Two years ago there seemed to be an unusual wave of movies telling stories of famous author’s early days, capturing the moments that inspired their most well-known literary works and offering insights into their personal as well as professional lives. This week another entry in that subgenre hits theaters in the form of Tolkien, turning the spotlight on the author of The Lord of The Rings and other fantasy stories.
Nicholas Hoult stars as the title author in a story that follows him from his days at university through his experiences during World War I, his courtship of Edith (Lily Collins) and the various ways he would wind up telling the epic yet very personal stories he’d become famous for. That includes a focus on the passion he had not only for telling stories but developing fully-formed languages, something that would play heavily in his work.
A teaser poster released late last year shows the title treatment with the “O” of his name glimmering like a ring and highlighting a page of elaborately handwritten text in the background. That same background is used on the second poster but this time we see Hoult as Tolkien staring out at the audience, two riders facing off against each other in the foreground in very dramatic fashion.
Edith is added to the theatrical poster along with the men who become Tolkien’s university friends and who form the real life “fellowship” with the writer. All three posters sport the copy “A story of love, courage and friendship” to explain the various aspects of the movie’s story. They also all feature a green and yellow color scheme that’s in keeping with the branding of the books and even the movies based on his work.
The first brief teaser doesn’t show much, but does work hard to draw the thematic connections between Tolkien’s own life and the stories he would become most famous for telling.
The full trailer, introduced by Hoult and Collins, introduces us to Tolkien and his passion for both languages and telling stories. Those stories we see are metaphors for the violence and terror of war as well as the brotherhoods and fellowships formed during such conflicts. It used sweeping, dramatic music to help underscore the story, but in doing so it presents it as a large story when in fact the main focus is decidedly personal. In short it tries too hard to be LOTR, not a biopic of a buttoned-down English professor and author.
Online and Social
Fox Searchlight’s official website for the movie features most all the usual content such sites usually sports, including information on the cast and director along with “Videos” and ticket-buying prompts along with links to profiles on Instagram, Facebook and Twitter.
Advertising and Cross-Promotions
A number of TV spots began appearing in late April, beginning with one emphasizing the journeys taken and followed by commercials showing how Tolkien wanted to change the world, the real life fellowship formed between him and his friends, his desire to create a legend of his own and more.
Media and Publicity
EW shared the first look at Hoult in character in late January.
A couple months later the cast and crew appeared in a featurette where they talked about the influence of Tolkien’s work on their own lives and more. The first clip came out a bit later showing Edith encouraging Tolkien to come up with a story and tell it to her, meant to reinforce that he’s a natural storyteller.
Hoult talked about playing someone who so fully realized the worlds he was creating and the responsibility of portraying a real person. Collins was interviewed about how she wants to show the role Edith played in Tolkien’s life and his creative process. The two stars appeared together on “The Late Show” to talk about the movie with LOTR super-fan Stephen Colbert.
A minor speed bump emerged when the Tolkien family released a statement last month saying they did not endorse the movie, making it clear they had not seen it and so couldn’t speak to any particular scene or story element but simply didn’t approve of any biopic. Director Dome Karukoski responded not long after saying working with the estate would have created more problems than it solved since it would have lead to a compromised vision in some manner.
A featurette from late April emphasized the love story at the heart of the movie that compliments Tolkien’s creation of his fantasy worlds. Another explained why the filmmakers chose the parts of the writer’s life they did and how they wanted to change the perception of who he was.
Another clip showed Tolkien flummoxing his professor with his audacity in creating new languages to tell the stories he wanted to.
The Montclair Film Festival held in New Jersey last week hosted an advance screening of the movie with Colbert acting as master of ceremonies, interviewing the cast and talking about his own fandom for the author’s works.
Just before the movie hit theaters another featurette was released showing the cast talking about what a legend Tolkien was while a final clip featured him in conversation with his university friends.
The campaign doesn’t do much to differentiate itself from those for the movies mentioned in my article linked at the top. It shows all the usual beats, from him seeking comrades who understand him to being traumatized in some manner to finding the love of his life, someone who will support him in his work. The branding of the title treatment and other imagery works hard to build the connection between this and Tolkien’s work, which is understandable even if it comes off as a bit heavy handed at times.
Aside from that, Hoult and Collins seem to be doing good work here, though the latter’s role seems to be more or less thankless as many similar parts do. Still, it’s a nicely dramatic story being sold in a marketing campaign that likely won’t break through the full-scale barrages of Avengers and Aladdin.