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Old 03-07-2019, 11:47 AM   #1
Inziladun
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Tolkien Tolkien Bio-pic

All right, I know I'm not the only one who's heard about the upcoming Tolkien biography film, and seen the trailer. So, how does it look? More importantly, how does it feel?

On first glance, I'm put in mind of a cross between Dead Poets Society and Pearl Harbor.

Thoughts?
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Old 03-07-2019, 12:48 PM   #2
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Guarantee: they will de-emphasize his intense religious belief to the vanishing point.

Good odds that they'll have the TCBS all serving in the same unit on the Somme, and one will die in Tolkien's arms.
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Old 03-09-2019, 07:53 AM   #3
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Guarantee: they will de-emphasize his intense religious belief to the vanishing point.
I agree, unless it's to point to the "forcible" conversion of Edith.

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Good odds that they'll have the TCBS all serving in the same unit on the Somme, and one will die in Tolkien's arms.
I'd like to think they wouldn't shoehorn Hollywood tropism into an ostensible biography, but you never know...
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Old 03-09-2019, 12:21 PM   #4
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I agree, unless it's to point to the "forcible" conversion of Edith.
Or to portray Father Francis as a bigoted, tyrannical ogre. And probably a pedophile.
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Old 03-13-2019, 12:36 PM   #5
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Couple of points re: the second trailer

Why cast an actor who looks nothing whatsoever like Tolkien? Christ, they could at least have dyed his hair blonde.

Why cast an American as Edith? And even if she can successfully pull off RP (which she speaks in the trailer)- Edith spoke Brum her entire life

Although they do put Wiseman in naval uniform, the idea of the 4 TCBS in uniform together doesn't work (Tolkien delayed signing up until after graduation).

Why would Tolkien have a vision of a Black Rider in this timeframe? His imagination was entirely in the First Age.

One also gets what looks like an image of JRRT charging across No Man's Land with an SMLE and Bayonet. Tolkien was a signals officer, he didn't "charge" anywhere and all he carried for weaponry was a Webley Mk VI revolver.
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Old 03-14-2019, 08:06 AM   #6
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Why would Tolkien have a vision of a Black Rider in this timeframe? His imagination was entirely in the First Age.

One also gets what looks like an image of JRRT charging across No Man's Land with an SMLE and Bayonet. Tolkien was a signals officer, he didn't "charge" anywhere and all he carried for weaponry was a Webley Mk VI revolver.
You're certainly right here - if Tolkien 'saw' anything on the Somme, it was a fair city in ruins, dragons of steel and thunder, and brave heroes tumbling with craven cowards to the same inevitable end. I'm still hoping we get a glimpse of the Fall of Gondolin - but it's not much of a hope.

I'm kind of inclined to rendering the idea in art, so... do you happen to know what Tolkien would have had on him as equipment etc when going over the top? I assume he didn't carry phones, lamps, flags, and pigeons with him at all times, though I'm willing to be proved wrong...

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Old 03-14-2019, 05:31 PM   #7
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Tolkien wouldn't have worn very much in terms of gear: far less than a ranker. His khaki wool service uniform - with necktie(!) and a peaked cap: steel helmets wouldn't be authorized for officers for over a year. His revolver, on a lanyard around his neck. Possibly a whistle, although I doubt it as he wasn't a platoon leader. Pigeon cages and other gear would have been toted by ORs, but he might well have carried a Very (flare) gun himself. Probably an electric torch (flashlight).

Phones? Not hardly. Nobody was going to be laying phone lines across no-man's land (not that they'd last uncut out there anyway). And man-portable wireless sets, even Morse code, weren't yet a thing in 1916. Flares, semaphore flags, pigeons and runners: pretty much what Wellington had.

Although actually I don't believe Tolkien himself ever went over the top. John Garth or someone could correct me, but I believe his station was with battalion HQ in the forward trench line, and mostly concerned with receiving orders from Brigade via phone and wireless (which had to stay put). One of the major reasons both sides' offensives until 1918 might get into the enemy forward trench system but then peter out, was that once they went over the top higher echelons in their own trenches had no damn idea what was happening.

