By GREG TALLY — special to TheOneRing.net
At best, I am a casual fan of the works of John Ronald Reuel Tolkien. In the 1980s, I experienced the same tween discovery of Tolkien’s books that remains a touchstone for many fans. On a long Greyhound trip from Baltimore to Colonial Williamsburg with my father, I read Fellowship of the Ring; I sat on the edge of my bus seat in the Mines of Moria, mourned Gandalf’s demise and the shattering of the Fellowship. With a hunger worthy of Gollum, I devoured the rest of the trilogy, followed by The Hobbit. And when I clapped shut my Ballantine Books paperbacks; I felt the real sense of loss of close friends. I did not want Middle-earth, Sam and Frodo and all the rest to go away.
My love for Tolkien remained more emotional than intellectual. I lamely thumbed through the Appendices, but could not absorb Tolkien’s encyclopedic worldbuilding. I didn’t have the patience for The Silmarillion, never learned Elvish, and if I’m brutally honest, impatiently skipped over most of Tolkien’s embedded poems for halting the plot. Like millions of other fans, I allowed Peter Jackson’s movies to colonize my mind’s eye of Tolkien’s characters. But outside of that; no Ralph Bakshi, no Rankin and Bass, no Leonard Nimoy crooning, “Bilbo – Bilbo Baggins, bravest little hobbit of them all.” As a sometimes fan, I could take Tolkien or leave him.
And yet, Finnish Director Dome Karukoski’s Tolkien forges a singular movie alchemy of its own. Like a treetop wizard lighting pinecones to chuck at wargs, Karukoski ignites the passion and fun of that childhood first read of Tolkien’s most famous works. This movie is a “How-Done-It,” explaining the many real life experiences and influences that lead Tolkien to put ink to paper. Even in the face of the massive loss of childhood chums in World War I, the most cathartic moment of the movie is Tolkien writing simply, “In a hole in the ground there lived a Hobbit.” This openly brought me to tears, and reminded me of the childlike, pure emotion of first falling in love with Middle-earth. Rekindling that love alone is reason enough to see this movie. And yet there’s so much more, thematically.
We follow a young Tolkien through the blood and the mud of the Battle of the Somme, trailed by a faithful British Private as an analogue for Samwise Gamgee. Amidst the barbed wire and the mustard gas and flamethrowers of trench warfare, Tolkien glimpses dragons and Balrogs and Ringwraiths, and conjures the imagery that will form the basis of his mythological evil. This is the realm of machinery run amok to commit mass slaughter.
But we also see a younger Tolkien form a literary club and close friendship of four with his fellow students. This fellowship lasts through college at Oxford and Cambridge and is shattered in the War to End All Wars. Karukoski walks us through the dual tensions of kinship and human decency versus man’s implacable killing technology that shaped so much of Tolkien’s worldview. And the movie deserves praise for its depiction of the strong women in Tolkien’s life, including his mother, Mabel.
Rarely has a movie explored the meaning and function of language in such a sensitive and romantic light. Words and their inherent magic are front and center as Tolkien invents entire languages and studies to be a philologist. Both Tolkien’s future wife Edith Mary Bratt, and his Gothic Professor Joseph Wright help young Ronald explore language in thought-provoking ways.
Actor Nicholas Hoult gives a nuanced performance of a sensitive and romantic artist. Lily Collins is exceptional as Edith. Other standout performances include Colm Meaney as a stern-yet-loving Father Francis, and Derek Jacobi as our Gandalf stand-in, Professor Wright.
Yes, the movie takes dramatic license with Tolkien’s timeline, and downplays his devout Catholicism. This remains a straight forward, satisfying biopic packed with ideas and themes as rich as Tolkien’s vision. Just like Bohemian Rapsody did (and no doubt Rocket Man will, in a few weeks), this is a largely sympathetic portrait of a rock star; in this case a literary one in Tolkien. And even more fun – for a brief shining moment – is reentering The Shire, and remembering what it is to be a kid again.
Greg Tally lives in Denver, Colorado, and owns the Dinosaur Hotel (Best Western Denver). He is founder of the Rondo Hatton –winning podcast, The Revival League, and author of Soylent Scrooge: Or Christmas Is Made of People.
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Greetings and Mae Govannen –
Somehow it feels like I’ve been waiting all my life for this film. Over the past 40 years we’ve been treated to unique adaptions of LOTR and THE HOBBIT (live action and animated) to varying degrees of success, yet we have never gotten such a cinematic glimpse into the man himself who created such mythic realms where Elves and Wizards wander. Now acclaimed Finnish director Dome Karukoski (pronounced “doh-MAY”) has taken his hand to his first English-language film and I’m honestly thrilled with the results (yet also left wanting some more, please, sir).
TOLKIEN is a deeply felt, if not complete, portrait of the author I most admire in the world. Don’t fret: there is nothing shoddy, cheap or “fast and loose” with the way this story is told. Against any such fears, this project was certainly made with care. The writing especially, and the casting, music, and cinematography are all first-rate. It satisfies much curiosity for the casual Ringer fan: Karukoski gently pulls back the curtain of history and brings us the first half of Ronald Tolkien’s life, allowing us to feel connected to this person in a whole new way, simply by paying witness. Here is how an orphaned, penniless child was forced to cope and grow up fast, being inspired by many things and people, not knowing he would become the most beloved author of the 20th century.
