The Lord of the Rings is one of the books to which I’ve kept returning in my life, and I’ve seen the movies several times. So, when I heard that a group of fans were issuing a prequel called The Hunt for Gollum, and offering it for free viewing on the web (in the hopes that, if profit wasn’t an issue, issues about copyright violation might be ignored), I was immediately intrigued. It’s far from the first movie made this way, but my interest in Tolkien meant that it’s the first that I have actually made the effort of watching. What I saw was a homage to the films, obviously made on the cheap and lacking plot, but far from the worst forty minutes I’ve spent watching a movie.
The movie is a prequel to the trilogy in which Aragorn hunts down Gollum and captures him for questioning. These events are mentioned in The Fellowship of the Ring as having happened recently, but are not shown directly (the better, no doubt to keep Aragorn off stage until he makes his mysterious entrance at Bree).
The camera work, staging, costuming, and music could almost have come straight from Peter Jackson’s Weta Workshop. Like Jackson’s movies, The Hunt has long, panoramic shots of landscapes. When something is about to happen, Aragorn – who is in-camera for most of the forty minutes – strikes a pose while the camera lingers on him. When he is wounded, he has a mystical vision of Arwen, the elf woman who has his heart. Meanwhile, the soundtrack gives unsubtle hints about what is about to happen.
In short, the grand opera mannerisms of Peter Jackson are imitated as closely as possible. Even the characters, from Gollum to Gandalf and the orcs are based heavily on the movie (even if Aragorn does look a little too much like a poetic grad student, and not enough like someone who sleeps rough most nights). You might consider this imitation a lack of originality, but I suspect it shows more the sincerity of the makers. The Hunt is above all else a homage, a re-creation of the atmosphere developed by Jackson by people who full-heartedly love it.
The trouble is, of course, is that a slight difference in budget exists. If you’re looking, you should have no difficulty in seeing where money is conserved. For example, a scene set in a house looks like a modern pub or antiqued kitchen, while a conservatory with anachronistic glass serves as a stand-in for Rivendell. You get one elf, only three or four orcs whose makeup shows. Most obviously, Gollum is seen close up in only one shot, and, in fact, spends most of his time in a sack hung over Aragorn’s shoulder, which poerhaps llows more than one person to play him.
However, most of these budget measures are unobtrusive, unless you make a point of looking for them. The one exception is the unavailability of Gollum in closeup, which reduces much of the drama, leaving poor Aragorn to respond to a sack. Adrian Webster, the actor playing Aragorn, tries valiantly, but no actor, no matter how skilled, can do much to save essentially dramaless scenes.
But the greatest problem with The Hunt for Gollum is the script. Granted, the scope of the story that can be told in forty minutes is limited. All the same, there is a difference between a string of incidents that related to each other only by when they happen, and a plot, in which one incident leads to another – and, for most of the forty minutes, the movie offers only a string of incidents. They are acceptably acted and staged incidents, but they do not form a plotted story.
Still, full credit to the production team for its ingenuity. The same team is already working on a science fiction thriller, and, while I was not absolutely entranced by this first effort, I was impressed enough that I’ll check on its progress every now and then. There are dozens, if not thousands of half hour TV shows that entertained me less, and if I sound flippant, the reason is that my interest in Tolkien made me hope for something marvelous instead of simply well-done. I only hope that, second time out, the team remembers to arm itself with a tighter script.