This is one reason why I keep emphasizing the extent to which the plot of the LR turns on people- especially Sauron - having to act on the basis of spotty, garbled and almost always stale information.
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Old 03-17-2019, 10:21 PM   #8
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I've actually been looking forward to this.
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Old 04-18-2019, 08:54 AM   #9
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I was afraid of this

Writers who don't know their subject except on the surface, and are faking it:

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In one particular scene in the new bio-pic Tolkien, the young J.R.R. Tolkien (Hoult) takes his friend Edith Bratt (Lily Collins) out to lunch at a fancy restaurant. Both poor, both orphans, the teens uncomfortably negotiate their upper-class surroundings, but then Tolkien finds his ease telling Edith about a particular English phrase that’s transfixed him lately: Since the phrase is beautiful, he reasons, it should mean something beautiful, beyond its banal definition. With her prodding, he starts creating a redefinition, conjuring a mystical forest inhabited by elves (take a guess for yourself what the phrase was, trivia masters! If you need a hint, try working backwards from the elvish city of “Caras Galadhon” and its ruler, “Celeborn”). The give-and-take of their blossoming romance is founded on language, and in such ways, Tolkien makes a case for why the mind of The Lord of the Rings author was as fascinating as his fantasy epics.
First off, as most will know, Celeborn and his city didn't exist in 1915 and wouldn't until the next world war was well under way. And while it is true that Tolkien , in On Fairy-Stories, singled out "cellar door" as singularly euphonious, it doesn't get one very close to Celeborn unless one mispronounces him Seleborn.

But beyond, that, it creates a notion of Tolkien's word/world creation process which is not only wrong, but explicitly rejected by the man himself (don't the writers own a copy of Letters?)

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'When you invent a language,' he said, 'you more or less catch it out of thin air. You say boo-hoo and that means something.'

I have of course no precise memory of just what I said, but what is here written seems odd, since I think it unlikely that I should intentionally have said things contrary to my considered opinions. I do not think that an inventor catches noises out of the air... it comes of course out of his linguistic equipment and has innumerable threads of connexion with other similar-sounding 'words' ... No vocal noises mean anything in themselves.
In this case, of course, Celeborn was created from long-existing Noldorin stems to give a meaning of "Silver Tree,"* to go with his wife "Tree Maiden"* and their city "Tree Fort." Nothing remotely do do with basement entrances!

And, yes, the article confirms that Tolkien's trench-visions include Black Riders arising from German cavalrymen: nonsense both internally and externally, since not only did the Black Riders' conception lie two decades in the future, but there was no German cavalry on the Western Front by 1916; the Germans had converted their troopers to infantry once it became apparent horses had no place in trench warfare.

------------------------
*Later altered, but this was what T intended when he first wrote the Lorien chapter
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Old 04-18-2019, 09:42 AM   #10
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But beyond, that, it creates a notion of Tolkien's word/world creation process which is not only wrong, but explicitly rejected by the man himself (don't the writers own a copy of Letters?)
Obviously no filmmakers do, or #210 to Forrest Ackerman should have let the previous LOTR "adapters" know how Tolkien did not like his work to be treated.

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And, yes, the article confirms that Tolkien's trench-visions include Black Riders arising from German cavalrymen: nonsense both internally and externally, since not only did the Black Riders' conception lie two decades in the future, but there was no German cavalry on the Western Front by 1916; the Germans had converted their troopers to infantry once it became apparent horses had no place in trench warfare.
Indeed. Cavalry had shown itself only marginally effective in the more open battles of 1914, and had no function in the later war of static lines and artillery barrage.
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Old 04-18-2019, 10:10 AM   #11
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Indeed. Cavalry had shown itself only marginally effective in the more open battles of 1914, and had no function in the later war of static lines and artillery barrage.
Although, actually, the British maintained a sizable cavalry force right through the Somme, where it was held in reserve to exploit the infantry breakthrough that, in the event, never happened.

