Has anybody seen the 1978 animated version of The Lord of the Rings? This project might well have contributed to the books' reputation of being unfilmable. The movie starts in the Shire, heads to Rivendell, passes through Moria and gets us to Helm's Deep when... the movie ends. They ran out of money, and the project remained unfinished. You can get a full history of what happened here.
My parents showed Erin and I the movie a few weeks ago, and it was interesting comparing it to the recent feature film release, both for their similarities and their differences. Both movies decided to cut out the trip through the Old Forest, the visit to Tom Bombadil, and the fright of the Barrow Downs. In terms of paring down the plot, I can see why the movies did this, even if it does alter the story of how Frodo and his troop end up with their blades of Westernesse (the book gives these to them in the Barrow Downs, the movie has Aragorn walk up to them and say "here, take these!"). Both movies also toss Glorfindel out on his ear, showing just how useless he is as a character. Intriguingly, the animated movie subs in Legolas, while the feature film moves Arwen out of the appendix. I prefer the feature film take on this.
Then there is the death of Gandalf. The feature film, to its credit, had Enya. When the Elves at Lothlorien sing in mourning, you can tell they're mourning. The animated movie makes the singing sound like it's happening around a campfire; the elves are much too cheerful. However, although both movies realize the Balrog very well, I think the feature film makes a tactical error. If you recall, I took Martin to see the feature film; he'd never read the books before. He guessed that Gandalf would survive and show up in the second movie, because when the Balrog pulls him off the bridge at Khazad-Dum, Gandalf says the immortal words "Fly, you fools! Fly!" and lets go. I didn't realize this until Martin mentioned it. Whereas the animated short has Gandalf tangled in the Balrog's tail and falling, the Balrog is long gone in the feature film. Theoretically, it shouldn't be difficult for someone as powerful as Gandalf to get himself out of his scrape, unless the Balrog was dangling from his feet (which it wasn't).
Another thing the animated movie does well is Gollum. That creature's darn-near definitive, in my opinion, and the upcoming Two Towers is going to have to work hard to match it.
The animated movie was very 1970s in its look. There were some unintentional chuckles (NARRATOR: "Seventeen years pass in the shire" -- and the seasons go past whip!whip!whip!whip!whip!; Treebeard is also laugh-out-loud funny, and not in a good way) and it compressed the narrative even more than the feature film, but it did whet my appetite for The Two Towers. It's barely spring here, but already I'm looking forward to Christmas. When is the trailer going to be out on the Internet?
Books which were deemed unfilmable are now being filmed. The feature film trilogy has, thus far, remained absolutely true to the spirit of Tolkien. I thought Gormenghast was even less filmable, but they filmed it, filmed it well, and on a BBC budget no less. One by one, the great works of 20th century fantasy are being put to celluloid. One wonders what's next on the horizon? Will we see a seven part Narnia series in theatres before the end of the decade? I think they can do it.