Once upon a time, "fan films" meant grainy flicks of not much better cinematic quality than the stag movies you used to find in the attics of recently deceased male relatives who smelled funny, and whom you really didn't like to hug at family gatherings. But now we live a world in which George Takei stars as Sulu in a fan film that (albeit controversially) gets nominated for a Nebula, and in which the Batman vs. Aliens vs. Predator fan movie Batman: Dead End is boatloads better than the Alien vs. Predator movies the studios have been giving us.
So now we have the Lord of the Rings online fan flick The Hunt for Gollum ... Chris Bouchard's 40-minute mini-epic based on material peppered throughout Tolkien's much bigger epic about Aragorn's tracking of Gollum just before the events of Fellowship of the Ring. The movie went live May 3, 2009, and can be seen on DailyMotion.com and TheHuntForGollum.com.
As a fantasy film, The Hunt for Gollum looks and sounds and feels better than a lot of professionally made fantasies of the 1980s, like the disco-scored Hawk the Slayer (which featured Jack Palance wearing a +10 Helm of Overacting) and Sword of the Valiant, starring Ator the Invincible himself, Miles O'Keeffe, as Gawain of Arthur's court. At times, The Hunt for Gollum looks as good as certain shots in really great fantasy movies like Excalibur and Dragonslayer, and it deserves major kudos for that.
The great flaw of The Hunt for Gollum is that it's a very fine Chris Bouchard movie, but it's not a very good Peter Jackson movie.
When Bouchard copies Jackson—and I don't mean just in terms of look and design and color scheme, I mean right down to Jackson's editing style—The Hunt for Gollum is as hollow as an abandoned mithril mine. Bouchard even copies aspects of Jackson's direction that really didn't work for Jackson#&8212;those montage scenes that are over-scored and chock-full of quasi-telepathic dialogue, like the exchange between Elrond and Galadriel in The Two Towers. It's a flawless re-creation of flawed filmmaking. It's frustrating impersonation, not performance.
But when Bouchard lets himself off his own leash, there's some damned good filmmaking in The Hunt for Gollum. This is especially true in a lot of the scenes filmed at night in forests ... shoots during which I guess being on location prevented Bouchard from having all the resources on hand that let him shoot like Jackson, and which forced him to come up with new shots and use his own style. There's real talent here, and it's a shame Bouchard didn't use the talent that's truly his for the entirety of the movie. One of the great achievements of Jackson in his adaptation of Lord of the Rings was his willingness to change things here and there, to compress narratives, switch things around and punch up the drama as the medium of film required. Bouchard should have copied this aspect of Jackson's approach and been more willing to take stylistic chances.
As a drama in and of itself, The Hunt for Gollum is OK, and fun for Tolkien fans. It's a little glimpse of the bigger epic that is Lord of the Rings, and hopefully it's a little glimpse of bigger and better things from Bouchard, who's got the chops to be a good fantasy feature director once he ditches his self-imposed Jackson-like training wheels.