The Lord of the Rings. If you’ve never read the trilogy, you’ve at least seen Peter Jackson’s film adaptations. If you haven’t seen the films, you’ve at least heard of them. However, you may not have heard of two spectacular fan films, created by fans, for fans. The first of the two fan films is The Hunt for Gollum, which you can view below. It is just under 40 minutes. Go ahead! Watch it. I’ll wait.
What do you think? Please feel free to share your thoughts about it in the comments. I have a few thoughts of my own to share too.
I teach a course in British Literature to seniors. They have just read The Hobbit and watched An Unexpected Journey, because, as you probably know, Tolkien was British. They now have a task set before them to write their own fantasy stories, and I presented the idea to them to write a story that is set in an already established universe, such as Middle-Earth, using characters that already exist in that universe. They don’t have to, obviously—they’re welcome to create their own worlds and new characters—but many of these students had never heard of fan fiction, and I felt it my duty to introduce them to it. (The word “canon” was entirely foreign to them.)
Rather than give them fan fiction examples to read (some of which are good and some terrible), I chose to show them this short fan film. Despite that the story was “written” by Tolkien and comes directly from the appendices of Return of the King in the form of a timeline, which means that it’s not strictly fan fiction (though you’re welcome to dispute me on this definition), I felt it was a good example to show them. I was only able to show them the first half, because I wanted to give us time to discuss it, and I wanted to give them time to start writing. Here are some thoughts that they gave me during that discussion, most of which were negative.
“Too Much Walking”
Some shared the same opinion about The Hunt for Gollum as they had for An Unexpected Journey: “too much walking”. In other words, not enough action. Some also said that they had seen The Lord of the Rings trilogy and noted that Return of the King was their favorite, because that film features the most intense battle sequences. While it’s hard for me to choose a favorite among the three films, I do not discount Fellowship of the Ring outright, simply because there are no epic battle scenes, as they seem to have done.
I should note that I am about as different from many of these students as oil is from water. As I’ve written in my other Lord of the Rings reviews, I love the New Zealand scenery. I am dying to visit that country for that reason alone. While I do find excitement in the action and battle scenes, I care more about the aesthetic quality of the films: the scenery behind the “walking”—the stuff that these students find boring. The same is true for video games. What do I do most of the time when I play Lord of the Rings Online? If you answered “walking”, then you’d be correct. I walk around a lot, looking at the scenery, wishing I could fall into the screen and experience these magnificent locations for myself—not to spar with orcs, but to walk around in these locations.
If this makes me strange or different, so be it. I like what I like, and that’s okay.
“Terrible Computer Graphics”
As for my opinion on The Hunt for Gollum? It is a sheer work of art. They’ve chosen incredible locations to shoot in—mountains, valleys, forests, lakes, rivers. While this film may not rival Peter Jackson’s films in terms of cinematography, it certainly does Tolkien justice, and it totally makes it worth watching the “walking”. While the computer graphics unfortunately do not stand up to scrutiny (which many students found laughable), they are really good for coming from a low-budget fan-made indie film.
Gollum is entirely CG in Jackson’s films, though Andy Serkis provides the movements. However, Jackson had a much greater budget for computer graphics than The Hunt for Gollum had. In the case of the latter, all shots of Gollum, except for the last shot, are at a distance, so it’s harder to tell that he isn’t real, and most of the time when he is close at hand to Aragorn, Gollum is in a sack, the same sack that Aragorn uses to capture Gollum in the first place, and it makes sense with the story to keep him in it.
“Who Are These Actors (And Why Should We Care)?”
Some students couldn’t fathom why anyone would act for free. I explained to them that I have been a volunteer actor for two community theaters for the past three years—though if you factor in the gas to drive to the theaters, it’s actually a cost to me. I explained that I act for the love of acting. I act because I enjoy doing it. You really have to do what you love and love what you do. One student said, “Yeah, but this is for a film.” I said it didn’t matter. It’s just a different medium and a larger audience.
Since “Independent Online Cinema” does not own the rights to produce any stories written by Tolkien, the only way to make it happen was to release it for free online. They can’t make money on it. But, they made the film anyway, for the love of the story, the setting, the characters. I would have done the same for free in a heartbeat.
These are actors who may not be well known, but we should care about what they’re doing, because they’ve accomplished something—they’ve created something—incredible. Certainly, the actors and the production team made the film with limited resources, but it was also made with a lot of ambition, motivation, and heart, qualities that are sorely lacking in today’s culture.
“Is It Just Me, Or Does the Music Sound the Same”
This one I can’t argue against, because it’s my own thought, not a student’s. The music does sound as though it was ripped directly from Howard Shore’s score. After watching a “Behind the Scenes” video, I learned from the composers that, yes, some themes were borrowed in part from Shore’s themes. Some orchestration was the same—one composer said “particularly French Horn chords, which Howard Shore seems to like”—and throughout the process, they thought, “What would Howard Shore do?” Apparently, their score is different enough to avoid copyright infringement, but even so, the score is free to download, just as the film is free to watch.
All in all, The Hunt for Gollum is a indie film masterpiece and worth the watch, particularly for the scenery and the music (which I really enjoyed since it is very similar to Shore’s). So, if you haven’t already, go watch it above, and then share your own thoughts in the comments!