The three novels that make up The Lord of the Rings is a universe within itself, for J.R.R. Tolkien carefully renders the world of Middle Earth with its own languages, culture, and history. In an early chapter of The Fellowship of the Ring, titled ‘The Shadow of the Past’, the wizard Gandalf delves into the history of the ring and the hunt for Gollum:
“The wood-elves tracked him first, but they never caught him. The wood was full of rumor of him, dreadful tales…of a ghost that drank blood. It climbed trees to find nests, crept into holes to find the young; it slipped through windows to find cradles. Yet after I had given up the chase, Gollum was found. Aragorn returned out of great perils bringing the miserable creature with him.”
Based on that fragment of a story, Chris Bouchard’s The Hunt for Gollum is a remarkable achievement of independent filmmaking. Shot in Wales for a paltry $5,000, Bouchard achieves something that even Peter Jackson had trouble sustaining: a taut forty minutes of cinematic suspense without letup. With just a snippet of Tolkien lore, Bouchard has created a dark, gorgeous film with impressive production values and terrific performances.
A cinematic prequel to Tolkien’s trilogy, The Hunt for Gollum begins at the Inn of the Prancing Pony, where Aragorn (Adrian Webster) and Gandalf (Patrick O’ Connor) sit in a dark corner and brood over a growing threat:
Aragorn: The rangers have doubled their watch, is it still safe?
Gandalf: Yes, the enemy doesn’t yet know that the ring has been found. But I’ve made a grave error…it concerns the former owner of the ring.
Gandalf: He’s left his cave, and his mind is bent on recovering it.
Aragorn: Gollum knows, doesn’t he, Gandalf…the location of the ring.
Gandalf: Yes, the foolish hobbit revealed his name.
Aragorn: I will find him.
What follows is Aragorn’s solitary quest through the fields of Rhovanion to the vale of Anduin as he tracks Gollum. This sequence is gorgeously shot, at one point the camera lingering on a pool of water reflecting Aragorn’s passing. This is mythic filmmaking and Bouchard displays remarkable skill and cinematic vision.
Soon after Aragorn captures Gollum, he encounters a roaming band of orcs, and the fight scene at twilight is gripping and choreographed with desperate urgency. Surrounded and outnumbered, Aragorn kills without quarter in an unrelenting bloody fight.
Adrian Webster is on the screen for nearly the entire 40 minutes, and the film stands or falls on his performance as Aragorn. Although he lacks the star power of Viggo Mortensen, Webster captures the deep melancholy of the exiled Aragorn–a man blessed and cursed by a noble lineage, a burden that he carries with grace and humility.
And Webster looks authentic; in fact a great strength of this film is the deliberate care that Bouchard has taken in outfitting his cast, from its hero down to its villains. The costumes and makeup is that of a big budget film.
Patrick O’ Connor as Gandalf is equally convincing, and perhaps the only mistake Bouchard makes is in not using O’Connor more than he does. But the casting of The Hunt for Gollum is spot on, from the two leads down to the orc brigade.
Yet the real wizard here is the director himself, for Bouchard’s mastery of this material rises to auteur level. The pristine cinematography coupled with the film’s haunting score provides frame-after-frame of stark beauty.
And yet for such a strikingly pretty film, Bouchard creates a real sense of dread. There are no pert hobbits in The Hunt for Gollum to lighten the mood, and the film takes a dark, fearful turn. When Gollum escapes during the fight with the orcs. Aragorn is forced to track him at night by torchlight. Eventually he finds Gollum cowering in a tree.
Aragorn: Come down, Gollum!
Gollum: It’s coming…it’s here.
A hooded black rider from Mordor bolts through the forest, and the duel between Aragorn and the screeching wraith in a midnight grove is the stuff of nightmares. Bouchard unfolds this story seamlessly, with perfect control, and one hates to see it end.
The Hunt for Gollum is a remarkable gift, a nonprofit film that anyone can watch online for free at www.thehuntforgollum.com. It was obviously a labor of love for Bouchard, for the painstaking craftsmanship of the film is a marvel. When asked about his inspiration, Bouchard replies, “Peter Jackson’s films were a homage to Tolkien. The Hunt for Gollum is a homage to Jackson.”