J.R.R. Tolkien fans across the globe encountered the seemingly impossible last month: a film version of “The Lord of the Rings” they’d never heard of. There was Gollum gargling in his cave. Except that in this version, he’s speaking Russian, sports orange eye-shadow and has what appears to be bright green cabbage leaves pasted to his head.
“Khraniteli,” or “The Protectors,” was an adaptation of “The Fellowship of the Ring” made in the Soviet Union just months before its collapse in 1991. It aired briefly as a televised children’s program before disappearing for 30 years. The two-part, two-hour-long production is enjoying newfound fame since its producer 5TV, formerly Leningrad TV, posted it online out of the blue. It has racked up a collective 2.3 million views on YouTube as a new generation revels in its accidental campiness and undeniable sincerity.
No one was more shocked that the film had resurfaced than Georgiy Shtil, the 89-year-old veteran Russian actor who plays Bilbo Baggins.
“Friends started calling me with compliments, but at first I couldn’t even recall what they were talking about. I did many films at the time that never got to see the light of day” because of the political circumstances, he said. “It was a very, very hard time when we were making the movie; people were more focused on the changes in government than any show.”
Since finding it on YouTube, Shtil has re-watched the film twice.
“We had almost no budget, no costumes, and almost no time. I was pleasantly surprised we were able to do so much with so little,” Shtil says. “Mostly, I just thought about how great it was to see everyone in the cast, and how much I miss them”.
Read more: Variety