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Cinema Junkie Podcast 168: All Things Tolkien

Review of new ‘Tolkien’ biopic and interview with its director

Photo credit: Fox Searchlight

Derek Jacobi plays a professor who helps Nicolas Hoult's young Tolkien find a new direction in life in the biographical film "Tolkien."

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J.R.R. Tolkien famously wrote "The Hobbit" and "Lord of the Rings" books that inspired Peter Jackson's recent films. Now a film biography about the author hits theaters. I'll discuss the allure of Tolkien's fellowship, have a review of the biopic "Tolkien" and speak with the film's director Dome Karukoski about making connections between the man and his books.

Aired: May 10, 2019 | Transcript

I have to confess a particular geeky obsession with J.R.R. Tolkien. For the past eight years I have been holding an annual hobbit meals marathon where my friends and I watch all three extended cuts of the "Lord of the Rings" movies and serve all seven hobbit meals: first breakfast, second breakfast, elevensies, luncheon, afternoon tea, dinner and supper. Plus, I throw in dessert, which I cannot fathom how Tolkien left that out. That means eating every two hours except for the dark times between luncheon and afternoon tea when there are three hours without food!

The Geeky Gourmet Presents Middle-Earth Mealtime Marathon

KPBS arts reporter and geeky gourmet Beth Accomando shows you how to host a Lord of the Rings Marathon and Hobbit Meals.

The rallying cry for the event is a quote from Tolkien that says, "If more of us valued food and cheer and song above hoarded gold, it would be a merrier world."

We try to make it a merrier world and the event brings my friends from all over the West Coast to come and visit me in San Diego. We joke that it is about the fellowship, but in all honesty, it actually is. There is something about the world Tolkien created in "The Hobbit" and "Lord of the Rings" books that touches the heart with its sense of friendship and camaraderie. What is most memorable about the books and the films is not so much the epic battles and long journeys but rather the touching humanity of the characters and their willingness to go to great lengths to help their friends.

KPBS arts reporter Beth Accomando visited the foundry at Grossmont College and witnessed the making of an orc sword.

The new film "Tolkien" looks to tell the story of the life of the writer who created those stories and to convey a sense of what inspired him. If you have enjoyed any of Tolkien's stories or fell in love with the fellowship vividly brought to life in the "Lord of the Rings" films then "Tolkien" offers a nice introduction to his life.

The film provides some fascinating insights into how Tolkien eventually came to writing. We see him as a child listening to stories told in engaging fashion by his mother and then his early years at school forming close friendships with a trio of classmates. The film shows how Tolkien was orphaned and faced serious financial hardships that limited some of his choices.

The film is best in the scenes at school and with Tolkien creating a new language just for fun and then realizing that it needed a culture and history to give it life. I love any film that finds pleasure in the potential held by books and libraries, and the boys often find sanctuary in both.

But the film falters in using Tolkien's time in the trenches during World War I as the thread to weave the story together. Although having seen the Peter Jackson documentary "They Shall Not Grow Old," which brought to visceral life what fighting in the trenches was like, I did view those World War I battle scenes with a little more insight into how horrific and life-changing it could have been on Tolkien. But that is a depth that does not come from the "Tolkien" film itself.

Tolkien once said of his work, “The book is not about anything but itself. It has no allegorical intentions, topical, moral, religious or political. It is not about modern wars.”

Now you cannot always take an artist at his word about how to interpret his work but at times the film "Tolkien" seems too literal in how it wants to connect the writer's life to his work. It is in those moments of simplicity that the film seems trapped in the tropes of the biopic formula where all the dots have to be connected.

The film is immensely appealing in terms of the performances, it just never quite gets to the depths of its subject. But it leaves you with the warm glow of fellowship, which is something that so informs Tolkien's work.

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The new film "Tolkien" looks to the life of the man who penned "The Hobbit" and "Lord of the Rings" books. Check out my review of the film and interview with its director Dome Karukoski.

We're sorry. This podcast episode is no longer available.

Aired: May 13, 2019 | Transcript

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