If your main concern is that the Tolkien Estate did not authorize or participate in this new film, keep in mind they did not approve nor involve themselves in ANY other film adaption of Tolkien’s works over the past 40 years. When Professor Tolkien was alive he made a deal to sell the rights for LOTR and THE HOBBIT for adaptation; wanting to help guarnatee his children a proper education and secure his family’s future. Since that time, because of that previous deal, the Tolkien Estate has not, strictly speaking, approved any of these adaptions we all know. Not the early Rankin/Bass THE HOBBIT that won the Peabody Award – and not the massive Peter Jackson films that won so much acclaim and so many Oscars. This has always been de rigueur for them. It is quite normal for the Estate to say: “We’re not involved here” just to keep the confusion down. Unfortunately many news outlets tried to create scandal and click-bait to color the conversation poorly and to that I say caveat emptor – Buyer Beware. I refer you to my editorial here for more details.
Those movies you love watching over and over? Not approved. All of Howard Shore’s gorgeous music that’s on your playlist? Not approved. Yet it is safe to say millions upon millions of us pop consumers love that stuff with full-throated appreciation and have used them to bring others into our Ringers community. We encourage our friends to read more Tolkien because they liked those films. I just want to knock that irony out of the way when I hear fans say “I’m not going to see the new TOLKIEN biopic because the family dissed it so hard!” Well, come on. It ain’t like that, folks. This gorgeous new film is an opportunity to bring new Ringers closer to knowing the father of our fandom, and to seek further reading (and please, support your local library… seriously).
Speaking of: in my early 20’s when I read Carpenter’s “Tolkien: A Biography” I sought to absorb myself in the man’s life and learn all that I could. It was an interesting read but to a certain extent, sometimes, it left me a little dry. After all, Tolkien’s later life of quiet academia, sometimes filled with great spurts of creativity and many publishing woes, is not one of operatic “sturm and drang” or stunning reversals of fortune like the characters in his stories. This new film does not take us into the era where LOTR was created and does not cover his incredible scholarship. The big payoff here is the sense of immediacy and drama that comes to life. Thanks to a deftly written screenplay by David Gleeson and Stephen Beresford and fantastic performances from the cast, this film has an abundance of flavor, color, and incredibly well-drawn personalities at play.
We start with the unrestrained energy of a lad just moved from South Africa to the green glory of Sarehole Mill, a smart choice to explore when the filmmakers cannot talk about all his later works. Mabel Tolkien was a woman who had to manage two boys without their Father, and she home-schooled Hilary and John Ronald in all the classical languages and learning they would need. Her apperance (played by the lovely Laura Donnelly) is brief but SO very impactful. That her children were brilliant is a testament to her memory. Their new guardian is played by one of my all-time favorite Star Trek actors Colm Meaney, as Father Francis Morgan, who helped mentor Mabel in Catholicism before her untimely death and then stepped in to watch over her sons and make sure they found the best further education at King Edward’s School.
It is at King Edwards where more magic happens for Ronald – where a snooty schoolmaster barely recognizes the talent that just arrived in his classroom – and I’ll never forget the scene where Ronald “shows his quality.” Going from lonely and isolated to finally meeting up with the lads who embraced him by nicknaming him “Tollers” is such a treat.
The casting choices in this film are most excellent. The boys of the T.C.B.S are played by two sets of actors, the younger versions and then fast-forward to a few years older. Patrick Gibson (THE TUDORS, THE OA), Anthony Boyle (HARRY POTTER AND THE CURSED CHILD), and Tom Glynn-Carney (DUNKIRK), are incredibly charming and fun to watch in the roles of Robert Gilson, Geoffrey B. Smith, and Christopher Wiseman, respectively. Indeed, the spirit of “Harry Potter” comaraderie is in the room as they drink tea and talk about the power of art to change the world while at Barrow’s Stores (what Tolkien would later call Barrovian since he was so smart with linguistic structure). So the Tea Club Barrovian Society is formed and even stronger bonds of trust and love come to young Ronald at at time when he had lost everything. Karukoski accomplishes so much humor here he earns the goodwill of his audience to a great degree, making the darkness of the impending World War even more compelling.
One day while quietly folding sheets with his brother, Tolkien hears soft piano music coming from downstairs where they’ve been kindly offered boarding by a certain Mrs. Faulkner, and wandering down to see who it is we discover the first impression of Edith Bratt, another orphan staying in the home, yet three years older than Tolkien, and unaware of the destiny to come.
The romance between Ronald and Edith blooms and time moves forward with older actors Nicholas Hoult and Lily Collins playing the leads. They have such chemistry together it sinks deep into your heart. The scene feautred in the main trailer; where the two are at an upscale cafe talking about his invented langauge (something he is quite sheepish about) yet encouraged by his thoughtfulness, Edith asks, “Tell me a story, in any language you want,” will be a scene forever talked about by Ringer fans. Hoult is able to show with such nuance how Tolkien’s mind would work, finding the sense and music and meaning of a word and crafting something of a story from it is brilliantly written and handled by the actors. It’s everything I’ve wanted to see from Tolkien’s life – the combination of erudite linguistics and throwing sugar cubes at people suddenly becomes so romantic….
The film employs the framing device of the Battle of the Somme, where Tolkien served on the front from July to October 1916 as a Battalion Signaling Officer with the Lancashire Fusiliers. Abundant imagery from the Great War has appeared in recent cinema; notably in Patty Jenkin’s excellent WONDER WOMAN and Peter Jackson’s stunningly restored docu THEY SHALL NOT GROW OLD. Here Karukoski keenly draws out Ronald’s suffering from trench fever, struggling through gas attacks, gunfire and death to deliver a message to a dear friend. His mind strays in and out – seeing feverish images and shadows. Kudos to the production team and art department for adding to this legacy of affecting war imagery.
