Movie Review – Tolkien – Biography of the Master of Middle Earth

Movie Review - TolkienI don’t normally watch biographies. We don’t usually get Peetimes for them either, but this was TOLKIEN. The author of my favorite novel, movie, and world: The Lord of the Rings. So it wasn’t just any biopic to me, and Tolkien wasn’t just any author. Lord of the Rings (or LOTR) is a magnificent 1000+ page work of high fantasy, penned by JRR Tolkien as a sequel to the shorter, more youth-oriented The Hobbit.

With The Hobbit published and successful in 1937 (which the movie gets around to in a fantastic end moment that made me literally weep with joy), Tolkien was tasked with creating a ‘hobbit sequel’. This is a case where the sequel outshines its original by a great magnitude, and is literally Tolkien’s life’s work. (Let’s not discuss The Silmarillion here.) [/CanOfWorms] 😉

A new form of world-building fantasy

According to the Wikipedia, LOTR was “written in stages between 1937 and 1949, and is one of the best selling novels ever written, with over 150 million copies sold.”

LOTR also established the groundwork for nearly every novel, series, and film franchise in the fantasy genre to follow, introducing readers to a form of world-building never accomplished before. Tolkien invented entire languages and thousands of years of backstories, timelines and genealogical histories for his handful of mythological races, which he called the Free Peoples of Middle-Earth.

Before Tolkien, we had ancient ballads, plays, and operas to give us fantasy worlds, yet works like Wagner’s Ring Cycle, Beowulf, Shakespeare’s plays, The Iliad and the Odyssey, and the collected stories in Greek/Norse Mythology are very grandiose and quite a bit remote.

LOTR gave readers a story about fallible, often funny individuals who weren’t princes or warriors. In fact, the two main heroes of LOTR are a bookish young man and a gardener. The warriors, kings, and even wizards and dragons appear, of course (it’s still a high fantasy saga), but mostly as supporting characters. You didn’t need a professor to explain the plot to you. You could relate to the heroes. No one had seen anything like this before.

Legacy of the Lord of the Rings

There wouldn’t be any Harry Potter without The Hobbit and LOTR. The Star Wars Saga, Game of Thrones, modern Disney, Pixar and even the 23+ movie spanning Marvel Cinematic Universe owe a huge debt to Tolkien. Name any memorable work of fantasy or space opera, and you’ll find roots buried deep in Middle Earth.

Tolkien – the LOTR author’s biographical movie

Okay. So, I just went off on a long, rambling tangent, not unlike the super long novel in question, and the great films of Peter Jackson that finally paid justice to the source. But was Tolkien, by itself, a good movie?

Yes, very much yes. You have to be a Middle-Earth fan to appreciate it, but I loved seeing JRR — Ronald to his friends — in his early life, full of experiences that informed his creations. Tolkien has said he “cordially despises allegory in all forms”, but it’s hard not to see Mordor and the works of Sauron in the No Man’s Land of World War 1. Ronald is a sort of proto-Frodo, with a young Sam, in the trench scenes. Flames, ash, and great black clouds recall the fumes of Mount Doom.

I don’t think I’ve ever really understood the horror of The War to End All Wars before. It must have felt like the end of an Age. And in many ways, it was. (Compare: World War 2 offered a modern battle tableau, although it wasn’t long after WW1.)

One movie scene in particular, where Ronald lies unconscious in a hole full of the dead by a pool of noisome toxicity, recalls almost precisely Frodo’s fretful sleep before the Black Gates of Mordor.

Other ways The Lord of the Rings is hinted at in Tolkien

What else? Edith has an otherworldly personality and intellect — clearly the basis of Arwen Evenstar. The ‘Cellar Door’ courting scene is exquisite, and Ronald waited as long for Edith as poor Aragorn did for Arwen.

The pastoral countryside of England is very like The Shire, and Ronald’s passionate literary friends had obvious nods to The Fellowship  of The Ring (as explicitly noted in the trailers).

One of Ronald’s buddies had an immortal line where the audience barked in laughter: “It shouldn’t take six hours to tell a story about a magic ring.”

