Friday, September 29, 2017

This Could Be For Real (Tolkien Biopic)

So, I've been on the record since about the time the HOBBIT films wound down, saying that the next Tolkien film we'd be seeing would not be anything from THE SILMARILLION (to which the studios don't own the rights) or one of Tolkien's minor works (much as I'd enjoy seeing a film of FARMER GILES OF HAM or THE FATHER CHRISTMAS LETTERS), but a film about Tolkien himself.

There have been rumors and announcements over the past few years about this person or that person's plan to make such a film, all of which have, so far as I cd tell, evaporated without leaving any trace behind.

The latest such announcement, however, sounds less ephemeral than most:

Rather than just someone's announcing they'd like to do such a film, this has an actual director attached to the project (Dome Karukoski), and a pair of scriptwriters (David Gleeson and Stephen Beresford*), and even a production company (Chernin Entertainment, apparently with the backing of Fox Searchlight). Best of all, it has an entry in the imdb: 

The synopsis here reads: "J.R.R. Tolkien, a love lorn soldier, draws from an epic life on his return from the Great War to create one of the greatest works of literature in "The Lord of the Rings"." -- which makes it sound as if somebody owes Humphrey Carpenter and John Garth a credit. The imdb page also gives the film an alternate title:  A LIGHT IN THE DARKNESS.

The announcement had a more detailed synop: 

"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."

One description thus focuses on the love story and the other on the TCBS.

Perhaps one thing which makes this iteration seem more real than those preceding it is that this one has an actor attached to it to play the lead part: Nicholas Hoult.

Best known for playing the lovestruck zombie in WARM BODIES, Hoult seems to be making a specialty lately of playing historic figures in a series of recent films: Nikola Tesla, J. D. Salinger, and now Tolkien. More promising, he's also the voice of Fiver in a new adaptation of WATERSHIP DOWN.

Recently they've added an actress to play Edith T as well: Lily Collins  (daughter of musician Phil Collins, formerly of Genesis):

So at least they got a pair of English actors to play the leads, rather than Americanizing the project.

There are a million things that cd go wrong this this project, assuming it ever gets from "pre-production" (= nobody's filmed anything yet) into actually getting filmed, and even released. But already this is the farthest anyone's gotten on an idea that's been kicking around Hollywood's collective mind ever since the last of Peter Jackson's billion dollar babies left the theatres.

Whether it'll actually be any good is of course impossible to tell at this early stage.

The thing Tolkienists will have to keep reminding ourselves of is that the words "based on a true story" = "this is a work of fiction". 

I expect 'creative embellishments' in a Tolkien biopic to be much harder to take, personally, than any adaptation of his work cd be (esp. since Tolkien himself sold the rights for LotR and H to be made into film, yet eschewed biographical inquiry with some insistence).

In short, we know Tolkien himself wd have hated the v. idea. But it looks like it's coming, if not now and with this team then down the road with another. Those of us who cd look on with equanimity at  the outrage of C. S. Lewis fans at Anthony Hopkins portrayal of CSL in SHADOWLANDS** are about to find it's our turn now.

--John R

*note that only Gleeson appears on the imdb page; can't say whether this is for reasons of space Beresford's leaving the project. Time perhaps will tell.

**or Johny Depp's depiction of J. M. Barrie in FINDING NEVERLAND (which actually made Barrie a good deal more normal that he was)

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