My favorite scenes involve the deliciously insightful Professor Wright, professor of Comparitive Philology (the post at Oxford that Tolkien would later hold) played by the legendary Sir Derek Jacobi. Thomas Hardy and Virginia Woolf were great admirers of Wright, as was Tokien, who was a great influence on him. Cannot get enough of Sir Derek’s energy! He steals the show just as Dame Judy Dench did in SHAKESPEARE IN LOVE.
Top marks to the score by Thomas Newman for being deft and unobtrusive at all the right times. Orchestrations range from simple to lushly drawn; I will want to hear this soundtrack again on its own. The period set design and costumes are equally gorgeous. Nothing is lacking from the technical side of this production, especially the luminous photography by Lasse Frank Johannsen.
Is the chronology of Tolkien’s life accurately represented? Mostly. Some things are moved in and out of their proper order: the moment Edith danced for Ronald in a wood happened not early in their courtship, but later near the end of the War and after their first son was born. The couple had in real life wed *before* Tolkien was shipped off to France, though in the film it is depicted in a different timeframe, where they part from each other in an achingly romantic scene that did not quite happen. But it isn’t disprespectful; nor too off base. Edith actually did choose to break off her engagement with another man to be with John Ronald, just at a different time. Nitpickers: your mileage will vary, but if you’re looking for a documentary, this is not it.
Karukoski is determinedly earnest in this entire production. It is hard to fault him for much because of this earnestness towards his own subject. Keep in mind this project is directed by an accomplished filmmaker that we in English-speaking countries know nothing about. Tolkien was there in his life from very early on: 12 year-old Karukoski was equally charmed by an English author he knew nothing about; yet reading all those Finnish Dwarven names in “The Hobbit” turned on the fires of his imagination by reflecting the familiar within the fantastic. His endeavor here is to bring that artistic line of inspiration full circle.
I won’t spoil it – but I was just blown away by the emotion of the final scene. This is a powerful drama that is not afraid to examine loss. There is much to admire here as a quality piece of filmmaking: the delicate use of lighting, the use of Wagner’s opera in a surpringly winsome way (as if there could ever be such a thing), and the rarified air of actors who are up to the task of handling emotions and intellect with such profundity.
Yet I was left wondering how much more could have been covered, had there been a legal chance to do so. I want to see another film someday about the struggles of Tolkien to balance his scholarship with his crazy ambitious approach to a writing career, delivered to life by the unexpected sudden worldwile success of “The Hobbit,” and all the publishing fights and fueds Tolkien would later have trying to get “Lord of the Rings” completed, unfortunately we never get there. Therefore it is left to other hands to explore the depth of his later life and works; yes I am asking for a sequel, technically authorized by the Estate, that will give us all that stuff too.
This movie rests perfectly at the intersection of DEAD POETS SOCIETY and recent Oxford Professor Life Story THE THEORY OF EVERYTHING. If this movie was a mess not worthy of your time or did not honor the Professor, trust me, we would tell you. We’re TheOneRing.net and we’ve been doing this for 20 years.
Tolkien was the first super-geek, willing to bring his deeply imaginative “nonsense” into the world only to see people love it. He faced enough loss in one year to match many other person’s lifetimes. TOLKIEN the movie let’s us see and feel his life in an immediate way that only a good film can achieve.
Much too hasty,
On Twitter: @quickbeam2000
On Instagram: @quickbeam2000
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Mae Govannen! Greetings all!
The internet’s already buzzing like Beorn’s beehives with images and clips from the World Premiere of the new Fox Searchlight movie “Tolkien”! If you have not been looking at social media to spare yourself GoT spoilers (which is sensible) let us bring you some good early buzz as the FIRST FAN REACTIONS to the film are now pouring in!
We have a sample from the lucky audience who attended a special advance screening at Wonder*Con in Anaheim; attended by the film’s director Dome Karukoski where I moderated audience Q&A afterward (but honestly I was so emotional by the end of the film it was hard to collect myself). The Premiere in London also is producing some amazing responses.
But ours was the FIRST AUDIENCE IN NORTH AMERICA to see the finished film — these are first gut reactions (not spoilery at all):
- I had no idea that I would be taken on such an emotional journey generating both out-loud laughter AND tears. It instantly reframed my reading experience of Tolkien’s works and made it even more poignant for me. I can’t recommend this film highly enough. Don’t forget to bring a hankie! I give this 5 master Rings!
– David Baxter
- TOLKIEN is a beautiful, graceful movie about one of the most influential authors of our time. It’s made with intelligence and compassion, and is a deeply moving tribute to a great man.”
— Ellen Monocroussos
- It’s a tribute to the power of languages and storytelling and the surprising friendships that change one’s life. I can’t think of a better person in history than J.R.R. Tolkien who could illuminate this subject, and I’m thrilled with the results. Here is how an orphaned, penniless child became the greatest author of the 20th Century by finding strength and love from a kindly Priest, the lads who became his “found family” in the T.C.B.S.; and Edith Bratt, the love of his life that he could never give up on. Overall feel and look of this film rests perfectly at the intersection of DEAD POETS SOCIETY and THE THEORY OF EVERYTHING. The final scene with Nicholas Hoult and Genevieve O’Reilly was exquisite with pure emotion! I was floored at end, but in that bittersweet way you feel uplifted yet don’t know exactly why you are crying.
