Phil's Quick Capsule Review

Tolkien (2019): Review by Motion Picture Maniac

If I were going to make a film about J R R Tolkien, a question would occur to me – I know there is no middle ground when it comes to the reception of this kind of thing, so who do I lean more towards, people who want to see Tolkien the linguist, Tolkien the author or Tolkien the war veteran? Perhaps I could do all three and run the risk of overstuffing and looking like I didn’t know which to focus on (which I don’t). I could just pick the one I find the most interesting, but it’ll be just my luck that no one else will share my opinion, which is all you have to go when making any kind of film, what, in your opinion, do you think will make for good entertainment?

I bring this up because I’m a big fan of Tolkien’s literary world, I haven’t read all of his Middle Earth works (still got the Unfinished Tales and the Fall of Gondolin left to go), Peter Jackson’s Lord of the Rings trilogy is in my top ten favourite movies of all time and, while they are inferior and flawed, I also enjoyed his Hobbit movies for what they were: a good bit of fantasy adventure fun. But, to make a long story short, I don’t want anyone misunderstanding and thinking the reason I came close to hating the film “Tolkien” is because, as I am a fan of his work, it didn’t focus on what I wanted it to focus on, which simply isn’t true.

Tolkien is a film that doesn’t seem to know why it exists other than no one has made a film about the man who wrote Middle Earth yet. The writing is so stuffed with biopic cliches I started to wonder if the writers were resentful of the task laid before them and didn’t know what else to do, other than just fill it with the usual standard malarky. It could be arrogant of me to assume so, since I wasn’t there with them – I don’t know why they made the decisions they made, but it’s like they sat down to make a film about Tolkien and thought “shit, we have to make a film about Tolkien… how”? We get a little glimpse of his childhood and it serves no real story telling purpose, we find out later that it very easily could have though, we learn he and his brothers have been taught linguistics by their mother but we don’t see any of that when they’re together; so they opted out of showing in favour of telling – that’s nice.

Did the writers not think there was enough in his life to make a coherent film out of? I don’t know, I’m just trying to understand the decision-making behind the inclusion of all those awful biopic cliches! Ooh, the teacher mispronounced his name, har-har-har, ooh the teacher’s getting mad because Tolkien corrected him, ooh he’s going to make Tolkien stand up in class and read a difficult text, ooh he knows how to read it, har-har! Aside from Nicholas Hoult most other actors seem to be doing pantomime, they’re all really over the top and unbelievable to the point where it’s not even funny, in fact I’ll just come out and say it like this – the acting is not very good at all. Add that to the fact that some of the characters are the most loud and obnoxious shits I did my very best to avoid back when I was at school.

For some reason the decision has been made to include fantastical middle Earth imagery amongst the world war 1 set pieces, I was worried about this when I saw it in the terrible – just TERRIBLE TERRIBLE trailer, and after seeing in the context of the film I have to say it comes across as really rather tasteless and cheap. There’s another soldier who helps a sickly Tolkien through the trenches and just when it was starting to eerily remind me of Frodo and Sam, we learn that this soldier’s name is, indeed, Sam… I think I’m going to be sick. They couldn’t have found some other way of including it? Anything?… ANYTHING???

Overall I didn’t think it was that well told of a story, I was so put off by the over the top acting, cliched writing and lack of reason to exist that the whole thing just became boring, Hoult’s performance is too wooden for J R R Tolkien who, from what I’ve seen in interviews, was actually a pretty fun looking guy and Hoult did not bring that to the table. I’ll say this, there were a few wink-wink jokes scattered throughout that did make me chuckle, aside from that, Tolkien really didn’t do it for me, I didn’t like it at all.

2 out of 10 stars


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Motion Picture Maniac

Writer, film lover and blogger. And now sadly retired from this site (rumour is he went to Russia live with the Tsars.)

Favourite Film: Touch Of Evil (used to be se7en but kinda fell out of love with it after this whole thing with Kevin Spacey came to light), Most underrated movie: everything by Zack Snyder. Most overrated movie: Carrie

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