Sunday, August 4, 2019

Video review: "Tolkien"

Audiences and critics mostly ho-hummed at this biopic of “The Lord of the Rings” author J.R.R. Tolkien’s early life. I can see that: it’s a bit stolid, well-acted but not showy, provides insights into the life of a noted writer that will not come as any sort of surprise to anyone who already followed them.

Still, I found it to be a pleasant restatement of things I already knew: how Tolkien’s experience of the horrors of World War I, coupled with growing more or less as an orphan after the death of his father, led him to shape entire fantastical realms and mythologies inside his head.

Tolkien only started to put his creations down on paper for publication well into his life, middle-aged and a well-established academic and family man. “Tolkien,” directed by Dome Karukoski from a script by Stephen Beresford and David Gleeson, explores the childhood and early manhood that built toward that literary watershed.

Played by Nicholas Hoult, Roland (as most called him) earned a scholarship to a prestigious prep academy where he butted heads with well-heeled, privileged types. Eventually he befriended some of them, forming deep relationships that changed him irrevocably, especially when they all gallantly signed up for war – and some of them never came home.

A framing story set during the war depicts a wounded, feverish Tolkien desperately trying to find one of his friends in the middle of death and fire, with a loyal sergeant – named Sam, in case the connection wasn’t obvious enough – with visions of Sauron’s eye or the balrog appearing in his visions.

Lily Collins plays Edith Bratt, the slightly older girl who lived in the same boarding house as him as a teen, and with whom he began a furtive courtship that eventually morphed into a lifelong bond.

Whether you’re a LOTR fan or not, give “Tolkien” a chance on streaming or home video. It’s a compelling look at the private life of a man who arguably created one of the most popular works of fiction ever, and how he arrived in Middle-Earth.

As is common with smaller releases, bonus features aren’t quite as expansive. Still, there’s a feature-length commentary track by director Karukoski, a gallery of productions still, a “first look” featurette and deleted scenes with commentary.



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