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Tolkien (2019)

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/Film:

 

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Warner Bros. is the lucky studio behind three Lord of Rings movies and another three Hobbit films, but Fox Searchlight will be the one who finally brings the genius behind those fantasy epics to the big screen. And no, I don’t mean Peter Jackson.

 

The studio has just set David Gleeson to script a biopic of author J.R.R. Tolkien, which for now is simply being called Tolkien. Peter Chernin (The Heat) will produce. Hit the jump for more details on the project.

 

The LA Times reported on the new project. Gleeson is an Irish filmmaker known mainly for indies like Cowboys & Angels and The Front Line, but he seems to know his way around Middle-earth. The publication also describes him as “a Tolkien superfan and scholar of sorts.”

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Gleeson’s script will focus mainly on Tolkien’s experiences in World War I and Pembroke College, examining the way the author’s real life shaped his fictional works.

 

While Tolkien isn’t the first attempt to tell the writer’s story, there has been no major biopic of him so far. One recent try was Mirkwood, based on Steve Hillard’s fanciful novel about Tolkien’s codebreaking work during World War II, but not much progress seems to have been made. It is unclear at this time whether the Tolkien estate will work with Gleeson on his movie.

 

 

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... Gleeson’s script will focus mainly on Tolkien’s experiences in World War I and Pembroke College, examining the way the author’s real life shaped his fictional works ...

220px-Tolkien_1916.jpgjrr_tolkien_prime.jpg

 

He was in the service from 1915 to I think about 1918 (while in his mid twenties).  Then he was at Pembroke College from 1925-1945 (until he's in his fifties) after which he moves to Merton College.  If the film is really going to explore "how his real life shaped his fiction works" then the story ought to show his friendship with Lewis (and they met each other in 1926).

 

Should they try to cast Tom Hiddleston?  Michael Fassbender?  Benedict Cumberbatch?  All three are in pretty heavy demand these days.

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Should they try to cast Tom Hiddleston?  Michael Fassbender?  Benedict Cumberbatch?  All three are in pretty heavy demand these days.

Fassbender, maybe, though I can't quite picture it. Hiddleston and Cumberbatch don't seem right at all. I don't know how to explain why except to say, inadequately, that they seem so modern, and Tolkien was if anything more old-fashioned in his own day than he is now.

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Should they try to cast Tom Hiddleston?  Michael Fassbender?  Benedict Cumberbatch?  All three are in pretty heavy demand these days.

Fassbender, maybe, though I can't quite picture it. Hiddleston and Cumberbatch don't seem right at all. I don't know how to explain why except to say, inadequately, that they seem so modern, and Tolkien was if anything more old-fashioned in his own day than he is now.

 

 

Hiddleston's played early-twentieth century before. Though his character in DEEP BLUE SEA was very different from Tolkien.

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Cumberbatch doesn't quite have the look, but his phenomenal performance in the WWI miniseries Parade's End (a series I can't recommend enough) proves that he can play a character from this era. 
 

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Links to our threads on rival in-development Tolkien biopics Middle Earth and Tolkien & Lewis.

Links to our threads on the books Heaven's War, Looking for the King: An Inklings Novel and the in-development film adaptation of Here, There Be Dragons.

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Nicholas Hoult Frontrunner To Play Young JRR Tolkien
EXCLUSIVE: Nicholas Hoult is in early talks to star in Tolkien. He will play J.R.R. Tolkien, whose Middle-Earth epic novels hatched the Peter Jackson-directed film trilogies The Lord of The Rings and The Hobbit. Dome Karukoski has been set to direct Tolkien, with Chernin Entertainment producing for Fox Searchlight.
The script by David Gleeson and Stephen Beresford explores the formative years of the orphaned author as he finds friendship, love and artistic inspiration among a fellow group of 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. The filmmakers sparked to Hoult’s performance in the Yorgos Lanthimos-directed The Favorite. . . .
Deadline.com, July 25

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I just noticed that the bulk of this thread was written on the 50th anniversary of C.S. Lewis's death. Which... doesn't really mean anything, but still.

Edited by Peter T Chattaway

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Between this and the Salinger biopic, Hoult seems to be developing a very particular niche. 

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Looks rubbish, derivative, and dull. 

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Ugh. I think Nicholas Hoult is a treasure, but I also believe biographical criticism is the most boring approach to literature. Reducing literary analysis to "based on the author's life experiences!" just turns everything into a cheap reality show and denigrates the imagination, hard work, and research that go into creating fiction.

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1 hour ago, BethR said:

Ugh. I think Nicholas Hoult is a treasure, but I also believe biographical criticism is the most boring approach to literature. Reducing literary analysis to "based on the author's life experiences!" just turns everything into a cheap reality show and denigrates the imagination, hard work, and research that go into creating fiction.

Yes! Agreed.

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TOLKIEN: “Yeah, so I’ve been working on a novel. It’s kind of complicated, but....”

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This new movie has reminded me of a conversation a co-worker and I had a few years back. Granted, I haven't deeply researched this, but it seems as if J.R.R. Tolkien lacks a "magisterial" biography that Newman, Chesterton (I am thinking of Ian Ker here) or even Lewis (every week a new Lewis-related book is released) have. Maybe I'm wrong? I know there's a Carpenter biography and then a bunch of collective biographies of the Inklings. But even Charles Williams has the recent massive biography by Grevel Lindop.

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Disclosure: My theatrical screening was canceled after I arrived (due to technical difficulties), so I had to watch on a crappy Chromecast stream. Thus I can't really say anything meaningful about the cinematography. That caveat aside, here's what I wrote on Letterboxd:

 

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Better than I feared given the trailers that made it look like it would be the biographical allegory Tolkien seemingly resisted most of his life. 

The best and worst thing about it is that knowledge of LOTR is absolutely superfluous, excepting one joke at Peter Jackson's expense. Hoult is phenomenal as is the ageless wonder that is Derek Jacobi. 

Still, while I appreciate its scope, it did at times feel aimless, as though the movie knew what it didn't want to be but not what it did. It was like a show with no show-stoppers, and the climax isn't what it needs to be. 

But...did I mention it was way better than I feared it would be?

 

 

I should have a review sometime in the next few days, but these are my sentiments. 

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This released in theaters here in the UK, including the little local St Andrews cinema. So while the hoards continue to go see Endgame, I may go check this out and review it.

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So here's my review:

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In summary, the film is at its best when it stops presenting Tolkien’s life as the origin of his work and instead presents it as a story in its own right. That story is not as singular or sweeping as The Lord of the Rings, but it is one worth telling. Much as with Goodbye Christopher Robin, the film understands that people, whether at war or peace, find inspiration and meaning in stories. It celebrates the love of art, not just the love of a particular piece of art.

 

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It's interesting how this movie virtually ignores Tolkien's Catholicism (no, the fact that he had a grumpy priest for a guardian doesn't count; it doesn't say anything about Tolkien's *internal* Catholicism) while tugging gently at the idea that one of his best friends was romantically interested in him (all in the name of "following the clues").

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