For decades, fans of J.R.R. Tolkien’s The Lord of the Rings wondered if the books could ever become a film. The Beatles and John Boorman both tried to get adaptations off the ground in the 1960s and 70s, and animator Ralph Bakshi came up with his own cinematic interpretation, if only a partial one, in 1978. But now we live in a world rich with Lord of the Rings and Lord of the Rings-related material on film, thanks to the efforts of director Peter Jackson and his collaborators on not just the adaptations of The Fellowship of the Ring, The Two Towers, and The Return of the King, but three whole feature films bringing the relatively brief tale The Hobbit to the screen.
What remains for the Tolkien-inspired filmmaker today? None, so far, have proven brave enough to take on the likes of The Silmarillion, the forbiddingly mythopoeic work published a few years after the writer’s death. But the Finnish director Dome Karukoski, whose last picture told the story of male-erotica illustrator Tom of Finland, has found material in the writer’s life.
Going by the trailer above, Tolkien deals not just with the writing of The Lord of the Rings, described by star Nicholas Hoult as “a story about journeys, the journeys we take to prove ourselves,” about “adventures” and “potent magic, magic beyond anything anyone has ever felt before.”
It’s also, says Hoult-as-Tolkien, a story about “what it means to love, and to be loved.” That fits with another apparent storyline of Tolkien itself, that of the man who dreamed up Middle-Earth’s relationship with Edith Bratt, the girl he met as a teenager who would become his wife — not long after which he received the letter summoning him to France to fight in the First World War, where he managed to survive the Battle of the Somme. An equally skilled writer of another temperament might have produced an enduring novel of the war, but Tolkien, as his generations of readers know, went in another direction entirely. A generation later, Joseph Heller proved to be that skilled writer of a different temperament, and sixteen years after coming back from the Second World War, he produced Catch-22.
Heller’s novel has also made it to the screen a few times: Mike Nichols directed a feature-film adaptation in 1970, the pilot for a television series aired three years later, and now we await a Catch-22 miniseries that will air on Hulu this May. Christopher Abbott stars as Captain John Yossarian, the hapless bombardier with no aim in the war but to stay out of harm’s way, and George Clooney (also one of the series’ directors) as Lieutenant Scheisskopf, one of the book’s cast of highly memorable minor characters. The series’ six episodes should accommodate more of that cast — and more of the forms Heller’s elaborate satire takes in the novel — than a movie can. If, as a result, you need to consult Heller’s large-format handwritten outline for the book, by all means do — and have a look at Tolkien’s annotated map of Middle-Earth while you’re at it.
Based in Seoul, Colin Marshall writes and broadcasts on cities, language, and culture. His projects include the book The Stateless City: a Walk through 21st-Century Los Angeles and the video series The City in Cinema. Follow him on Twitter at @colinmarshall or on Facebook.