— Clifford Broadway “Quickbeam”
- Hoult did an excellent job of giving us Tolkien’s mind at work – the final scene in Barrows cafe absolutely floored me (I felt like I cried through every other scene)! My husband liked the fact that the film did not glorify the horrible side of war. The bit we both loved was the walking conversation Tolkien had with the mysterious Professor Wright about the importance of language. To us, it hinted at so many important influences in JRRT’s life; Sean said it made him think of the walk Tolkien would have with C.S. Lewis at Magdalen.
— Laural and Sean Armster
- TOLKIEN is a tasteful glimmer into the life of the man who brought many of us joy, wonder and a family of friends through his imaginative writing and intricate world building. To see that Middle-earth was inspired by transformative relationships like the one’s we’ve all formed by simply being Ringers felt full circle. From the cinematography to the chemistry of the cast, TOLKIEN is just a beautiful film. And while it’s only a small peek behind the curtain of J.R.R. Tolkien’s life — I love the insight we’re given and mystique we’re left with.
— Chelsea Schwartz
- This movie humanizes the legend of J.R.R. Tolkien, and shows that the father of fantasy dealt with all the trials every human goes through. I respect the man even more after seeing TOLKIEN.
— Justin Sewell
- Watching the movie was like falling in love with Film again. The scenery and characters were so beautifully intertwined that all of it made amazing storytelling. So I’m glad to be able to share this with TheOneRing.net and the director, Dome Karukoski. Thank you, truly.
— Abie Ekenezar
- TOLKIEN is a very beautiful film to look at, from the cast and set locations to the costumes and decor, but what really sets this film apart from a more historical narrative is the subject. JRRT was not just a brilliant linguist, but a masterful storyteller who really understood what words mean in a culture, the impact that words and phrases could have to a reader or orator. My favorite sequences in this film are when we see Ronald exploring a word and deriving a story from that word. It is the act of creation, of an artist working out if the word is a Person, Place or Thing and deriving a story from the evolution of that word into meaning. Both Director Dome Karukoski and actor Nicholas Hoult do a wonderful job conveying this concept.
— Cathy Udovch
Film is well put-together and does have the right “feel” to it, all credit to Dome Karukoski on that. Casual viewers will get a lot from this TOLKIEN movie. Excellent music and sound. Wasn’t expecting that but very well done. Good amount of humour. Also wasn’t expecting that but pleased it was there. Tolkien the academic is a bit peripheral here. The chronology of his life and some details are just wrong. The War crowds out a lot of other influences on him. I think the Tolkien movie is a nice film, and I expect casual viewers will enjoy it (although they may struggle with lack of Middle-earth references). Performances are good and sound well done. But hardcore Tolkien fans will struggle with historic accuracy and balance of influences. Solid performances by Nicholas Hoult and Lily Collins.
— Shaun Gunner, Tolkien Society Chair
That’s just the first smattering of opinions coming through – and we will add more soon!
Advance tickets are available here. Fathom Events is doing a special screening of TOLKIEN on May 7th live from the Montclair Film Festival with a simulcast of a Q&A right after with the director Dome Karukoski and the two leads Nicholas Hoult and Lily Collins chatting with Stephen Colbert. And Legion-M has some cool fan meet-ups organizing here.
Much too hasty,
Clifford Broadway “Quickbeam”
Follow me on Twitter and Instagram: @quickbeam2000
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EDITOR’S NOTE: This opinion piece by 20-year veteran contributor Clifford “Quickbeam” Broadway comes from a personal perspective. TheOneRing.net strives to maintain an open dialogue amongst fans.
Just a week ago, U.K. based The Guardian let loose a ham-fisted distress call to get unsuspecting Ringers to click over to their site. Yahoo News regurgitated the story with even worse distortion. We’re here to tell you – don’t fall for it.
T’was a misleading article about how the Tolkien Estate “have fired a broadside” at the upcoming TOLKIEN biography film which is soon to be released theatrically by Fox Searchlight on May 10th (special advance screenings on May 7th). The movie, though not made under the auspices of the Estate, is an elegant ode to Tolkien’s early years, weaving swaths of memory and time together into a tone-poem portrait of a unique life.
Just one look at that click bait story and you’ll get the wrong idea right away; as if a darkly serious antagonism or threat against the filmmakers was underway when that’s just….. not….. true. Here we get a quick lesson on spin. Let’s get to the simple context of what the Tolkien family REALLY said.
As most may already know, the Tolkien Estate is comprised of direct descendants of J.R.R. Tolkien who have control over the body of works written by him. They are simply doing what they have always done. It is their duty to make a clear position on what is and *what is not* authorized by them. Here is the language of their statement:
“The Family and the Estate do not endorse the film or it’s content in any way. It is our wish to make clear that they did not approve of, authorize, or participate in the making of [the film].”
This is no big deal – we’ve seen this type of thing before. They are simply saying they weren’t involved in the production because people would naturally jump to that conclusion. This is pretty much an expected response for them to say ‘we are not involved.’ No need for the tabloid treatment of it, so come on Guardian, stop with the click bait. This is basically the Estate’s way of saying: “Hey out there! If you’re seeing that film but want the REAL story, get a copy of Humphrey Carpenter’s “J.R.R. Tolkien: A Biography.” which we are behind 100%.”
Even Tolkien scholar John Garth who wrote “Tolkien and the Great War” said that the Family’s response to this biopic was “sensible.” We’ve seen the Tolkien Estate’s general disapproval of Peter Jackson’s six Middle-earth films before. They want people to appreciate the books on Professor Tolkien’s terms – a profoundly effecting literary journey we have all loved and appreciated.