He was talking about Wagner, but Tolkien must have took that as a personal challenge. I’d love to know if his friend actually said that. (In another note, I did attend a showing of Wagner’s Ring Cycle Opera in Vienna once, and it IS incredibly long. Too long. Especially if you don’t speak German.)

A trip to Oxford, and The Inklings

The Oxford scenes had especial meaning to me, as I lived and worked at Oxford University in a post-college internship, and personally wandered through many on-location settings in the film. It was a vast treat to return there cinematically, making me long for an extended visit these many decades later. I even frequented The Eagle and the Child, a pub where Tolkien and The Inklings — who are fated to only appear after the movie ends — sat and shared literary chapters as they wrote them. It thrilled me to quaff a pint at the same table where JRR Tolkien and CS Lewis discussed Lord of the Rings and the Narnia stories, working out the kinks of their epics.

Summarizing Tolkien as a movie experience

So, I’m a total geek with an encyclopedic working knowledge of Tolkien…but I think this biography is accessible to anyone who’s ever read the books or seen Peter Jackson’s movies. I was engaged, moved and thrilled, and though no Hobbits nor Rings of Power appear, Tolkien the film is still a very good time. I’m glad I expanded my horizons enough to look at the author as a real man, and not just a random shadowy figure recording the journeys of Frodo, Gandalf, Strider, Gollum, and Samwise Gamgee.

Grade: A

About The Peetimes: This was a hard movie to find Peetimes for. The movie cuts back and forth between war action, “Fellowship” character building, and important scenes at Oxford University. Both Peetimes center on the romance in Tolkien’s life: while they are nice, they are the least crucial bits building up to Tolkien’s masterpiece. The 2nd Peetime is recommended. Note: There are no Peetimes in the second hour, so plan accordingly.

There are no extra scenes during, or after, the end credits of Tolkien. (What we mean by Anything Extra.)

Rated (PG-13) for some sequences of war violence
Genres: Biography, Drama, War

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LOTR: Fan Film Short of The Hobbit – An Unexpected Parody

Who the hell are you? Gandalf, what’s with these Dwarves?

I think Peter Jackson should have opened The Hobbit with this fan-film feature. It’s that cute. Even if you don’t like drinking shots, you’ll find this short amusing. I can see this (in my personal head cannon) as what actually happened that fateful night at Bag End, and why Bilbo joined the Dwarves’ expedition to The Lonely Mountain.

This musical one-off (to the tune of Shots, by Lil Jon) has good production values — I’m impressed. Some of the Dwarves look just like their movie counterparts, and leads me to wonder if some reprised their roles for this.

Alert: If you don’t like scenes of people drinking and getting wasted, this might not be the video for you. It depicts an alternate version of the Unexpected Party chapter in The Hobbit.

My Opinion: Jackson did an amazing body of work in the Lord of the Rings. We can’t deny that. But for various reasons, he made The Hobbit — one slim novel — into a full feature trilogy. It didn’t turn out well. The Hobbit’s best scenes are with Gollum, Smaug, and Gandalf. And, of course, his scenes with the Dwarves at home in Bag End. The Hobbit leads directly into The Lord of the Rings, showing us how the epic all began.

That’s kind of why I enjoy this spoof of the “unexpected party “at Bag End. I totally buy that it went this way, and NOT what was recorded Bilbo’s Red Book (his memoirs). After all, history has always been written/interpreted by the winners, who were not necessarily sober at the time.

Altogether, this is really cute if you’re a Middle Earth fan. Otherwise, skip it. I’d give An Unexpected Parody an A grade myself,  from the perspective of a life-long Tolkienphile.

Prettiest Live Action Movies

Here’s a fun topic, a list of the “prettiest” ever live action movies. They have to be gorgeous on their own merits, plot aside. I’m looking for outstanding visuals. [pullquote]What qualifies as pretty? Lots of color, slick visual or computer generated effects that stand up through time, creative set-pieces, stylish direction, and lavish location scenery.[/pullquote] If you leave a theater thinking, “Wow! That was stunning,” then it’s a contender.

You’ll notice that most of the following are in sci-fi and fantasy genres, which is a viewing bias some of us at RunPee have. Help out in the comments so I may add more to this ongoing list. NOTE: Linked titles go to our movie reviews.
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Well, there’s our short list, ready for you to add your opinions to. What are we missing? Where do you disagree?

