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Tolkien – Movie Review

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Tolkien – Movie Review

Rating: D+ (Bad)

Trailer/Thumbnail Courtesy Fox Searchlight Pictures

J.R.R. Tolkien’s world of Middle Earth and the many beings and languages that inhabit it is a miraculous piece of imagination. That The Lord of the Rings and The Hobbit have lasted in the public consciousness for as long as they have is a testament to their timelessness. In putting together a biopic about Tolkien, the filmmakers behind this film make the curious decision to not focus on his writing. In fact, he is barely shown writing the stories that would become major works of fantasy literature. Tolkien is instead intent on talking about his school work and that represents one of the least interesting parts of his life.

Tolkien takes the storytelling approach of jumping about throughout his life. The film shows him as either a young boy, his time at Oxford or trying to survive in World War I. Unfortunately, none of the pivotal moments of Tolkien’s life are shown as the film skips over the more interesting time periods. Tolkien was probably a fascinating individual and we see shades of this with his love for language, but they aren’t explored that much. Tolkien ends up feeling rather underwritten and that applies to his friends and future wife, too. The film spends a significant amount of time with showing the “fellowship” formed between Tolkien and his school mates, but we don’t truly get to know them. His chums are largely interchangeable, so it’s difficult to care about any of them.

While Nicholas Hoult and Lily Collins are lovely together, their relationship is also not fully developed. There is an attempt at drama involving their different social statuses, but it mostly serves as a short-lived way to separate the two for a bit. The scenes set in the First World War end up being rather repetitive. Most of those sequences show Tolkien in the muddy trenches and not much else. Director Dome Karukoski throws in a few visuals that suggest the world Tolkien would later write, but they don’t present much insight into his character. The film largely avoids getting too much into the creative process of writing make-believe worlds, which is a shame.

The actual planning or even the seeds that would lead towards Tolkien writing The Hobbit and The Lord of the Rings aren’t delved into that much. The film presents a bit of his love for inventing languages and there are a few cheeky nods to his famous stories, but Tolkien seems largely disinterested in portraying his imagination fully at work. Most surprising is the lack of any mention of his religious ideologies. J.R.R. Tolkien was known for his Catholic upbringing, which heavily influenced the themes and ideas in his books. None of this is shown in the film and neither is Tolkien’s friendship with Chronicles of Narnia author C.S. Lewis. These are surprising omissions for what is a major biopic of his life.

Leaving aside the departures from history, Tolkien is merely a dull biopic that doesn’t provide that much insight into the mind of this major literary influence. This film presents Tolkien as just some Oxford student who played rugby, had a nice relationship with a girl he lived with and created a fake language on the side. Maybe the intent was to demystify him, but the movie instead makes J.R.R. Tolkien into a boring person to follow. Wanting to focus on his school life, rather than the creation of The Lord of the Rings, isn’t necessarily a bad idea. It’s the execution that makes one wish the movie would hurry up and get to him writing about Frodo, Gollum and that magical ring.

Stefan Ellison

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