The Guardian dug up Christopher Tolkien’s comments out of mothballs from a rare personal interview to further stir the mud – and it just makes me uncomfortable when they use this man’s words in such a way as to create a schism between fans and the author’s legacy.
Christopher has been such an intelligent, cautious caretaker of his father’s works. I also acknowledge his dismay at the sweeping commercial embrace of same. I get it. While writing and filming our documentary Ringers: Lord of the Fans, I learned first-hand how the difficult dance of Art and Commerce was underway within this breathtakingly large fandom. As newer generations of fans join the fold of Tolkien readership, the movies’ viewership also grows (and vice-versa), the community of players enjoying LOTR video and boardgames also grows, attendance at conventions and surprising cosplay also increases, and though Christopher may have been dismayed at such an embrace by popular culture, this has become something of a symbiotic relationship. I foresee very healthy book sales of Tolkien’s works and on the horizon I still see his place never changing among the rarified air of beloved authors (even as Amazon Prime prepares the world for a new embarkation to Arda).
Now Christopher has stepped down from his post. We have younger scions of the family watching over things now; and the grandson of the Professor, Adam Tolkien, is one of several people at the Estate guiding decisions and working out new licensing deals. In 2012 he said: “Normally the Executors of an Estate want to promote a work as much as they can. But we are just the opposite. We want to put the spotlight on anything that is not The Lord of the Rings.” What does this mean? They’re interested in steering your attention to Tolkien’s life, to his many other great works, The Silmarillion and beyond, and to his artworks and scholarship.
This upcoming TOLKIEN movie will do just that. It will bring general viewers to an emotional space of understanding the man himself in a very human way. It’s not a historical documentary. It’s a dramatization. Hardcore Ringers can nitpick at the historical accuracy but still appreciate the breadth of emotion and insights offered by a cinematic take on a scholarly life. And it will make people want to learn more about him and the T.C.B.S., the youthful friends who impacted Tolkien so much.
We talked about this on our livestream show TORn Tuesday just last week. Come join the live chat – every Tuesday at 5pm Pacific Time – we will have special guests from the TOLKIEN movie coming soon to embrace more thoughtful discussion on the life of the man, the linguist, the war veteran, the author.
Much too hasty,
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Greetings — Quickbeam here.
The forthcoming “Ultimate Collector’s Edition” 6-film Blu-ray set of both LOTR and HOBBIT has caused much consternation among Ringers, eliciting strong reactions across the board. Several of our Staff have published their excellent viewpoints (my op-ed is here) and our community feels energized like it was 15 years ago. (more…)
Posted in Blu-Ray, Director news, DVDs, Fans, Headlines, Hobbit Movie, LotR Movies, Merchandise, Movie Fellowship of the Ring, Movie Return of the King, Movie The Two Towers, Other Merchandise, Peter Jackson, Studios, The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey, The Hobbit: The Battle of the Five Armies, The Hobbit: The Desolation of Smaug, TheOneRing.net Community, TORn TUESDAYS Live!, Warner Bros.
Greetings, Quickbeam here.
What is all this business with a 30 disc Blu-ray “Ultimate” edition of LOTR and HOBBIT Trilogies? Why the heck is it priced at $800 when it contains nothing new from previous releases? If you’re curious to investigate the many details behind the sticker-shock; and the wave of fan outrage / bemusement that surrounds this story, then join me as we dig deeper to learn some interesting truths.
After the final Extended Edition of BOTFA came to us, most of the Tolkien fan community assumed it would get quieter around these parts. Ringers everywhere realized the #OneLastTime marketing hashtag epitomizing the theatrical run of the final Hobbit film had more truth to it than they wanted to admit. It was the realization that Peter Jackson’s uber-talented team of filmmakers and creative partners (including Michael Pellerin who created the glorious Appendices for both film trilogies) had, in truth, concluded their grand effort that began way back in 1999.
The “Middle-earth Saga” was now complete. No more films. No more Appendices.
But we still wanted more. And many times over the past 16+ years we heard from PJ himself, the writer/ producer/ director, that there *was* more! More fully-executed scenes that didn’t make the EE versions, more outtakes, more narrative threads tying the six films together, thousands of bloopers (this stuff has the quality of legend, since we have been waiting on it for so long), and always it was spoken of by the filmmakers with the feeling of: “Hold onto hope, fans, because someday I’m sure the studio will be interested in releasing this as a fuller, bigger, maxed-out Ultra Edition!”
Privately among our TORn Staff we have nicknamed this the “Unicorn Edition.” On the ROTK Extended Edition commentary track PJ refers to this many times as a possible “25th Anniversary Edition;” with a few laughs shared between Fran Walsh and Philippa Boyens asking to “remind him” after all those years of several shots he had in mind.
My producer and co-host Justin has been talking about this for years on our livestream TORn Tuesday show. It’s aptly named: a Unicorn Edition that’s so ephemeral and seemingly out-of-reach. A version of these films where the unifying of all six would be complete; where that opening prologue of FOTR would see that single shot of Ian Holm finding the Ring replaced with a brief shot of Martin Freeman from AUJ. Where Saruman would actually find and hold a Palantir after the Battle of Dol Guldur in BOTFA. Where Tom Bombadil (!) would be referenced or appear in a cameo. Where we could see the outtakes of TTT where Arwen fights at Helm’s Deep – where Eowyn fiercely defends her kin as the Glittering Caves are attacked – reminding us how mercurial the filmmaking process actually is.
