Tolkien (as in the "bio" movie)

What do you think of Tolkien on the silver screen...? Whether Bakshi, Jackson, Amazon, BBC radio play, or whoever else, come on in and discuss your reflections, opinions, and memories...

Tolkien (as in the "bio" movie)

Postby Elmtree » Mon Feb 25, 2019 7:59 am

Just saw the trailer for the "bio" movie on Tolkien. Parts look very good but I feel like, as with most things, this could be very good or very bad. I suppose I should go into it with diminished hopes and maybe I'll be pleasantly surprised. I was surprised to find no thread on it here already (I could have missed it but I looked back a bit).

Has anyone else seen the trailer? Thoughts?
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Re: Tolkien (as in the "bio" movie)

Postby Thor 'n' Oakenshield » Tue Feb 26, 2019 8:14 am

I've seen the trailer: I'm very conflicted. On the one hand, I want to like it, and just roll with it, but on the other hand...I'm very confused as to why this movie seems to be completely skipping a large piece of Tolkien's life (i.e The Silmarillion) in favor of the Lord of the Rings. They've cast somebody as Gandalf, they've cast someone to play a character named Sam, they've got references to LOTR everywhere in that teaser trailer - from the Balrog in the explosion to the ring forming the letter O in Tolkien. So, yeah, I'm conflicted. I also have never much liked Nicholas Hoult, so having him play my hero is - well, unsatisfactory.
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Re: Tolkien (as in the "bio" movie)

Postby Denethor » Tue Feb 26, 2019 9:42 pm

Thor 'n' Oakenshield wrote:I've seen the trailer: I'm very conflicted. On the one hand, I want to like it, and just roll with it, but on the other hand...I'm very confused as to why this movie seems to be completely skipping a large piece of Tolkien's life (i.e The Silmarillion) in favor of the Lord of the Rings. They've cast somebody as Gandalf, they've cast someone to play a character named Sam, they've got references to LOTR everywhere in that teaser trailer - from the Balrog in the explosion to the ring forming the letter O in Tolkien. So, yeah, I'm conflicted. I also have never much liked Nicholas Hoult, so having him play my hero is - well, unsatisfactory.


Most of the audience will have read The Lord of the Rings. Fewer people have read The Silmarillion. It's more pragmatic.

(I really like the Edith dancing bit).
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Re: Tolkien (as in the "bio" movie)

Postby Thor 'n' Oakenshield » Fri Mar 01, 2019 9:25 am

Denethor wrote:
Most of the audience will have read The Lord of the Rings. Fewer people have read The Silmarillion. It's more pragmatic.

(I really like the Edith dancing bit).


I know that - but still, as the Silmarillion was more important to Tolkien's own life, and since this film takes place at the time that he was writing the Silmarillion, I feel that should have been the focus. Just my opinion.
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Re: Tolkien (as in the "bio" movie)

Postby Denethor » Sat Mar 02, 2019 1:23 am

Thor 'n' Oakenshield wrote:I know that - but still, as the Silmarillion was more important to Tolkien's own life, and since this film takes place at the time that he was writing the Silmarillion, I feel that should have been the focus. Just my opinion.


Tolkien's biggest influences were him sitting around, reading Kalevala, the Eddas, the Sagas, Beowulf, and so on, plus his devout Catholic faith - but the movie is clearly going to play up his experiences in the First World War, because it is more cinematic. Same with the focus on The Lord of the Rings, rather than The Silmarillion - Tolkien is best known among the general public as the guy who wrote Rings, and if they're going to see a bio-pic, they'll be more interested in how he came to write that, rather than his other material. This isn't simply a biography - it's a dramatised story, and the rules of drama apply. To succeed, the film needs to connect with the audience, and interest them, even if it takes liberties with Tolkien's own life.

(Also, rather than compartmentalising The Silmarillion and The Lord of the Rings as separate works, I'd imagine the movie might fudge things. Basically treat it as a general fictional mythology, apart from the later addition of the hobbits).
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Re: Tolkien (as in the "bio" movie)

Postby Otaku-sempai » Tue Apr 02, 2019 7:54 pm

The Comics Beat's Heidi MacDonald and Rosie Knight talk about their experiences at WonderCon in this video. They begin discussing the Tolkien panel at about the 5:55 mark.
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Re: Tolkien (as in the "bio" movie)

Postby Thor 'n' Oakenshield » Mon Apr 08, 2019 11:31 am

Empire released a clip of Tolkien - a scene where Edith and Tolkien are discussing languages and unusual words. Looks quite good.

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=7Aeh-Ml-5tU&t=24s
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Re: Tolkien (as in the "bio" movie)

Postby Denethor » Tue Jun 25, 2019 6:56 pm

My review: https://phuulishfellow.wordpress.com/2019/06/26/review-tolkien-film-2019/

So… I went to see the Tolkien biopic yesterday evening. Yes, it’s belated, but then the film only came out in New Zealand on 6th June (a month behind everyone else), and the screening times were decidedly inconvenient. Would it have killed Dunedin cinemas to show it at night or on Sundays? As it was, I ended up going by myself – inconvenient time for friends – and the theatre was choc-full of old people. Make of that what you will.

