3 out of 5 Stars
Director: Dome Karukoski
Writer: David Gleeson, Stephen Beresford
Starring: Nicholas Hoult, Lily Collins, Colm Meaney
Genre: Biography, Fantasy
Rated: PG-13 for some sequences of war violence
SALT LAKE CITY (KUTV) – Synopsis: The formative years of famed writer J.R.R. Tolkien explored through a collection of fantasy-filled moments.
Review: I have a tactile memory of holding a copy of “The Hobbit” in my elementary school library. I’d see the Rankin-Bass adaptations of “The Hobbit” and “The Return of the King,” but was most fascinated with Ralph Bakshi’s “The Lord of the Rings.” In time, I would fall in love with Peter Jackson’s trilogy.
That said, I never knew much about J.R.R. Tolkien beyond the fact that he loved language so much that he had created his own. I hoped that “Tolkien” would offer insight into the mind of the man who created the wondrous world of Middle-earth. The film presents a fascinating argument about how the events of Tolkien’s twenty or so years greatly influenced the work that he would produce decades later. Tolkien apparently wasn’t keen on trying to find meaning in a fictional text by studying the factual life of its author. However, the film does draw parallels that make sense on an artistic level, but that doesn’t make “Tolkien” true.
It is, however, a fantastic love story enhanced by the beauty of Lily Collins and Nicholas Hoult. It is a romance built within a fantasy world where light and dark wage war upon each other and themselves. There is sadness and intermittent joy. Still, it never feels more real than a deathbed hallucination or the sort of daydream you might have looking back on things that were and things that might have been. It reminds me of Peter Jackson’s “Heavenly Creatures,” Guillermo del Toro’s “Pan’s Labyrinth” or J.A. Bayona’s “A Monster Calls,” a place where the line between real and imagined is blurred. It is a place I often visit in my own writing.
The problem here being that there is little known about Tolkien’s early years and David Gleeson and Stephen Beresford’s script is nothing more than an educated guess, a story crafted from gut instinct. To that end it is more like “The Imitation Game,” where truth isn’t nearly as important as message.
Were someone to make a movie about my life, I wouldn’t mind if it was as fanciful as this. However, if you’re looking for something definitive or concrete when it comes to Tolkien’s life and how reality influenced the imaginary, “Tolkien” will not provide that for you.
KUTV Facebook Live Stream featuring film critic Ryan Painter recorded with co-worker Larry Curtis, a huge J. R. R. Tolkien fan and expert.