You’ll recall the Number One Rule of Show Business: “Always leave them wanting more.” That dusty adage perhaps holds clenching power over the weird situation we find ourselves in now. Or perhaps it’s because of the wrong-headed management by a strata of marketing people who have no business making such decisions. Perhaps it is the onus of financial reality that dictates everything that follows. Yeah, there’s millions of dollars at stake here.
Well, as you know by now: things are no longer quiet in the land of Ringers. We have a new controversy on our hands with the release of what Warner Bros. Home Entertainment has dubbed the “Ultimate Collector’s Edition” 6-film Blu-ray set.
Many of us are reacting with shock, and genuine SMH smack-my-head wide-eyed expressions of “THAT’S JUST RIDICULOUS!” (which I heard verbatim on the phone just now explaining to someone what was offered). Look at how people are responding on Amazon.com and right here on our Message Boards. You’d think rapturous applause would resound at the release of this supposed “Ultimate” package that unifies everything a Ringer could want. Except it clearly does not. It contains no new content, just very luxurious packaging. And it’s priced at U.S. $800 retail.
Someone on our Staff adroitly pointed out that you could get a ticket to New Zealand and get the real Middle-earth experience for that much. Another quipped: “Does Hobbit DNA come with this new set so we can clone our own Bilbo at home?”
So, hey, Warner Bros. are you listening? That’s not applause. Those are gasps. Mass shaking of heads in dismay doesn’t produce a sound but I can hear it quite clearly.
Bill Hunt over at The Digital Bits wrote an excellent op-ed piece [link here] that pretty much sums up how people are feeling. He, and others, had to check with WBHE to see if the price point was not a mistake. It isn’t.
Personally, I feel like the fans who have already spent their money double-dipping on Theatrical DVD’s and then Extended Editions in the early 2000’s (and *then* having to buy Blu-rays that made their advent later) are getting kicked in the teeth. I got to this point of indignation because I know what was really in store for us. But I also recognize the forces at work that brought us to this place.
The “physical disc” home video marketplace has been in decline for a long while. Consumers are shifting to their preference of streaming services, digitial downloads, etc. New tech has already arrived with 4K Ultra High-def televisions and content providers struggling to keep up. Augmented Reality and Virtual Reality is the next wave of influence we shall be caught up with (Pokemon Go, anyone?).
While it was a long-held belief that adding Special Features, Behind-the-Scenes documentaries, and other “value added” content to a disc would improve sales by enticing buyers to get the goodies, the studios ran the numbers and discovered that, no, it didn’t make much difference. People would buy the stripped-down movie-only disc as much as the fancier version. The studios asserted then that after spending money on producers/ writers/ editors to make spiffy added content for discs they still didn’t see increased sales. It became a tougher prospect to get more added into a home video release of anything; as with all business they were watching their bottom line.
I’ve heard from many sources that Michael Pellerin himself had quite a fight on his hands with Warner Bros. to keep the same format of continuing “The Appendices” on the Extended Editions of HOBBIT. The studio didn’t want to match what was done years earlier for LOTR because it cost a pretty penny to make those beautiful extras, believe me. It took a lot of convincing to get the materials and coverage and do honor to the filmmakers’ efforts. It very nearly didn’t happen. We are all thankful that it did.
The studio has overspent themselves in the past with regard to a splashy home video release. Let me tell you a wee story:
Before Warner Bros. completely ‘absorbed’ them, the LOTR Trilogy VHS tapes and early DVDs were released by New Line Home Entertainment. On June 28, 2011, Warner Bros. Home Entertainment spent a ton of money on a special party in Los Angeles for the “Ultimate” LOTR Trilogy Blu-ray Extended Editions that was to the be single must-own item for Ringers. At this release event, staged at a Best Buy parking lot on the west side of L.A., they held a locked down parking lot disrupting the store for over 9 hours, caging off an area expecting about 2,000 fans or more to queue up and be part of the spectacle that included John Noble and Sala Baker as the special stars from the cast. The live-feed from New Zealand brought us Oscar-winner Sir Richard Taylor and our friend WETA artist/author Daniel Falconer together to livestream their review and judging of a highly-anticipated “Ultimate Fan Costume Contest” sponsored by Air New Zealand that was won by a super-creative fan for her saucy “Vegas Showgirl Balrog” outfit. I remember it so vividly because I’d been asked to M.C. the stage event – it was quite something. If you’d seen the Gollum-shaped fireworks display atop the Best Buy parking lot you would’ve sworn this was a million-dollar blowout party held by an indulgent Saudi Prince who happened to love Tolkien.
This spectacle was, from New Line’s perspective, a huge bust. 2,000 people didn’t show up. About 45, tops. The low turnout at that event stung New Line like nothing else. The fans didn’t show up simply because, as other Senior Staff at TheOneRing.net will recall, there were endless weeks of legal bickering (without agreement) between Best Buy’s legal arm and New Line, and the poor fan site sitting in the middle of this was TORn, not being allowed to disclose or promote to the wide world the Fan Costume Constest that was about to take place. All was frustrated, like the long-term plans of ‘Saruman of Many Colours.’
They also felt this would reflect on lower anticipation and thus lower sales of that Blu-ray set. I’m convinced *this* new 6-film “UCE” is suffering from that burden of association. WBHE, for lack of a better term, inhereted this property from New Line, and now they don’t want to spend another cent. Frugality is how they maximize profits.
