The upcoming movie about The Lord of the Rings author, called Tolkien, does not come with a stamp of approval from the Tolkien Estate. That is no big surprise, as the Estate has for decades distanced itself from dramatic adaptations of the fantasy series, including Peter Jackson’s The Lord of the Rings series. Now, Tolkien director Dome Karukoski has spoken about why it’s in the movie’s best interest to have avoided any relationship with the Tolkien Estate to begin with.
Speaking at the Tolkien premiere in New York City, Karukoski the movie might have been “suffocated” had the producers worked alongside the Tolkien Estate. “Honestly, you try not to work with the Estate for reasons obvious,” Karukoski said, as reported by Indie Wire. “Even if it would be out of kindness to ask the Estate, you start servicing them, they become your friends. You shouldn’t mess with the Estate, so the film can exist purely for your own reasons and your own feelings about the characters.”
Karukoski went on to say the the Tolkien movie producers did “very, very thorough research” to try to under Tolkien the man and the other key characters in the story, like Edith Bratt. The director said what viewers will see is that “the emotional truth of [the characters] is very true.”
Had the Tolkien producers worked with the Estate, that might have led to situations where the film would obscure or ignore certain character traits–and that wouldn’t be good, Karukoski said.
“To dig out the emotional truth of the characters, you have to try to not hide certain evidence and when you work with an Estate what happens is that that kind of gets suffocated,” he said. “You’re not allowed to do certain things so that the audience can feel an emotion from it.”
In another interview, Karukoski told SkyNews, “Even if they were the kindest Estate ever, they would kind of become your friends and you start servicing them rather than the purity of the drama you need to make the best possible film.”
Karukoski also confirmed that the producers invited the Estate to view the Tolkien movie before its premiere, but representatives reportedly declined. Karukoski said he is hopeful that members of the Estate see the movie someday.
The Tolkien Estate is led by J.R.R. Tolkien’s son, the 94-year-old Christopher Tolkien. He told French newspaper Le Monde in 2012 that “the commercialisation [of Tolkien’s work] has reduced the aesthetic and philosophical impact of the creation to nothing.” In the same interview, Christopher Tolkien said of Peter Jackson’s Lord of the Rings trilogy, “They eviscerated the book by making it an action movie for young people aged 15 to 25.”
Going further back, Tolkien himself was skeptical and hesitant about the commercialization of his work, and specifically the prospect of selling the Lord of the Rings movie rights to Disney in the ’60s. He said he had a “heartfelt loathing” for Disney movies, and he said Walt Disney himself was “hopelessly corrupted” by profit-seeking.
Fox Searchlight, the production company behind Tolkien (which is now owned by Disney), said in a statement that it “has the utmost respect and admiration for Mr. Tolkien and his phenomenal contribution to literature.”
Nicholas Hoult (Mad Max: Fury Road, X-Men series) plays the adult Tolkien, while Lily Collins (To The Bone, Stuck In Love) plays Tolkien’s wife, Edith Bratt.
Middle-earth Enterprises, which is the rights-owner of Tolkien’s work separate from the Tolkien Estate, is by comparison more enthusiastic about commercial deals related to The Lord of the Rings than the Estate. Just this year, it announced a partnership with Daedalic Entertainment for a new Lord of the Rings game about Gollum. Additionally, Electronic Arts remains a Lord of the Rings licensee, as does WB Games and Lord of the Rings Online developer Standing Stone Games.
While the Tolkien Estate might not be involved with the Tolkien movie, the group does support some commercial endeavors. The Estate recently partnered with Amazon on the new Lord of the Rings TV show coming to the retailer’s streaming service.
Tolkien opens in theaters on May 10. Reviews have started to show up online–here’s a breakdown of what the critics are saying.