Saturday, June 27, 2009

Of The People, By The People, For The People: Part 7

Back with what may just be the most ambitious fan film to date: Lord of the Rings: The Hunt for Gollum courtesy of Chris Bouchard and Independent Online Cinema.

If we can agree that emulation is at least part of the agenda when making fan films, it stands to reason that the bigger the source material, the harder it'll be for low-budget fan work to reach even an approximation of that level. Rob Caves' "Hidden Frontier" universe used a lot of CGI and green-screen to resemble "Star Trek", visually if not ideologically, though the extent of its success is entirely debatable (as are most aspects of this particular field: YMMV is practically the First Commandment).

"The Hunt for Gollum" sets its sights much higher, as it's based on Peter Jackson's "Lord of the Rings" trilogy, which remains (in my opinion) one of the most impressive cinematic spectacles in recent history. This 40-minute fan film is set during a specific ellipsis in "The Fellowship of the Ring", when Gandalf returns to the Shire for the last time and tells Frodo that Gollum - the only other person who knew the location of the Ring - was captured by Sauron's forces.

Bouchard is working with two sources here: Jackson and Tolkien (specifically Tolkien's appendices to "Lord of the Rings"). The plot of the film is dictated by the appendices, wherein Gollum escapes Mordor only to be captured by Aragorn and imprisoned by the Elves (followed by a second escape). Visually, though, it's very much derived from the Jackson films: the Orcs have Cockney accents, Adrian Webster has that whole Grimy Badass look down pat as Aragorn, and there's considerable emphasis placed on the lovely natural setting.

But there are a few problems here, primarily to do with Gollum. Lacking the resources to sustain a prolonged CGI depiction of Gollum, Bouchard uses a combination of extreme long-shots and keeping Gollum in Aragorn's sack for most of the film, screaming and howling and babbling to himself. To be honest? It's not the most creative solution. Sure, realistically speaking it'd be a bit much to expect competition with New Line Cinema, and yet I can't help thinking that it diminishes Gollum's presence. I'm also fairly certain that some split-second shots in "The Hunt for Gollum" were cut-and-pasted from "Fellowship of the Ring", though I wouldn't swear on it.

I suppose the question that came to mind when I saw this was "Why?" There's no shortage of "side-stories" to tell in Middle-Earth - why choose to fill in a blank that, on the whole, isn't that interesting? Aragorn hunts down Gollum, kills some Orcs, catches Gollum and brings him to the Elves, and that's about it. Given that the stylistic/visual recreation is spot-on, I guess I would've preferred a story with a bit more meat to it.

Still, I have to fall back on a phrase that's probably becoming familiar if you've been following this column: there's something to be said for ambition. As Carlos Pedraza once pointed out during a discussion of "Hidden Frontier", there's a case to be made that fan films are in a state of "reciprocal evolution" - creators learn from their peers' mistakes and successes, and thanks to the medium of the Internet it's a lot quicker and a lot easier than Hollywood's learning curve. Pedraza attributed at least part of James Cawley's success with "Phase II" to the earlier presence of "Hidden Frontier", specifically the fact that there was a popular rough template that could be (and needed to be) adapted and refined for better results. And if "The Hunt for Gollum" represents a new starting point for future Tolkien fan-creators... well, they could do a lot worse.