I can understand the exigencies of getting the most bang for your buck, but seriously, the other side of this argument is that Warner Bros. seems woefully out of touch with what the fans really, REALLY want. Remember that stinging “open letter” published last week calling out their C.E.O. for mishandling many properties and losing the course of their ship? [link here] That sentiment reflects the feelings of many (including me, especially with respect to their D.C. Comics Extended Universe) but it should be said that Peter Jackson’s production and handling of HOBBIT was not indicative of problems at Warner Bros., that was MGM’s fault from way before.
Now it comes to it. All my thought is bent upon this. I have reached out to Warner Bros. and at the time of this posting they have offered no comment. Dutifully I reached out to Peter’s team at Wingnut Films in Wellington, and they immediately replied with: “We have no comment as this time, but if we do decide to in the future we will come to you.” To both entities I say: you’re always welcome to come onto our live show and discuss it with the fans around the world, or correspond with us so we can provide equal time. We would love to have their thoughts.
I’ve done a bit of investigative sleuthing and found out the facts that have me seeing red: Peter Jackson faithfully and very earnestly offered (almost a year and half ago, perhaps two years back) to make this current “UCE” into a true “Unicorn Edition.” Michael Pellerin and PJ together proposed to WBHE that this combination of all six movies would be the perfect opportunity to send-off the Middle-earth Saga with a comprehensive look back. It would allow them to do brand spanking new 2-hour documentaries for each of the films featuring those outtakes and bloopers I have extolled; with even more frank discussion about “hot button” issues they couldn’t talk about at the time but now with the ease of time passing could be elucidated.
Imagine – not just dragons – but imagine seeing all that footage from the past – the glorious warts-and-all approach of looking at their accomplishements with a 16 year difference of time! Imagine where we, the avid audience, are given the benefit of seeing so much creativity in a whole new light. It is not an understatement that PJ and Company rose to the heights of film history with LOTR, winning 11 out of 11 Academy Awards for ROTK, the biggest clean sweep in Oscar history; and setting a bewildering high-watermark for filmic storytelling that redifined what long format stories can do for the cinema.
The kicker: Warner Bros. refused to pay for this. They balked and said, “We would only do ONE two-hour documentary, not a whole bunch of them, so let’s scale this whole thing back.” I’ve been told by the most reliable sources that PJ decided he would rather not do a half-assed retrospective and it would not be in alignment with what he had been enthused about for so long (we’ve all heard him in the Director’s Commentaries mentioning this possible “Unicorn Edition” even though he didn’t use that exact term).
We now know his “Ultimate Collector’s Edition” has been on the table for quite a long time. The end result was not guided by the original plucky Kiwi director who had always loved Tolkien. Sadly it was goverened by a team of marketing people who are not Tolkien fans, people who have been tone-deaf to the worldwide audience by the very release of this “UCE,” and neglecting what we have been anticipating – and VOCALIZING – for damn near 17 years. Does anyone at the studio read message boards or social media streams to glean what kind of appetite we have? Did anyone bother to listen to Sir Peter Jackson all this time and note what he has always promised was waiting for us at the end of this journey? I mean really!
Who wants to spend $800 on a regurgitation of previous existing Blu-ray content anyone could acquire at a fraction of the cost? The wooden shelf is nice and the Red Book simulacrum with accompanying art prints is cute, but it’s not what we really wanted. It is not clear who among our fan community this release was intended for, knowing how avidly we have already bought the previous home video products.
We are standing up right now and telling you, Warner Bros., what we most passionately want.
If the guardians at WBHE would like to remedy this there is still a chance. The studio has not categorically said: “We will NOT ever do this Unicorn Edition with all the archives/ outtakes/ bloopers/ from 16 years ago.” I am willing to bet that the next wave of 4K Ultra High-def may see some possible movement on this in the future.
The content is there. It can be done! The outsized larger canvas of LOTR being Extended yet again is, by itself, enough to motivate potential buyers. The rest is just gravy. There are indeed costs involved with re-scanning the negatives from LOTR up to the highest resolution possible. HOBBIT was shot on the Red Epic cameras 48fps so we know that material is already at that state. The trasnfer of older DVD behind-the-scenes into upscaled resolution is also possible. The cost would be justified when they saw fans ferociously buying the new content.
And it would look amazing on 4K, I’m quite sure.
I’ve never believed in Unicorns (probably because Tolkien never wrote about one in his stories, and I hope Peter S. Beagle forgives me) but I’ve seen the hope they inspire. This far-away concept for a TRUE “Ultimate Collector’s Edition” doesn’t seem so far away as we watch the landscape of home entertainment evolving around us.
It is up to the fans themselves to send their thoughts and desires to Warner Bros. through every media and thread we have available. We must speak up and declare where we stand on this issue.
This 6-film release is not the end of the Middle-earth Saga. There’s much more to be discovered. With the will of the creative team, the support of the studio (which just needs a little more foresight in these matters), and by speaking with our dollars AS WELL AS with our keyboards, we can see this thing happen.
Instead of #OneLastTime we have a new hashtag: #OneMORETime
Much too hasty,
Follow on Twitter: @quickbeam2000
Author’s Note: this article has been updated with corrected dates.
Posted in Blu-Ray, Collectibles, Director news, DVDs, Events, Fans, Hobbit Movie, J.R.R. Tolkien, Lord of the Rings, LotR Movies, Merchandise, MGM, New Line Cinema, Peter Jackson, Studios, The Hobbit, Tolkien, Warner Bros.
On March 28, 2015 TheOneRing.net livestreamed an interview with animation pioneer Ralph Bakshi to discuss the first-ever “The Lord of the Rings” film (1978), and to parse the differences between homage and rip-off (and the not-so-nebulous chains of inspiration from one artist to another).
