Cyberspace has unquestionably become a haven for amateur filmmakers of all degrees of skill. YouTube, for example, contains all sorts of homemade movies. Most of these are short and simple, and not the kind of things you would ever subject to a serious critical analysis. Sometimes, though, you come across people with the talent, and sufficient free time, to pull off something more ambitious. Such is the case with The Hunt for Gollum, an all-amateur production set in Tolkien's Middle Earth just before the main part of the action in The Lord of the Rings. Directed by Chris Bouchard, this forty-minute film is based on a portion of the back story that Gandalf and Aragorn relay at The Council of Elrond.
The Hunt for Gollum is clearly and unapologetically made by and for Tolkien fans. Either the books or movies will do. So if you don't already know the name of the tavern in which the opening scene is set, or the identity of the mysterious hooded figure waiting at a back table away from all the merriment, or why everybody would stop abruptly when a grey-cloaked, bearded old man enters the room, then you should brush up on a few things before watching this film. Needless to say, Gandalf (Patrick O'Connor) has found out some disturbing news and needs Aragorn's help with an urgent task. Gollum is roaming about, and he knows too much. Aragorn (Adrian Webster) needs to find him before he falls into the wrong hands.
From there, the story moves at a quick pace. Aragorn heads out into the wilderness to pick up Gollum's trail. He gets a key clue from a fellow ranger, who tells him of reports of a strange creature sneaking into houses and stealing food. But orcs have started crossing the river Anduin, and a pair of them cross Aragorn's path to their great regret. Aragorn does eventually find and trap Gollum, carrying him in a sack as he tries to head northward. But the orcs are crossing the river in increasing numbers, and worse things than orcs are on the prowl as well. Fortunately the dark forest contains friends as well as foes. But Gollum may have already fallen once into the grasp of the enemy, which would mean the time that Aragorn and Gandalf have to get the Ring safely out of the Shire is running perilously short...
In terms of the visuals and the soundtrack, the makers of The Hunt for Gollum very deliberately try to capture the feel of the Lord of the Rings movies. Considering the enormous difference in budgets to work with -- nobody made a cent off this project -- they succeed remarkably well. There are points where you really do feel like you're watching an extension of the movies. I felt myself getting sucked back into Middle Earth, just like I did when I saw The Fellowship of the Ring in the theater for the first time after not having read the books for years. A big reason why this works is that Bouchard cleverly minimalizes the need for special effects. For example, you never see Gollum up close until the last few seconds of the film. Plus, Webster and O'Connor are surprisingly convincing in their roles, too. They and Bouchard should not have any difficulty finding paid work in this field if they feel so inclined.
The Hunt for Gollum is testament to what can be accomplished with a good idea, a good story, and a bunch of people who believe in something enough to work on it for free. Any Lord of the Rings fan should go to the film's website and take a look. This isn't merely a good film for its budget; it's a good film, period.
Overall grade: A
reviewed by Scott