Thorongil’s ‘Gollum’ Book Review
As all of us here at TORN are big fans of Tolkien’s works, we have varying opinions and levels of how much we like or dislike Gollum in the books. While engaged in many discussions over the years with other TORN staffers and ringers from around the world, I have never heard anyone say Gollum was their favorite character. Well, after seeing Andy Serkis’ perfomance as Gollum in all three LOTR movies, that may very well change. In “Gollum: How we made Movie Magic”, by Andy Serkis, we get another wonderful Houghton Mifflin LOTR movies tie in book that is delightful, fun, intelligent, humorous and easy to read. Once I started reading it, I could not put it down!
In this 120 page book, Andy lends his thoughts from the moment he first got called to audition, through the entire principal photography and into the final days of post production. What originally was supposed to be a three week job turned into 5 years of intense, emotionally and physically draining work. “Gollum” is very insightful on the ever evolving transformation of Gollum, the character, by Andy and the entire crew that worked on the films. From the moment Andy first acted out Gollum, Peter Jackson and the production crew knew they were going to have to rethink Andy’s involvement in the process. Andy tells us how he would have to do certain scenes three or four different ways. First from Motion Capture ( the process of digitally converting an actors physical movements onto a computer generated model),secondly to actual on screen shooting of scenes with Elijah Wood and Sean Astin, then thirdly to having Andy off camera delivering his lines with the same timing to the same exact scene he just shot, then lastly to ADR (Automated Dialogue Replacement).
Andy shares with us in depth details explaining the whole process of motion capture and the technology behind everyone of Gollum’s shots. He gives a very thorough account on his exhaustive performance as Gollum and everything he did to make Gollum the most actor driven CGI character in film history! Andy puts it simply, ” What we had achieved collectively was to take a great character from literature, filter that character through great screenwriters, then take the emotion, physicality and voice of an actor’s performance, ….. and synthesize them in a range of animation techniques and motion capture. This was then rendered inside a skin so real it looked as if you could touch it, then meticulously lit and placed back into original environments so that Gollum unquestionably existed as a real being. The audience was enabled to feel a connection with this hideous-looking creature rather than just being impressed with technical magic.”
I guess part of the reason I enjoyed this book so much was the way Andy relates some of the experiences he has while he is in New Zealand. He has an amusing way of making us laugh as we follow along with him as he personally goes tramping all over New Zealand. It brought back clear memories of how beautiful New Zealand is when I was there over 3 years ago. Just reading Andy detailing his adventures or misadventures in New Zealand makes this book a worthwhile read. Then throw in some of the truly incredible sketches and drawings from the designers and animators that worked on Gollum, to go along with their candid commentary while working on creating Gollum, and we have another must read book for any Tolkien or movie fan!