Bakshi revealed to us that his Studio’s “LOTR” character designs and artwork were sent down to Three Foot Six in New Zealand; elevating the conversation of his impact on the live-action epic.
The subversive director has lived through numerous controversies, yet remains undervalued by Ringer fans and feels personally slighted by Jackson. He carries on vigorously at 77 years old with a new crowdfunded animated work, “The Last Days of Coney Island” and his intent to direct a “Wizards 2” follow-up to his 1977 cult hit. (more…)
Posted in Film Screenings, Headlines, John Howe, Lord of the Rings, LotR Movies, LotR Production, MGM, Miscellaneous, Out on a Limb, Peter Jackson, Ralph Bakshi, Tolkien, TORn TUESDAYS Live!
The third time’s the charm as our very own Senior Staff writer Clifford ‘Quickbeam’ Broadway is set to deliver an entertaining scholarly presentation on Dec. 10th on the various adaptations of THE HOBBIT that have been crafted over 76 years. In tandem with the excitement of the West Coast Premiere of “The Battle of the Five Armies” local residents of Southern California are welcome to attend this FREE event at the Valencia Library in Santa Clarita, just a little ways north of Hollywood.
Posted in Contests, Events, Fans, Headlines, Hobbit Book, Hobbit Movie, Lectures & Education, Miscellaneous, Out on a Limb, The Hobbit, TORn TUESDAYS Live!
Tonight in the heart of Wales a very special event happened that brought together the family scions of Tolkien while also raising money for ALS; which by way of the viral Ice Bucket Challenge became one of the notable internet phenomena of 2014. Motor Neurone Disease touches closely on the family, as Royd Tolkien’s brother Mike struggles with its effects. (more…)
Posted in Events, Film Screenings, Hobbit Movie, Hobbit: Battle of the Five Armies, Miscellaneous, The Hobbit, The Hobbit: The Battle of the Five Armies, Tolkien, Tolkien Family, Uncategorized, Warner Bros.
[Editor’s Note: Fear not, dear readers, TORn staffer Quickbeam presents our first official review of DOS *spoiler-free* until loudly noted in the later section (with plenty of buffer space) where inquisitive minds may read further with spoiler-iffic abandon.]
The Great Schism: Splendid Smaug Splits Fandom?
Hobbit Version 2.0: Jackson Does it Differently
I know it’s been a long year to wait. Ringer fans are going into ‘The Hobbit: The Desolation of Smaug’ with high hopes for another thrilling chapter in the ongoing saga adapted by our fellow fan, Peter Jackson. Indeed it is thrilling. And indeed it bears all the hallmarks of a P.J. film, replete with energetic action set pieces and gorgeously realized creatures and places that only cinema can properly provide to our senses.
Be forewarned Book Fans, because of the extent DOS deviates from J.R.R. Tolkien’s original, you can bet your bottom dollar there will be a very vocal fan reaction, if not an outright scream of frustration from one or two up in the balcony. The filmmakers have certainly delivered the goods; it is a very enjoyable movie that pretty much blows the audience away with well-crafted storytelling. It is by turns breathlessly paced and frightening and funny and gorgeous (Smaug especially has much of his “muchness”). But by the end credits, it no longer resembles the book you read as a kid, not by a long shot.
Which is something I must mention up front because of the laborious efforts towards fidelity in ‘An Unexpected Journey.’ In fact, much of the LOTR Trilogy was a concentrated effort to (mostly) honor the source material. True, there were odd bits that didn’t ring true to Tolkien; like Faramir dragging the hobbits to Osgiliath and Frodo sending Sam home (piffle) but what happens in DOS is just completely off the rails, especially in the third act.
Posted in Headlines, Hobbit Movie, Hobbit: Desolation of Smaug, Media Reviews, Miscellaneous, Out on a Limb, Premieres, The Hobbit, The Hobbit: The Desolation of Smaug, TheOneRing.net Announcements, TORn TUESDAYS Live!
An exciting chat is in store for Tolkien fans on TORn Tuesday, our weekly livestream webcast! So much to discuss as we take an unflinchingly close look at the newest HOBBIT: DOS Sneak Peak (or trailer #3, if you will) that is delightfully Bard-centric! A bevy of U.S. and international fans join us to discuss details with geeky abandon in the built-in Barliman’s chat room on our Live Event page here..
Join us on theonering.net/live as Cliff “Quickbeam” Broadway and Justin “Almost Finished Reading It” Sewell as we bring all aspects of pop-culture knowledge to bear on a lively conversation on the effectiveness of this newest trailer!
Posted in Uncategorized
Time for our live webcast
This week on our live show we invite you into our living room to enjoy an interactive 3-movie Extended Edition LOTR marathon! Currently underway actually in Van Nuys at Matt & Chris’ place (our talented actors who appeared onstage with me during our Long Expected Oscar Party) — we invite you to watch and chat with us during the entire playback. Yes, it will be going live continuously until about 1:00 or 2:00am Pacific Time so drop on by anytime! You can even synch up your DVD at home, we will tell you when we switch discs (we are just finished with FOTR Disc 2 and are about to begin TTT Disc 1). We are already live: so come say hello to your host Clifford
“Quickbeam” Broadway and Matt Musgrove (@Musgrovia on Twitter) and Chris Carwithen — Our innovative live show
includes worldwide fans who join us on the Live Event page
with a built-in IRC chat (affectionately known as Barliman’s Chat
room). Be part of the fun and mischief every week!
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Posted in Uncategorized
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