Movie Review – The Hobbit 2: The Desolation of Smaug

Desolation-of-SmaugI’m torn between feeling that Desolation of Smaug sometimes feels like a visit to an amusement park, where you spend all your time either riding a roller coaster or waiting in line for the next ride to start, or it feels like a fresh interpretation of a classic fantasy.

Note: One thing Desolation of Smaug definitely doesn’t do is make a faithful recreation of the original story. The introduction of a totally new character, Tauriel (the female warrior Elf), is hardly the only modification of the original story. If you’re a purist, you’re going to insist that the tag line for the movie should be, “Based on the characters and events in J.R.R. Tolkien’s *The Hobbit*.”

For example, Peter Jackson completely changed the way everything went down at Dol Guldur – home of the Necromancer. To quote my wife, “It didn’t happen like that. The White Council decided to throw down the walls of Dol Guldur together. It’s the last act they do as a team. Did Jackson even read Tolkien?”

Personally, I enjoy a retelling of a story. I’ve read *The Hobbit* a few times, and would like the movie to offer something fresh. Whether Peter Jackson goes too far is a topic of debate.

The movie is certainly not lacking for action scenes. Nothing much happens between spider attacks, barrel rides, fighting Orcs, and dragon antics. If you haven’t noticed, it’s fairly rare for us to have 5 minute-long Peetimes, but there are two such events here, between escaping from the Elves, and arriving at the hidden gate of Erebor. In fact the first 5 minute Peetime could easily have stretched on for another minute or two, without sacrificing anything noteworthy.

Lack of plot development is the missing ingredient in Desolation of Smaug. The movie is essentially a quest to get into the Lonely Mountain, which we already knew from the first Hobbit movie. Desolation of Smaug offers little more than adventure – and spectacular, sometimes comical, fights along the way.

Movie Review – The Hobbit

How RunPee Began – A Retrospective on Peter Jackson’s 2005 King Kong

Movie Review – The Hobbit

The Hobbit

The HobbitIt’s such a pleasure to return to Middle-Earth. Peter Jackson and his team have masterfully recreated and expanded the universe according to Tolkien.

I know from the production diaries, created during the filming of *The Hobbit*, that the undertaking was massive. Not just in the technical challenges of filming at 48fps IMAX 3D but also getting the story right. *The Hobbit* isn’t a terribly long book. How in the world can they create three *long* movies? Truth is that originally they planned on it being a two part movie and then realized that there was too much material to cover.

Visually the movie is amazing. The costumes, makeup, sets, and special effects are perfect.

I was surprised by how good the acting was. We all know that Ian McKellen is among the best actors of our time, and he doesn’t miss a beat as the Gandalf that we love.

Martin Freeman was a perfect choice for Bilbo. When the series is complete I believe Freeman’s performance will become iconic. His facial expressions, mannerisms, comic timing are surprisingly good. I can see why Peter Jackson bent the filming schedule around Freeman’s availability to make sure he could play Bilbo. (They had to take a 2-month break during filming so Freeman could honor a previous commitment for *Sherlock*. )

I was also impressed with Richard Armitage’s performance as Thorin – the Dwarf king. Another perfect casting.

The rest of the cast does a fine job which I think is a testament to Peter Jackson’s directing skills. The best actors in the world can’t do a good job without good direction. And average actors can do a masterful job with great direction.

It’s hard for me to judge the pacing of the movie since I already know the story so well. I believe a large percentage of the casual movie goers will find the pacing a little sluggish at times. To be sure, there were a handful of chase scenes went on a bit too long. On the bright side, they make for excellent Peetimes! 🙂 As I waited for the movie to start, I was concerned if I would be able to find adequate Peetimes. I was happy to discover it wasn’t difficult to pick out 4 of them, and I think 3 of them are very good to use.

And finally, I think the music was pretty good. The central motif of the movie theme works well for dramatic and action scenes.

My biggest disappointment is that I have to wait another whole year to get to the next story. I can’t wait for 2014 when I can watch all three movies back-to-back-to-back.

Grade: A-

Movie review – The Hobbit: The Desolation of Smaug

How RunPee Began – A Retrospective on Peter Jackson’s 2005 King Kong