I’m actually starting to get excited about this. Coming from a place of deep skepticism, I am a bit of a late adopter to the idea of this film. Or most any biopic, actually, if I know the main characters. If I know nothing about the historical figure, I tend to love beautifully made biopics. I feel good about living in blissful ignorance of the great story in front of me. It’s quite a strong decade for these films, particularly those set in WWII.
But I do know something about J.R.R. Tolkien. I am not an expert in his biography, but I feel a pretty solid sense of the man, an image in my mind of his character, his habits, his dreams, and some of the hurts and tensions in his life. So over the last few years, I have winced at each step of this Tolkien biopic journey, worrying that it would be terrible.
I began to turn with some hope toward the film with the teaser trailer a few weeks ago. It looked professional and tight with some nice imagery. Strong production does not make for a well-researched biography, but I do like a well-made film. What the teaser suggested and what this new trailer confirms for me, is that the film is largely about Tolkien’s imaginative formation in the context of friendship (the TCBS), war, and love. I’m starting to think this might work.
The cast looks compelling–we must now admit that Edith and John Ronald Tolkien are the best-looking of all the Inklings families–and the filmmakers clearly have a good sense of set direction, costume, and character interaction. The close-up scenes are great, and the war scenes look competent. We will see. Perhaps the least elegant bits of what we’ve seen thus far are the quick shots of Tolkien’s imaginative world.
And then there is this:
They had to know that Tolkien nerds were going to screenshot this bit. Hardly subtle, the shot suggests a link between war and Tolkien’s work. The link is important, and a great way to prepare for this film is to read John Garth‘s Tolkien and the Great War: The Threshold of Middle-earth. I am intrigued to see how they interpret the link between story, war, language, and Tolkien’s building vocation as a mythmaker. But I am a bit worried about whether they really understand fantasy and can interpret it for us on film.
At the end of the day, I will be pleased if this is a strong story about friendship. I will find my way to the theatre, I’m sure. And as the original Peter Jackson Lord of the Rings films are both important to me and a little disturbing in some ways, I may never be satisfied. Still, this is my note of tentative hope!
TOLKIEN explores the formative years of the orphaned author as he finds friendship, love and artistic inspiration among a group of fellow outcasts at school. This takes him into the outbreak of World War I, which threatens to tear the “fellowship” apart. All of these experiences would inspire Tolkien to write his famous Middle-Earth novels.
Only In Theaters May 10, 2019