by George Wolf
Better confess right now: the whole Hobbit, Lord of the Rings thing just isn’t my bag. God bless you if you love the books, films and all, but the whole story just leaves me cold.
That’s not to say I can’t respect and admire the incredible imagination of author J.R.R. Tolkien, or the biopic about him that’s full of so much respect and admiration.
But what’s strangely missing in Tolkien is the wonder, the spark of endless creativity so abundant in the author’s expansive literary landscapes.
Writers Stephen Beresford and David Gleeson anchor Tolkien’s pre-Hobbit life in the trenches of WW1. As Officer Tolkien (Nicholas Hoult) searches the battlefield for a boyhood friend, flashbacks fill us in on his upbringing as an orphan adopted into wealth.
With an eye on “changing the world through the power of art,” Tolkien forms a “Dead Poets” – type secret society with his mates at Oxford, where he impresses esteemed language professor Joseph Wright (Derek Jacobi in a wonderful cameo) as well as the lovely Edith Bratt (Lily Collins).
Both Hoult and Collins are committed and pleasing, but the courtship becomes just another informative but less-than-engrossing leg the film stands on.
Though director Dome Karukoski keeps things well-assembled and plenty reverent toward his subject, this film never quite conveys the spirit of inspiration it seeks to celebrate. With a frustrating lean toward safety over enlightenment, Tolkien turns an ambitious quest into a rather pedestrian journey.