The Tolkien biopic seems to have been dividing opinions. The actual critics have been, well, critical, with accusations of it being unimaginative, and suggestions that the fantasy elements are a bit on-the-nose. The audiences themselves, however, genuinely seem to like it. This was borne out anecdotally: as I was leaving the theatre, I heard several of my fellow audience members expressing sentiments that “they’d really enjoyed that,” and that it was “definitely worthwhile.” One of the few non-elderly people – he had a hat and a beard – was remarking that it would only have made sense to someone familiar with The Lord of the Rings. Well, yes. Why else would someone watch a Tolkien biopic? For the Beowulf scholarship?

Myself… I’ll confess. I did enjoy it. It’s far from perfect – we’ll get to that – and I kept comparing events to what I remembered of Tolkien’s early life from Carpenter’s biography, and from the man’s own letters. But here’s the thing – is the primary job of a biopic to be a biography or a film? A portrait of the artist (as a young man!) or a dramatised fiction inspired by the author’s life? In a strange way, I found myself reliving the Purist vs Revisionist argument all over again. While, again, I am at heart a Revisionist – what matters is the quality of the movie – it occurred to me that there is even a ‘B-52 over Mordor’ red-line to be drawn here. Would I have accepted a movie (even a very good movie) that had Tolkien as, say, Jack the Ripper? Well, no. I wouldn’t have. Details and accuracy still matter, at least to some degree, and it is the absence of those details here that left a slightly sour taste in my mouth.

Don’t get me wrong – it’s a very fun movie, with some lovely Edwardian sets (the film focuses entirely on Tolkien’s early life, up until the mid-1930s). The acting is good too, with Tolkien portrayed very much as a Norse-loving introvert. We get his invented languages, and his personal relationships – his mother, Father Francis, the T.C.B.S., Joseph Wright, and, of course, Edith. We get his theory that languages ought to have meaning and resonance via the power of story. This was a moment that made me smile, even if they play a little bit fast and loose with the source of that idea. And the film includes some amusing anecdotes that actually did happen – the throwing of sugar cubes at hats, and the commandeering of the bus – together with Tolkien’s rugby experiences. The best moment of all though was the playful stab at Peter Jackson – “it shouldn’t take six hours to tell a story about a magic ring.”

The centrepiece of the film is the Battle of the Somme, however. Which is portrayed appropriately gruesomely, with corpses, mud, madness, and Tolkien’s own personal loss of his friends. This is where the film introduces fantasy elements, via the hallucinations of trench fever, and, well, there has been some criticism of that in the wider media. As though Tolkien’s later work can be explained allegorically by his earlier experiences – a tick-box of influences, with little room for imagination. While I can see that argument, I would point out that Tolkien’s very first Middle-earth story, The Fall of Gondolin, envisaged mechanical dragons attacking a city, and, however heavy-handed the film may be, the desolation of No Man’s Land clearly affected him. Plus, as far as influences go, it is more cinematic than a geeky introvert stumbling across Kirby’s translation of Kalevala and trying to teach himself Finnish.

As I have suggested, there are some liberties taken. They have intellectualised-up Edith (she is now the source of the idea about words and resonance of meaning), and given her a passion for Wagner (I don’t recall her having one in real-life, though I might be wrong). The Wagner thing – which obviously plays up the magic ring – is a bit curious, since we know that Tolkien in later years hated the comparison, though I do recall it coming out that Tolkien had written an essay on Wagner in his younger years. Artistic licence, maybe? And were Ronald and Edith really intending to sit through all fourteen hours of the four Ring Cycle Operas? Furthermore, Tolkien is portrayed as an enthusiastic maker of myths well before the War, and, yes, he was writing his William Morris-inspired retelling of Kullervo… but the original prose (rather than retellings or poetry) came later than the movie suggests. But that’s a quibble: they were jumbling up the timeline for drama.

The biggest and most questionable liberty is the handling of religion. Tolkien’s Catholicism was an integral part of his life, and his discussions with C.S. Lewis were famous, but one would not know it from the biopic, not least because we never get to the point where he meets Lewis. Sure, there are bits and pieces – notably Ronald’s chats with Father Francis, and the comment that Edith is “not even a Catholic,” and it is undoubtedly more difficult to portray Tolkien’s personal faith than to show him in a War, but… Tolkien without his Catholicism isn’t really Tolkien. Apparently they filmed (and cut) a Communion scene, but a later line of Ronald talking to Father Francis about Edith’s conversion would have been nice. To be fair though, Tolkien apparently went through a less religious period of his life, so while it might have been misleading in portraying Tolkien’s life as a whole, that particular slice can potentially be regarded as unrepresentative. If you squint.

