FAN FILM REVIEW: "The Hunt for Gollum" (2009)
This is not science fiction, but since so many SF series - most notably Babylon 5 - have drawn from the Middle Earth Stories, and since we expressed interest in it recently on the site ( http://www.republibot.com/content/things-interest-us-even-though-theyre-... ) It seems only fitting and fair that I review this fan film.
Technically an "Interquel" rather than a sequel or prequel, this story is set solidly between "The Hobbit" and the first "Lord of the Rings" movie. I really loved the LOTR series, the look, the feel, the scope. the grandure of it all, but to be fair, I'm more in to Peter Jackson than I am in to Tolkein, and most of my interest in the trilogy was simply to see what the man could do when he wasn't making sheep explode or killing zombies with a lawnmower (And to be fair, no one kills zombies with a lawnmower like Mr. Jackson does!). Growing up the Bakshi and Rankin Bass versions of middle earth pretty much killed any interest I may have had in fantasy as a genre, and I had no particular interest in it. Had it been another director than Jackson, I probably wouldn't have even watched it.
But they were great movies that I adored, and it even prompted me to read The Hobbit and slog my way through most of the first LOTR book before it kicked my ass. My point being that while I totally dig what Jackson did, and I've developed an appreciation for the story and setting as a whole by extension, I'm probably not the idea target audience for this story.
I just feel it's important to set that up before we go any further. Also, there'll be spoilers.
PLAY BY PLAY:
Gollum leaves his hidey-hole to try and get The One Ring back. Gandalf tells Aragorn about this, and Aragorn agrees to track and capture Gollum. This he then does, fairly easily and without incident. He then runs afowl of a platoon of Orks, and Gollum gets away in the fray. As Aragorn hunts for the little creep, Elves show up and say they've captured him. Back at Elf Command, Gandalf tortures Gollum for information, but finds little of use. Gandalf and Aragorn confer briefly on what their next move should be, and then the wizard heads off for The Shire, setting up the first movie.
I loved the look and feel of this. It's a great love letter to the seminal Jackson trilogy, with all the sets, props, costumes, and prosthetic makeup looking as though it were actually pilfered from a backlot. It looks great, and everything has the right heft to it. There's none of the threadbare quality that sometimes comes from Fan Films, and this is a much more ambitious attempt at a fan film than I, personally, have seen before. Though I've seen longer films, and more opulent films, I've never seen one in the fantasy genre that looked and worked this well before. It is truely a labor of love, and it shows. The only immediate stylistic quibble that fans might have with it is that it lacks Howard Shore's very celtic score. That's not really an issue for me, though, as I always felt the score was the weakest part of the Jackson movie. The synthestra music throughout this fan film is a more-than-adequate replacement, and in some places, such as when the synth choir comes in, it's really really good.
Acting is all quite good, with everyone channeling their official counterparts quite well. Arwen didn't quite work for me, mainly I think because of my completely inappropriate lust for Liv Tyler, but also because her ears were much more pronounced in this film than in the official series, and I found that a bit distracting. She's a very minor character in "Hunt," however, so it's not a dealbreaker.
This is, on the whole, a very good fan film and the makers should be very proud of themselves for having done it.
There are a couple things that didn't quite work for me, though, and I don't think that's entirely my fault. In fact, had I been more of an avid Tolkeinophile, I might not have noticed at all.
Firstly, I understand by it's nature as an interquel that they're very limited as to what they can do without violating the established continuity. That's fine, I get that. Also, given how important this material is, they probably don't feel free to give full run to their imagination. Unfortunately, this kind of limits what they can do with the story. My synopsis above hits all the major points, and it's pretty breif, so what I'm getting at here is that - as politely as I can put this - it feels like there's more running time to this film than there is story.
I started off being amazed by the look and feel of the whole enterprise, but clocking in at forty minutes, and with a plot that resembles one of the Stargate Franchise's infamous "Walking through the woods" episodes, to be honest, I found myself getting a bit bored from time to time. This is livened up by a run in with another ranger, the orks, and a wraith at the end, and some clever montage editing in a few places, but to be honest, not all that much happens. And given the limitations of the well-known stories on either end, there's really not all that much that *could* have happened, you know? Nothing that a a ruthlessly vicious edit wouldn't fix, though: If they whittled this down by about ten minutes, it would be fantastic. If they whittled it down to about half it's run time, it'd probably be the best fanfilm of all time.
But at the same time, I understand why they can't do that, because much of the heft of the film is based on the slow burn of the actors, the long glances, the slow transitions, which give it all more gravity, and make it feel more, well, important. It's a thin line between gravitas and ponderousness, however, and on occasion "Hunt for Gollum" jumps back and forth over that line.
This is still a very impressive production, however, and well worth checking out whatever Writer/Director Chris Bouchard and company do next. Despite some narative dialation in this film, he's obviously an expert at setting mood and style, and he's clearly a person of no small ambition as well. Count me in as a fan!
And feel free to disagree with my review! Check it out for yourself, the entire film is available online here: