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Published On: Thu, May 9th, 2019

‘Tolkien’ never lives up the myth or legend of a man behind ‘The Hobbit’ and the ‘LOTR’

Fox Spotlight tried to share J.R.R. Tolkien’s backstory, one of the most influential literary giants in history, with audiences in their new biopic, Tolkien. Nicholas Hoult steps into the shoes of the iconic author of The Hobbit and The Lord of the Ring franchise. Sadly, instead of engaging audiences with an interesting or fun journey, such as Shakespeare in Love or Amadeus – both Oscar winning films, Tolkien is bogged down with art house metaphors, attempting to illustrate motivations from Tolkien’s tragic childhood and traumatic experiences in World War I.

The film bounces between an ill Tolkien, battling Trench Fever, on the battlefield with flashbacks through his life: a brief account of his struggling single mom, the relocation of the family after the death of Tolkien’s father, his mother’s untimely and shocking death and then to life in an orphanage, being an outcast in his new world of affluence and opulence under his caregiver. This message is clear: John Ronald never fits in.

As his brilliance propels him forward, he overcomes strife with the other boys and forms an alliance, which he labels a “fellowship,” with three of his classmates (they call themselves T.C.B.S.).

Director Dome Karukoski frames an interesting dynamic among the boys, weaving in his love interest, Edith (later played by Lily Collins as the adult Edith), while presenting random motivations for John to create a fictional language, mythological backstories and powerful archetypes.

Nicholas Hoult in “Tolkien”

Hoult (Beast in the new X-Men films) is fantastic in the film as Tolkien is truly haunted and scarred by specific moments before being thrust into the “Great War” as he seeks to find one of his friends in the No Man’s Land. There is pretty standard time-hopping moments common in cinematic biographies, but there is very little (to no) real conflict.

Karukoski spins a beautiful film, with a great musical score, around good to great performances, but the final product is slow and tedious. The film is neither exotic enough to qualify as an art house film and it never “goes big” enough to belong on the summer movie schedule.

Tolkien is never great at anything: it’s not a war movie, it’s a romance film, it’s a pretty bland drama and it’s definitely NOT a big backstory for fans of Rings or The Hobbit. The metaphors and allegories seem so forced at times and never really add up to a reasonable or believable tale. It’s no surprise the Tolkien estate is denouncing the project (they are rather difficult to work with without a hefty check in hand), but it’s a bit hard to see Tolkien as this tortured soul.

Karukoski is a self-proclaimed fan and says he’s offered the family opportunities to screen the film in advance (which they refused), so it seems impossible to parse out the truth from creative license.

Collins told IndieWire, “Callum Tolkien, his great-grandson, plays a soldier in the trenches with Nick [Hoult], and he came to the premiere the other night. So there was a Tolkien present!”

Many critics adore the film, with mixed reviews popping up and I land in the latter.

Thomas Newman’s score is great. The costumes by Colleen Kelsall are fantastic. As I stated, I love much of the cinematography, but in the end, Tolkien just isn’t entertaining. Deaths off camera aren’t enough for an emotional connection for a payoff to explain a writer who created such a rich narrative. It comes across as a really smart guy who was writing fan fiction, creating imaginative new languages and fantastical creatures years before “his time.”

Collins is fine, but it was little more than a serviceable performance and many of the “big moments” were just too on the nose: yes, the discovering of the “fellowship,” the term hobbit, Mordor or a fire breathing dragon.

Tolkien gets 2 1/2 stars out of 5 stars

About the Author

- Writer and Co-Founder of The Global Dispatch, Brandon has been covering news, offering commentary for years, beginning professionally in 2003 on Crazed Fanboy before expanding into other blogs and sites. Appearing on several radio shows, Brandon has hosted Dispatch Radio, written his first novel (The Rise of the Templar) and completed the three years Global University program in Ministerial Studies to be a pastor. To Contact Brandon email [email protected] ATTN: BRANDON

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