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A little-known Ring to satisfy the fanatics

BY KATIE HANSON | MAY 11, 2009 7:26 AM

The Lord of the Rings trilogy clearly has its fanatics, but instead of dressing up for the movies or naming their children after various characters, a small group of these devotees did much more.

The Lord of the Rings-fandom is — much like swine flu — highly contagious. Once the multilayered epic hit cinemas in three long, mostly satisfying films with breathtaking landscapes and incredible action scenes, it seemed J.R.R. Tolkein’s stories finally left the geek ghetto.

But the trilogy’s end, The Return of the King, left holes in many viewers’ hearts, and I know as well as anyone that not even watching the three films in a row is enough to tide fans over while we await The Hobbit movies, due in 2011 and 2012.

But like methadone for heroin addicts, The Hunt for Gollum is there to alleviate withdrawal for Tolkein die-hards. The nonprofit film made by fans, for fans, features an all-volunteer cast and crew. The group started making the 40-minute picture in 2007, and the final product was released online May 3. While I can understand the team’s motivation, its ambition astounds me.

On the film’s website, director Chris Bouchard said he was inspired to write “a new chapter” in The Lord of the Rings story after going back through the books and discovering a timeline in the appendices. Apparently, right before The Fellowship of the Ring begins, Aragorn and Gandalf set off on an eight-year journey to capture Gollum and find out about the ring and how much the enemy in Mordor knows.

Forget filling big shoes; this is like a baby trying to clomp around in clown shoes. But given the production team’s assets, it managed to create an impressive story.

I was most surprised by the stunning scenes of snowy mountains, dank caves, and Mordor ’s Mount Doom. The actors aren’t shabby either.

While actors Adrian Webster (Aragorn) and Patrick O’Connor (Gandalf) don’t live up to Viggo Mortensen and Ian McKellen, who really expects them to? Quite honestly, Webster and O’Connor aren’t given much to do, and without Peter Jackson’s direction, it’s unfair to expect The Hunt for Gollum to carry the banner of its predecessors.

Aragorn tramps about doing a lot of ranger-y things: turning up leaves, rubbing clods of dirt, and listening to the ground for Gollum’s movement. After Aragorn detects the wretched creature, he traps Gollum in a burlap sack, which avoids the pesky task of producing Gollum’s special effects-laden body but causing a great deal of racket. After all, no Lord of the Rings movie would be complete without Gollum’s tragic schizophrenia.

The film’s biggest scene involves Aragorn taking on 16 snarling Orcs. It’s a legitimate fight scene, with well-costumed Orcs who spit up blood rather convincingly when impaled. But when Aragorn passed out after and Orc stabbed him with a small, sharpened stick, I was irritated. Come on. That’s not enough to bring down the Heir of Isildur. A harpoon maybe — but not a twig.

I also couldn’t figure out where the film falls in the entire Lord of the Rings story line. Is Aragorn trying to get Gollum before Sauron does? Fine, but Sauron doesn’t know about the ring, otherwise he wouldn’t torture Gollum and unleash the Ringwraiths in The Fellowship of the Ring — one of which, by the way, wanders around inexplicably in The Hunt for Gollum. Sure, the Ringwraith looks menacing and shrieks a lot, but what’s the point?

The Hunt for Gollum is a homage to Tolkien and the Lord of the Rings films. Various scenes are throwbacks to the big-budget onscreen trilogy — at the beginning of the movie, a hooded Aragorn sits and smolders in an inn that resembles The Fellowship of the Ring’s Prancing Pony — and the filmmakers treat the material with respect.

The Hunt for Gollum is a small dose of Lord of the Rings relief for everyone who misses the first time he or she saw The Return of the King’s opening two hours. It’s familiar and it’s a lot of fun, but the cast and crew shouldn’t expect any Oscar loot.


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