Review: Tolkien (2019)

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 Nicholas Hoult plays a young J. R. R. Tolkien

For many, at least of my generation, Tolkien is a name associated with fond memories of childhood battles, acted out with sticks and imaginations, reminiscent of the great war scenes in the Lord of the Rings. It is this audience – and perhaps those few among us that have actually read the admittedly long-and-very-detailed books – that this movie is tailored towards.

Tolkien is a visually pleasing yet musically innocuous movie designed to evoke feelings of nostalgia and child-like wonderment. In this way, it almost serves as a pretty behind-the-scenes look into the inner workings and inspirations of a well-known and loved author. There are several moments throughout the movie, in which the fantastical and iconic scenes and concepts from the Lord of the Rings bleed through the historical biopic genre in which it is firmly placed. Elven script; tall, whispering trees; and perhaps the most striking, horsemen shrouded in haunting mist and dark shadows, stalking through the bloody battlefields of WWI in search of the dying. One such scene sees a dragon rise from a devastated landscape and set fire to the world.

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For devoted Lord of the Ring fans, I would recommend this movie for these scenes alone. However, for those that have not seen the Lord of the Rings movies, or weren’t really a fan, Tolkien may be a disappointment, or even just a sub-par historical movie which you enjoyed viewing but wouldn’t add to your shelves or watch again.

710884_069For a movie set around WWI and indeed directly situated on battlefields in settings and theme, there is little actual fighting. For much of the war scenes, the main characters scramble like hunted mice. And although done well aesthetically, for action-adventure enthusiasts, this may be frustrating. I personally admired how the directors handled these scenes; they highlighted that for many, the war and the battleground was a scenario they didn’t want, and desperately wanted to flee. Wartime ideals of honour, bravery, and patriotism fade away to show the raw emotions of humanity struggling to survive and protect those they hold dear.

The scenes set before the outbreak of WWI could be equally frustrating to many viewers. They appear almost flat, a framed picture of early 20th century aristocratic England. Even with Tolkien’s background as an orphan, it doesn’t feel real, despite it perhaps being a reality at the time. In this setting, and reflective of the Dead Poet’s Society, Tolkien and his school friends form what they call a “fellowship”, in which they share and develop their writings, art, and poetry. The movie revolves around this fellowship, from their glorious school days as privileged young men under relentless pressure to be the best, both socially and academically, to reluctant soldiers separated by war but connected through their writings.

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From school boys…

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…to soldiers on the doorstep of war.

For the most part, this is an enjoyable, if not particularly memorable, movie. Visually, there is little to complain about or criticise. However, the story felt almost disconnected from reality at times in the script and plot. Perhaps, that was the intention of the director or screenwriter. To highlight the startling difference between a life of high teas, gentlemen literary clubs and first-class education; and the brutal reality of war, human suffering, and sacrifice – inescapable for even the most privileged of society.

After all, is that not what inspired Tolkien?

Score: 6.5 out of 10

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