The Stars of That Viral Soviet Lord of the Rings TV Movie Speak Out

Discover behind-the-scenes production knowledge of the wild Internet sensation.


Last month, you were probably treated to “In Soviet Russia” quips as someone uncovered a lost, live-action version of a Soviet production of The Lord of the Rings on YouTube. The TV movie aired on Leningrad TV in 1991, just months before the official collapse of the Soviet Union (coincidence we think?). Premiering as a two-part, two-hour series, the movie is called Khraniteli (The Protectors) and only covered the events of The Fellowship of the Ring. The news took the Internet by storm, and now Variety has the scoop on the making of this wild film via an interview with former cast members. 

Georgiy Shtil is an 89-year-old Russian actor who played Bilbo Baggins in the film. He’s thrilled that people are rediscovering the film, especially since they “were able to do so much with so little,” as they had a small budget with plenty of makeshift costumes and sets (which just adds to its charm in my opinion). Sergey Shelgunov, who played Merry, talks about how they used anything they could find for free, “We used everything that the TV station had to offer at the time. The backdrops, the cheap plastic props, the wigs and make-up.” 


Image via YouTube

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Additionally, Shelgunov estimates that the production only lasted about a week — so not only did the team not have any money, but they also had no time. The slapdash blocking and editing that appears in the film is due to the lack of proper rehearsals and few chances at retakes. Naturally, with so small a budget, the actors had to maintain their “day jobs,” which were mostly in the theater scene in St. Petersburg.  

And adding more setbacks to production, due to Soviet censorship of J.R.R. Tolkien’s work, the team only had an abridged translated version of The Fellowship of the Ring to work with. Therefore, they had no idea what Gollum should look like. Shelgunov said that “the director decided he should just look strange,” so they threw together a costume that actually looks pretty good if they had no previous knowledge of the character’s image. 

While Khraniteli may lack the special effects and sophistication of Peter Jackson’s trilogy, Shtil notes that this version still has a lot to offer: “Ours has professional ballerinas, and a lot of songs and poems. The foreign movie doesn’t have that.” At the end of the day, Khraniteli is a passion project for its cast and crew. Although they had little time and money, the film is still a love letter to Tolkien’s series, and a resounding call to all fanmade productions that need encouragement.

If you want a thoroughly cringe-worthy but entertaining way to spend two hours, check out Khraniteli below.

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