Fans of Middle-earth need not wait three years for The Hobbit to hit the screen. They can return via The Hunt for Gollum, a film made by fans for fans — available online, for free.
According to director Chris Bouchard, the film is based on events detailed in the appendices of The Lord of the Rings, by J.R.R. Tolkien. It tells the story of Aragorn, as he attempts to discover what dangers threaten the ring bearer, who still resides in the Shire. Gollum is the key to this information.
Two years in the making, the forty minute film was shot for just $4,500. Actors, crew, prop makers, FX designers, makeup artists — upwards of one hundred and fifty fans — worked weeknights, weekends, and holidays without pay. Post production teams, across the globe, finished this labor of love through emails and online conferences.
Their efforts have paid off.
Certainly, part of the pleasure in watching The Hunt for Gollum lies in witnessing how talent and enthusiasm can rise above shoestring constraints. But money aside, Bouchard delivers an adventure that excels on several levels. First and foremost, the film, shot in North Wales, captures the look and feel of Middle-earth. The costumes and makeup are spot on. The orcs look as if they could have stepped directly off a Peter Jackson set. The fight scenes are particularly good. Bouchard and his fight choreographers could give lessons to several Hollywood directors on how to stage coherent action. The film boasts CGI effects, an excellent original score, and a cinematic vision lifted from Jackson’s trilogy.
The acting is nearly on par with the art direction. Adrian Webster, while not possessing Viggo Mortensen’s screen presence, portrays Aragorn with a wariness and weariness one expects of a Ranger. Patrick O’Connor, as Gandalf, exhibits a brooding intensity. Gareth Brough, the voice of Gollum, gives a pitch perfect performance.
For all its cinematic virtues, the film’s weakness resides in the story. It’s little more than an episode. Evidently, Tolkien knew what he was doing when he relegated this aspect to backstory.
But fan fiction and fan films don’t exist without context. Such works draw on the greater worlds of their source material. As such, whether a fan’s work succeeds or fails need not be judged on plot alone.
If The Hunt for Gollum didn’t capture the spirit of The Lord of the Rings, it might be little more than an exercise in movie making, a testament to low budget creativity. Thankfully, it possesses an energy beyond its mimicry.
In discussing his own work, Peter Jackson said, “What we were trying to do was to analyze what was important to Tolkien and to try to honor that. In a way, we were trying to make these films for him, not for ourselves.” In other words, Jackson made a fan film, albeit one with a budget of $270 million.
Chris Bouchard and his volunteers honor Peter Jackson and J.R.R. Tolkien. Fans are richer for the effort. Although the tale is a mere footnote in the lore of Middle-earth, The Hunt for Gollum is a touchstone against which the next generation of fan films will be judged.