New Clip From “Tolkien”

This movie does seem to be getting more appealing to me – though this clip, which was released today by Empire, is somewhat conflicting. On the one hand, it has beautiful background music, which helps the dialogue immensely; the spoken words seem to flow around melodiously in a rhythm, the effect of which would almost be hypnotic if it weren’t for the fact that the interaction between J.R.R Tolkien and Edith Bratt here seemed so peculiarly awkward! I mean, yes, their interruptions and mumbling does lend to the interest of the scene, but it doesn’t seem to work entirely. Tolkien himself (played by Nicholas Hoult) seems a little self-absorbed – when Edith (Lily Collins) tells him she has thought of a name for a character in a story, he corrects her: “It’s not a name,” he says. “It’s something else.”

He’s referring to the fact that, in his invented language, the word Edith has created is a place-name. But the line delivery sounds too sharp, too abrupt.

Similarly, at the opening of the scene, the back-and-forth between the two seems less romantic than it does snippy. Edith pushes Tolkien to tell her a story, but can only persuade him when she gives him the choice of doing it “in any language”. Once things get moving and Tolkien starts showing off his incredible imagination, the whole scene gets much better, but the dialogue between the two feels like it could have been toned down just a little. Tolkien is currently coming off somewhat impolite – not entirely rude, but very secluded and private. Edith is much more relatable: she’s clearly fascinated by Tolkien’s intellect and her eyes are wide with wonder as Tolkien explains that the name she created (which,  by the way, is just the words “cellar door”) properly belongs to an ancient place, almost impossible to reach, but held in reverence by those who find it. “Oh, is it now?,” Edith says: proving she, too, seems to have a tendency to cut in at just the wrong moment.

Tolkien, however, is by now lost in his imagination: he talks about the shrine at the heart of this magical place, and how it is marked by – and there he pauses suddenly, and the music gently trembles around him. This is the best moment in the clip. Tolkien is on the brink of saying that this place was marked by the Elves, the legendary people who inhabit much of his invented world. But he stops, staring dreamily into space, and says – “by trees.”

In a way, the idea that the trees were responsible for this place’s magic would not be alien to Tolkien – he revered trees, and would often stop to stare at them for very long times when he was out walking. Some of his most notable characters are the Ents, the tree-shaped forest dwellers who rise up against industrialism in The Lord of the Rings trilogy. Magical trees populate Middle-earth, from the enchanting mellyrn of Lórien to the Forest of Nightshade in Beleriand. So for a moment I was actually caught off guard by this line, and didn’t realize that it was meant to be a substitute for Elves. When I did realize, and re-watched the whole scene, the magic is indeed much more noticeable – but the interactions between Edith and John might have needed just a little more work.

All in all, the scene is quite good: the focus on Tolkien’s linguistic and philological skills is delightful. The use of the phrase “cellar door” to drive the scene is wonderful: Tolkien once said that the word “cellar door” was one of the most beautiful in the English language. The music is just perfect (honestly, the music is so good: very Elven). And the acting from Hoult and Collins is, for the most part, really good – I just think certain lines could have been edited slightly for an even better effect. I would be lying, though, if I said that this brief clip didn’t make me more excited than any Avengers: Endgame trailer. The truth is, I am wildly hyped for Tolkien, and I’m giving it all the benefit of the doubt for now.

Trailer Rating: 7.9/10

Tolkien Trailer 2!

This movie is either going to be very dear to my heart, and will remain that way forever, or it will be something that I will regret seeing for the rest of my life. I know so much about J.R.R. Tolkien, the legendary author of The Lord of the Rings, The Hobbit, and posthumous author of The Silmarillion, that any attempt to translate his life to the big screen is bound to be met with some trepidation from me. There are just so many things that they could get wrong – plus, the first teaser for this movie did nothing to ease my fears, and in fact only made them worse.

So, it was with a heavy heart that I clicked on this trailer, after hearing of its release on The One – I was terrified that I would be treated to more of those strangely animated fantasy-sequences from the first teaser, and more not-so-subtle hints at things in The Lord of the Rings.