For myself, I would have also preferred some references to Lord Dunsany and William Morris, and, yes, Kalevala. It would not have needed to be lengthy either – just a scene of Tolkien gushing about it, and noting that England has lost its own mythology (there is no reference at all to Tolkien’s youthful dream of a Mythology for England). Same with Beowulf, whose influence on Tolkien the writer – never mind Tolkien the scholar – was profound, but which is not referenced in the biopic. I’d have loved a scene where some academics are discussing the various approaches to analysing Beowulf, whereupon Tolkien stands up and delivers his famous allegory about the stone tower. Oh, and I kept waiting for Joseph Wright to tell Tolkien “go in for the Celtic, lad. There’s money in it.” But it never happened. Oh well.

**

Thinking about the movie as a whole, I would say it is certainly worth watching – the good definitely outweighs the bad, and my sympathies are certainly more with the run-of-the-mill audiences than with the critics. The biopic also occupies a curious half-way house in terms of its intended audience. On one hand, someone not familiar with at least the Peter Jackson movies would have no time for this one, but on the other hand, one suspects its intended audience isn’t supposed to know more about J.R.R. Tolkien than that he wrote fantasy and loved language. There are holes (both religious and literary shaped), and there are curious add-ons (Wagner), but as far as trying to adapt this source material goes, it’s not a bad effort.
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Re: Tolkien (as in the "bio" movie)

Postby Denethor » Tue Jun 25, 2019 6:56 pm

Double post.
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Re: Tolkien (as in the "bio" movie)

Postby Thor 'n' Oakenshield » Wed Jun 26, 2019 6:40 am

Great review, Denethor! I haven't seen the film yet, as I couldn't make any of the showings at my local theater, but I'm going to catch it on DVD or Blu-Ray for certain - I find it interesting what you say, that the film does nearly erase a large aspect of Tolkien's life: his Catholicism. I would have thought that necessary for the love story between him and Edith, because - well, without that, isn't their love story merely that: a trivial romance? There's a reason their love inspired the stories of Beren & Luthien, Aragorn and Arwen, and it's because of the huge divide that they had to cross in order to be with each other: I am still inspired by their story to this day, and especially by Edith's bravery, choosing to convert to Catholicism to be with Tolkien - something that Tolkien beautifully and faithfully translated to the page by showing how, in both stories (Beren & Luthien, Aragorn & Arwen), it was the woman who made the greatest sacrifice. And without that aspect, of the religion, how does the film explain Father Morgan coming in between the young lovers? You wrote that he has one line about how she's "not even a Catholic" but surely that should have been his main (and probably only) argument? Does he object to her being an orphan, or an illegitimate child? - is that brought up in the film, by the way?
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Re: Tolkien (as in the "bio" movie)

Postby Denethor » Wed Jun 26, 2019 9:18 pm

Father Francis bans Ronald from seeing Edith on the basis that she is interfering with his studies, and that as the legal guardian, he needs to step in. He's broadly portrayed positively - if a bit stuffy.
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Re: Tolkien (as in the "bio" movie)

Postby Elmtree » Wed Oct 16, 2019 3:17 pm

Thanks for the review Denethor.
I would have been surprised if the film had correctly covered his Catholicism-- I would have been delighted, but I'm not surprised they didn't handle it (or didn't know how to handle it). Funny, Jackson got it right for the most part in the movies-- that aspect of Tolkien comes through his stories, and it came through in Jackson's movies. I remember Jackson saying LOTR was not a religious story, but it was told by a religious man, and as filmmakers they tried to respect that. I watched in the theatre with my son's friend (both were teens). My son's friend had never read the books. At once point he turned to me and whispered "was the guy who wrote these stories Catholic?" It was gently present.
A shame it was not gently present in this film (I'm just going by the reviews- I've not seen it)

B-52s over Mordor! LOL. I had forgotten all about that! :D

side note- Denethor, you are in Dunedin? My daughter and her family live in Dunedin. I was there a couple of years ago and didn't want to come home to the states!
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Re: Tolkien (as in the "bio" movie)

Postby basil » Wed Oct 16, 2019 10:13 pm

The centrepiece of the film is the Battle of the Somme,


Appreciated your review and felt you gave the movie a fair shot and telling. I will say, however, that for me the centrepiece of this movie is Tolkien's interactions with the people in his life. And I've not been able to find mention of hallucinations from trench fever.

https://www.theguardian.com/books/2014/ ... row-escape

My interpretation of those scenes that mixed real life in war with the characters and creatures from LOTR is that they were there to explain the background scenery of Tolkien's later creative work.

A bio-pic flic that's true to every aspect of the subject's life and experiences can't make much money or be very successful in our markets. For that dedication to truth we need a documentary which even in there can be found bias.



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