TOLKIEN: Out of necessity, the existence of a writer is one of solitude so it’s more than foreseeable that movies about that particular creative process have the potential to be as absorbing as watching someone fix your plumbing. It’s one of several primary defects inherent in this cinematic backstory of J.R.R. Tolkien’s (Nicholas Hoult) formative years before becoming an Oxford professor who authored the literary classics THE HOBBIT and THE LORD OF THE RINGS trilogy. Stephen Beresford and David Gleeson’s screenplay alternates back and forth between the titular character’s education as an orphan ward of the church attending a posh British boarding school to his time as a soldier experiencing the carnage of trench warfare at the battle of the Somme in World War I. Both storylines are fairly shallow and woefully lacking in any meaningful depth and even the combat sequences, for their depicted chaos, have a sanitized feel about them when realism would have been called for. What’s more, Tolkien’s combat related delusions of fire-breathing dragons feel more like the inspiration for an episode of GAME OF THRONES. It’s a case of two intertwined plots that are never really developed in such a way that would give us any indication of how the film’s subject was able to possess the kind of fertile imagination required to create all the fantasy worlds that he penned. We do get a few personal glimpses into his life with his courtship of Edith Bratt (Lily Collins) who would become his wife. But even this somewhat tantalizing subplot leads to frustration when it turns out to be as episodic as the remainder of the narratives. No doubt that this is a pretty movie to look at and admire with the sweeping vistas of the bright green English countryside, courtesy of cinematographer Lasse Frank Johannessen, which was surely the inspiration for Middle Earth. Thomas Newman’s musical score is subtle but inviting and the art direction along with the production design accurately mirror England in the early 20th century. But a work whose focus is on a master storyteller and whose weakness lies in how it tells his particular story is fatally flawed to say the least. CRITIC’S GRADE: C
CLOSING CREDITS: Because of the voluminous nature of the literary works, THE LORD OF THE RINGS trilogy was thought for almost half a century to be unmakeable as a movie. But in 1999, New Line Cinema picked up the rights to the books and took an enormous gamble by “ponying up” three hundred million dollars to produce the movies in three installments in the same fashion as the volume trilogy. The risk here was that if the first movie “bombed” at the box office that New Line Cinema would then be stuck with two movies with enormous budgets and production costs that no one wanted to see. Enter director/writer Peter Jackson (HEAVENLY BODIES) who was a huge fan of Tolkien’s works and who brought his own unique vision of the literature that would fall in line with aficionados of the books. Jackson co-wrote the screenplay to all three films with off-screen partner Philippa Boyens and Fran Walsh. Fortunately, THE LORD OF THE RINGS: THE FELLOWSHIP OF THE RING (2001) proved to be wildly popular with both people who were fans of the trilogy and those who had never read a word of them. Overall, the three movies won seventeen Academy Awards, including Best Picture for THE RETURN OF THE KING (2003), and grossed almost three billion dollars internationally in box office grosses.