback, we get a harsh cut to Frodo surrounded by clouds, lightning, and the black riders! Frodo then cries out in rebellion as he attempts to defend himself only to be struck down by the enemy’s blade.
Frodo then awakens in the house of Rivendell with the familiar face of Gandalf waiting to greet him. The two then converse and discuss their journeys before Sam walks into the room and is overjoyed with Frodos recovery. After the trio leaves and has a brief interaction with Merry and Pippin we have a heartwarming scene as Frodo is reunited with his uncle Bilbo. The two actors give genuine performances and seem overjoyed to actually be together again.
A council is then held to attempt to stop the darkness from spreading through middle earth. During this council, Frodo displays the ring for all to see, and we get a look at how Bilbo is still obsessed and warped by its evil but ultimately overcomes it. Gandalf then tells the council of his journey to discuss events with Saruman the White – Dressed head to toe in black and gold. Gandalf tries to recruit Saruman to the cause of righteousness but he refuses! He proclaims that the ring will be his own during a monologue where orcs appear on-screen swinging their swords through the air. Saruman then traps Gandalf who is only able to escape because of the magical eagles who always arrive just in the nick of time! The council is shocked to learn that Saruman is a traitor but quickly accepts it as fact.
The fellowship of the ring is then founded as the group of Frodo, Sam, Mary, Pippin, Gandalf, and Aragorn are joined by Boromir, Gimli, and Legolas – Who is portrayed by a woman in this film. These 9 are selected to act as the opposites of the 9 black riders and return peace to middle earth.
The fellowship heads off, and after a brief discussion about their whereabouts and plans they are attacked by wargs – and we get one of the most baffling chase sequences I have seen for a while. The fellowship pulls out their choice of weapons – namely cardboard sword with tinfoil as the camera begins to shake violently as it zooms towards our heroes. The wargs then appear onscreen and the framerate takes a massive drop as the fellowship attempt to escape.
After an unexplained cut to the black riders, the fellowship finds themselves within the mines of moria having escaped their pursuers. We then get the most indescribable scene in movie history! Frodo runs to the front of the group, promptly yells “For the Shire” Then falls down a chasm… I just… It is completely illogical! Frodo rushes in front of the group, and doesn’t notice the massive gap in front of him? After he Pippin then rushes to his aid, scolding Frodo for not paying attention… Only to fall down himself… They aren’t pushed, the surface isn’t slippery… they just fall! It’s really not difficult to not fall… Here is my fiancee on the edge of a cliff face… not falling. And the hobbits over the top reactions are just too much!
Aragorn then climbs down after them to help… but falls as well! After a reactionary cut to Legolas, we see Aragorn back on the rope, and then back on top, everyone emerges unscathed. Truly a ludicrous and indescribable scene.
The fellowship is then once again attacked by Orcs. This action set-piece consists primarily of a low framerate with awkward close-ups… Gandalf becomes surrounded by the enemy as the rest of the fellowship attempts to escape. During this getaway, we get an incredibly awkward unengaging sequence of Aragorn trying to cross over a thin bridge. The scene is far too long, with far too little happening. Together with some terrible special effects, you are in for a boring time.
But after crossing the bridge, the fellowship realizes that Gandalf is missing… And that is when my heart shattered… Is that the end of Gandalf the Grey? No Balrog? No valiant final stand? No “You can not pass?”… I can’t believe one of the most iconic parts of the novel was ignored… I understand not including the balrog, but a scene of Gandalf standing in front of a group of orcs proclaiming his defiance with a cut to black could’ve been just as effective.
The fellowship then finds itself in Lothlorien, surrounded by beautiful elves. This is one of the prettier scenes in the movie and does a great job to try to capture the essence of the novel. The fellowship is then introduced to Lady Galadriel who monologues about the nature of Good and Evil. After this monologue, she engages in dialogue with Frodo which Frodo offers her one ring and she declines.
After this scene, we get the confrontation between Frodo and Boromir. Which happens so much sooner in this film than in the novel and every other adaptation. This scene has always been incredibly tense in every adaptation, but here… the direction and acting are all handled so incredibly weirdly. The actors seem a little confused as they bounce between aggressive, accusational, scared, and emotional – And rather than talking to one another, they both face the camera as they share dialogue. But what is more confusing than anything is the conclusion of this scene where Frodo simply walks away… That’s it. Boromir doesn’t even attempt to stop him…
But as Frodo walks away attempting to complete the quest alone, he is joined by his loyal friend Sam and the two walk off together. And that was the end of the film… No narrator, no explanation as to what will happen next, just the end credits.
And that my friends were The Keepers or “Khraniteli” – or the Russian version of the lord of the rings in all its weird, wacky, and absolutely wonderful uniqueness. Watching this was truly an enlightening experience, because, even with all the technical and narrative flaws there is one thing that shone through! – Passion! This crew was clearly passionate about this project and just wanted to create something that fans of Tolkien could enjoy. And isn’t that what we want most out of our cinematic journeys? To be entertained and find a story we enjoy?