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Movie Review: “Tolkien”

There are many movies that are worth seeing, but there are a lot of stinkers as well. My goal here is to weed out the good from the bad.

Theatrical Release: 5/10/2019

Theatrical Release: 5/10/2019

Synopsis

John Ronald Reuel Tolkien (Harry Gilby) has lost his mother, even though he is still just a boy. He and his little brother end up in foster care, are moved to a new city, and are placed in a foster home where they have a new foster sister named Edith (Mimi Keene). Edith is a talented young pianist, and John has a gift in understanding languages, as well as a talent for telling stories. He struggles to find his place in a new school, but he forms a brotherhood with a few passionate and eager fellow students.

Almost into adulthood, Tolkien (Nicholas Hoult) struggles with getting into a good school while his infatuation with Edith (Lily Collins) continues to grow. His brotherhood and his passion for writing are stronger than ever, but with the beginning of World War I, he is about to go on an unexpected journey that could cost him his life, and everything he cares about. Edith, his writing, his friends; he cares about them all deeply, but he must go to war to defend his country. Along the way, he finds inspiration for what could be a truly epic story of his own creation. A story about tragedy, war, love, and fellowship.

The Pros & Cons

All movies start with an average score of 75pts, points are then added or subtracted based on each Pro and Con. Each Pro or Con is designated points, ranging from 0-10, to convey how significant these Pros or Cons are.

The ProsThe Cons

Tolkien (+10pts)

Childhood (-3pts)

Lily Collins (+5pts)

War (-3pts)

Fellowship (+5pts)

Inspiration & Writing (-3pts)

movie-review-tolkien

Pro: Tolkien (+10pts)

I liked this character, both for the actors who played him and because I got to learn a bit more about the man who created an iconic story that I really enjoyed. Before seeing this movie, all I knew about J. R. R. Tolkien was that he was in World War I, and that he wrote The Hobbit and The Lord of the Rings. His stories have had a massive influence on modern culture and they have continued to inspire writers to this day. I enjoyed learning about the life of the person who wrote these stories, even though I am sure that the filmmakers took some creative liberties with his story. Either way, the movie added context to an iconic, influential writer who I previously knew very little about.

Additionally, I liked how both actors portrayed the character. Harry Gilby did a good job playing Tolkien during his childhood, and Nicholas Hoult did a good job of playing Tolkien during his adulthood. Each actor got plenty of screen time, and they each brought their own thing to the role, but they did so without making both parts feel like one character. There was plenty of dramatic material for both actors, and I thought they both brought that drama to the screen in a compelling way.

movie-review-tolkien

Con: Childhood (-3pts)

I did not dislike anything in the childhood story line, but I thought that it got far too much focus. The filmmakers intended to tell the story about Tolkien's life, but they got too caught up with the beginning of that story. Again, there was not any aspect of this story that I thought was done poorly. I just think the filmmakers could have made this portion of the story more concise, and they could have moved on to the later, and more interesting aspects of Tolkien's life—such as his time at war and his inspirations for writing his iconic stories. By spending so much time in his childhood, the movie at times felt like when someone starts telling you a story and gets sidetracked, spending a lot of time telling you a bunch of unnecessary information. It was not "bad", I just did not think it was all that relevant or necessary for this movie, especially considering there were far more interesting aspects of Tolkien's life to focus on.

movie-review-tolkien

Pro: Lily Collins (+5pts)

Lily Collins was crucial in making me care about the relationship between Edith and Tolkien. Her and Nicholas Hoult had good chemistry, but what Lily Collins brought to the character was interesting to watch. Edith had a strong passion for music, but she felt like a prisoner in her own life. She also admired Tolkien’s work, and she pushed him to be better.

Edith very clearly loved Tolkien, and she played an incredibly important role in making him who he was. Because of this, the character had plenty of dramatic moments. Lily Collins did a great job with this, and she did so while making the character both relatable and likable. You cannot ask for much more from a supporting character.

movie-review-tolkien

Con: War (-3pts)

Throughout the movie, the filmmakers jumped back and forth between the different points in Tolkien’s life. The two main timelines were Tolkien as a child, and Tolkien trying to get into college. As the filmmakers jumped from one to the other, they used Tolkien’s time at war as a transitional timeline. As such, we did not get to learn much about Tolkien during this time.

