"The wonder of the dancing bear is not how well it dances, but that it dances at all."
I was turned on by Ole Eichhorn to the impending online-only release of The Hunt For Gollum. That finally pushed me to lash together an improvised Internet home theatre. A little experimenting showed that WiFi was not going to supply enough steady bandwidth in our RF-polluted neighborhood, so I was tied to an Ethernet wire that would not reach the regular HT setup. Nothing that a well-stocked closet can't fix, and a 20-year old set of powered speakers, an obsolete boardroom projector, and a section of blank wall later, we were in business and hooked up the MacBook Pro for our own premiere. Cue up the latest in 21st century fanac.
If you haven't bumped into citations elsewhere, 'Gollum' is a 40 minute short film, produced and staffed entirely by Tolkien fans, headquartered in the UK but with contributions from around the world. Some of the creators have formal training and professional experience, but many are just enthusiastic amateurs when it comes to film. They have taken a few references in the original works to the hunt by Aragorn - the ranger 'Strider' - for the creature Gollum and blown them up into a set of short adventures all featuring the Aragorn character. It's a miniature prequel or back story to the LOTR itself.
There's no way to establish an elaborate, multilayered world like Middle Earth in a short, and 'Gollum' doesn't try. Instead it takes a ride on the presumed knowledge of its audience, gathered from both the Peter Jackson movies and the original fantasies. When we hear the scream in a barely visible nighttime fight scene, we know that's a Nazgul. When a new arrival saves Strider's hide, the true fan knows who it is, even if the dialog doesn't help much. A two line exchange in the framing dialog between Aragorn and Gandalf provides all the motivation needed for the quest, for those who know the backstory. Confidence in the audience lets 'Gollum' cut most of the exposition and get on with the action.
The same can't said of the production values and attendant technology. Don't get me wrong, they are extremely impressive for a shoe-string independent creation. Self-consciously so, to the level of quoting from the Jackson films. Long shot of terrain with heroic music. Check. Gorgeous matte of elven dwellings. Yup. Aragorn saved by soft-focus elvish dreams. Got it. We can do orc costumes. Yes we can. And Gollum in close-up CG. Yes, precious. It almost feels like each effects or production team got a few storyboards to themselves, making for a choppy flow to the overall work.
No matter, the point is that the bear can dance at all. And unlike a real bruin, this kind of film making is going to keep on getting better, less self-conscious, more technically adept, and able to focus on story telling. The gap between independent and Hollywood studio work keeps narrowing. And it's turning out to be a fun future for those of us whose fannish days were circumscribed by the limits of mimeograph stencils and tape recorders.