I was more than pleasantly surprised.

The trailer immediately gets off to a good start, with Tolkien (Nicholas Hoult) speaking to the love of his life, Edith Bratt (Lily Collins). He makes a casual statement about how he has always been fascinated by languages, and how he has created his own, and crafted stories around them. Edith is startled, and asks him to tell her a story.

This scene is perfect, and had me wondering if I could possibly be in for a surprise: the real J.R.R. Tolkien was indeed fascinated by languages, and became the world’s leading philologist in his time (philology, the study of languages, is an art that sadly died out with him). It is also true that Tolkien created the languages of Middle-earth before he had ever even conceived of the notion of hobbits, wizards, or the One Ring. Seeing that realized onscreen – and apparently made the focus of the film – is a true relief. Tolkien’s mastery of languages was noticeably absent from the first teaser, and was one of the many things I thought would be lost in translation here.

At 0:34, we get a shot from the first teaser: that odd dream-sequence animation with the rearing horse – that seems to be referencing the design of a Black Rider. Seeing this of course made me think that my hopes were dashed. However, that shot soon gives way to more familiar things: Tolkien as a young boy, play-fighting with friends – a scene that is dramatically followed by one of Tolkien, now a young man, on the all-too-real battlefields of the First World War. It is a striking contrast. We see him lighting a match in the trenches, which fades into another shot of him, as a boy, lighting a candle inside a very ornate lamp that casts beautiful images of eagles and horses on the walls of his room.

Then, at 0:54, we see the T.C.B.S (or, for those unversed in Tolkien lore, the Tea Club & Barrovian Society: that is, Tolkien and his three good friends, Rob Gilson, Geoffrey Bache Smith, and Christopher Wiseman). These young men were all deeply interested in classical arts like poetry and music – we see them at one of their councils, discussing these very matters.

After that, we see Edith and J.R.R. in a wooded area – not, I think, the hemlock grove of legend, as they both seem pretty young in this scene. There are various romantic scenes (Edith and Tolkien with their hands intertwined, or kissing, etc). These then fade to black, and are replaced by a scene heralding the outbreak of the First World War.

This scene is chilling, though its significance is somewhat diminished since we have just seen the War a little earlier in the trailer. But be that as it may, seeing Tolkien in his military uniform, or him and his friends posing for a photograph before they are sent off to the front – it is certainly heartbreaking. No spoilers, but the tragedies that are about to befall this young man are so bitter and painful that I imagine I’ll be crying in the theater.

What follows is the most beautiful scene in the trailer: Edith Bratt dancing for Tolkien in the hemlock grove at Roos in Yorkshire. Here, Tolkien found in Edith the inspiration for the story that is at the heart of all his works: that of Beren and Lúthien. Their love story is one of tragedy and great loss, but also a bittersweet joy that pierces the heart: it is, as Tolkien says in the trailer, a “magic beyond anything anyone’s ever felt before”. The story of Beren and Lúthien mirrors that of Tolkien and Edith, so much so that those names are inscribed on the couple’s shared gravestone.

At 1:44, we see a literal fire-breathing dragon – I don’t even know what to say about that, but I’ll acknowledge that it looks better than the fantasy horses and riders from the first teaser.

Additional touching moments include seeing Tolkien playing rugby, and Edith coming to visit him in the hospital where he was sick with trench fever. The trailer concludes with a haunting image of a man (possibly Tolkien himself, or something in a fantasy sequence) walking onto a fiery field of war.

And as the screen fades to black and promises me that Tolkien will be “Coming Soon”, I am left wondering: how is it that I actually liked this? I got goosebumps at all the right moments, I was entranced by the visuals, the actors seem perfect in their roles (even Nicholas Hoult), and the overall tone is spot-on. I think I may end up liking this movie after all, and I am quite happy about that.

Coming soon…

It can’t come soon enough.

Trailer Rating: 10/10