Tolkien’s time at war was used to throw in brief action and imagery from The Lord of the Rings. The filmmakers implied that what Tolkien witnessed during his time at war served as the basis for a lot of the imagery he put into his books. The war timeline was effective at picking up the pace of the film, and making it feel more exciting. Unfortunately, it was not effective at adding to the character of Tolkien. Most of these scenes felt a bit random, and they felt like the filmmakers were trying too hard to please fans of The Lord of the Rings. However, I think true fans went into this movie wanting to learn more about Tolkien and learn what inspired the man to write the stories they loved. I do not think they wanted to see the filmmakers simply throwing in random imagery from The Lord of the Rings.

movie-review-tolkien

Pro: Fellowship (+5pts)

Of all of the aspects of The Lord of the Rings stories that were incorporated into this movie, the fellowship was the aspect that was handled the best. Most of the aspects that were in this movie were brief glimpses of or teases to concepts from the book, but the sense of fellowship played a truly crucial part in Tolkien’s story during this movie. As a child, we saw Tolkien meeting his group of friends at school. As an adult, we saw how strong this fellowship had grown.

After becoming an orphan, strong friendships were important in making Tolkien feel like he belonged to something. The group was fun to spend time with, they reminded me of the friendships from my own youth, and it was cool to see each character pushing each other to strive for greatness in their respective, artistic passions. This fellowship was the perfect mix of being entertaining, while also being incredibly important to the progression of the main character. In that respect, the fellowship in this movie was not dissimilar from the fellowship in The Lord of the Rings. I liked this fellowship and I it was interesting to see how the fellowship of this group of friends inspired Tolkien to make his fictional fellowship such an important part of his epic fantasy.

movie-review-tolkien

Con: Inspiration & Writing (-3pts)

I liked how the filmmakers incorporated fellowship into this movie, as I thought it gave good context to what inspired Tolkien to write about fellowships within his stories. Unfortunately, that was the only aspect of The Lord of the Rings that I thought the filmmakers handled properly. The rest were just kind of slapped into random fever sequences during Tolkien’s time at war. These were visually satisfying, but there did not seem to be any connection between them and Tolkien's actual story. In other words, they were there, but I saw no reason why Tolkien would find them significant enough to write about them years later.

I was also a bit let down that the movie began with Tolkien beginning to write The Hobbit. I liked the parallel, between Bilbo writing his stories in this way within Tolkien's stories. However, I would have liked to have seen at least some of his writing process, along with how he came up with certain aspects of his story. Additionally, I would have liked to have seen how others reacted to his story initially. Did they think it was brilliant? Did they think he was crazy? This could have been a very entertaining aspect of this movie, given the audience’s familiarity with Tolkien’s story, but the filmmakers did not go down that road.

Grading Scale

GradeCategoryPoints

A+

Amazing

95-100

A-

Great

90-94

B+

Good

85-89

B-

Decent

80-84

C+

Average

75-79

C-

Watchable

70-74

D+

Bad

65-69

D-

Terrible

60-64

F

Garbage

45-59

movie-review-tolkien

Grade: B+ (86pts)

I was honestly very interested in this movie. I very much enjoyed The Lord of the Rings and I understand the cultural significance of that story, as well as the author who wrote it. That being said, before seeing this movie, I knew very little about J. R. R. Tolkien. I was excited to learn more about the man behind the iconic epic fantasy—even though I knew this would be at least a partially fictionalized version of his life. I liked learning about the life of J. R. R. Tolkien, and I thought both actors—Nicholas Hoult and Harry Gilby—did a good job of playing the different ages of the author. Both storylines had plenty of drama, and each actor brought their own thing to the role, but their respective parts still worked well together. I also liked what Lily Collins brought to her character. Lily Collins brought a likability and complexity to the character that made her feel important, while also making Tolkien's story more interesting.

The filmmakers did a good job of bringing “fellowship” into this story, and showing what inspired Tolkien to incorporate a similar fellowship into The Lord of the Rings. Unfortunately, the filmmakers did not do a great job of showing what inspired Tolkien in other areas. I thought that Tolkien’s childhood got a bit too much focus, whereas some of this screen time could have been spent on more relevant aspects of Tolkien’s life. This was not a bad movie by any stretch of the imagination. I liked it, but I thought the filmmakers could have done a better job at connecting Tolkien’s story with the epic fantasy that he would go on to write.

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