Arseny Bulakov, chairman of the St. Petersburg Tolkien Society, described the production as “a very enlightening artifact” of its time: “Shot in penniless times without stage sets with costumes by acquaintances – and at the same time with great respect for Tolkien and love for his world. “
Mr Bulakov said it reminded him of “the early Tolkienist years” in Russia. “Not paid for half a year, dressed in old sweaters, they got together anyway to talk about hobbits and elves, rewrite elven poems by hand and try to invent what was impossible to really know about the world.”
Tolkien’s books were hard to find in the Soviet Union for decades without an official translation of “The Hobbit” until 1976 – “with a few ideological adjustments,” according to Mark Hooker, author of “Tolkien through Russian Eyes.” But the “Rings” trilogy was “essentially banned” for decades, he said, perhaps because of its religious themes or the portrayal of various Western allies uniting against a sinister power from the East.
In 1982, an authorized and abridged translation of “Fellowship” became a bestseller, Hooker said. In the years that followed, translators began creating unofficial versions of samizdat – they translated and typed out all of the text themselves.
“Khraniteli” aired in a moment of “great systemic turmoil” as the Soviet Union was dismantled and part of the “torrent of ideas that came in to fill the vacuum,” Hooker said. “For the average Russian, the world was turned upside down.”
Irina Nazarova, an artist who saw the original show in 1991, told the BBC that, in retrospect, the “absurd costumes, a film with no direction or editing, sad make-up and acting – everything calls for a collapsing country.”
Mr. Hooker compared the production itself to a samizdat translation, “with all the rough edges”. Among them are jiggling cameras, as if the hobbits were filming their journey with a camcorder, and sudden cuts to a narrator who, when smoking a pipe or smiling softly, sometimes seems content to keep his audience in the dark.