And there was much scope for and use of cavalry in the more open campaigns in Russia and the Middle-east. (besides Lawrence's irregular Arab cav, the battle of Beersheba was won in great part by Australian Light Horse).
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Old 04-18-2019, 10:44 AM   #12
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And there was much scope for and use of cavalry in the more open campaigns in Russia and the Middle-east. (besides Lawrence's irregular Arab cav, the battle of Beersheba was won in great part by Australian Light Horse).
Well, Tolkien wouldn't have encountered massed enemy cavalry on the Western Front, anyway.
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Old 04-18-2019, 11:25 AM   #13
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There are a couple examples of cavalry being used in WW2 which was critical to securing the outcome. It had a similar role to the German motorized units and saved some maneuvers when there was a shortage of tech. I'd have to do a little history research to find the specific examples though, don't remember off the top of my head. And anyways these would not be German troops, or ones Tolkien would have seen, or the right timing.
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Old 04-18-2019, 12:27 PM   #14
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Well, I wouldn't say "shortage of tech" so much as "nonexistence of tech." Automotive technology was at the Model T stage; while there were armored cars they were basically confined to roads and hadn't a prayer in mud or shell-torn ground. Tanks existed, but as of the Somme they were both few and ineffective (and snail-slow).

WWI was a horse-drawn war; even though mounted troops disappeared from the Western Front, all the guns and supply were pulled by old-school horsepower (this actually was true in WWII also, for every army but the US. Yes, including the "mechanized" Germans).
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Old 04-18-2019, 12:30 PM   #15
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Oh, sorry: you said WW2. Yes, there were some cavalry that had a niche role. The US 26th Cavalry carried out a successful rearguard action vs the Japanese in the Philippines, covering the retreat into Bataan. Soviet Cossacks proved very effective in raiding German supply lines, especially in winter when most motor vehicles were stuck.
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Old 04-19-2019, 11:35 AM   #16
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I've been looking forward to this, I'm sure it will have its flaws and inaccuracies but I have been waiting for it for a long time.
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Old 04-20-2019, 06:21 AM   #17
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I've been looking forward to this, I'm sure it will have its flaws and inaccuracies but I have been waiting for it for a long time.
I just hope that any "flaws and inaccuracies" don't cast unwarranted aspersion on the real man's character. Judging figures from the past based upon modern-day sensibilities has become increasingly common.
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Old 04-21-2019, 08:29 AM   #18
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I just hope that any "flaws and inaccuracies" don't cast unwarranted aspersion on the real man's character. Judging figures from the past based upon modern-day sensibilities has become increasingly common.
I have heard, and perhaps someone can correct me on this, that the film minimizes or virtually negates Tolkien's Catholicism as an important factor in his upbringing and with the spiritual nature in which he carried those dogmatic tenets through his work and his relationships with the Inklings.

If that were the case, I don't think the terms "flaws and inaccuracies" would span the chasm of incredulity created by such a rift from reality. I am not a religious person, but one has to acknowledge, in Tolkien's case quite forcefully, that Catholicism was a primary motivation of Tolkien's philosophical makeup.
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Old 04-21-2019, 09:05 AM   #19
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I have heard, and perhaps someone can correct me on this, that the film minimizes or virtually negates Tolkien's Catholicism as an important factor in his upbringing and with the spiritual nature in which he carried those dogmatic tenets through his work and his relationships with the Inklings.
I don't have any information that this will be the case, but I would not be at all surprised. Acknowledgment by mass media of positive Christian influences seems to be thought passé and out of step with what an audience wishes to see.
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Old 04-22-2019, 02:28 PM   #20
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From what I have heard, Colm Meaney will be playing the catholic priest that was integral to his upbringing.

I'm not sure how much emphasis they will devote to that, but at least they are showing it was present.
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Old 04-22-2019, 02:36 PM   #21
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From what I have heard, Colm Meaney will be playing the catholic priest that was integral to his upbringing.

I'm not sure how much emphasis they will devote to that, but at least they are showing it was present.

He could function simply as the ogre who kept Ronald and Edith apart
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Old 04-22-2019, 09:59 PM   #22
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Well she did convert to Catholicism to be with him, not sure how the movie will go about portraying that.

Anyway I'm sure I'll see it.
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Old 04-23-2019, 08:30 AM   #23
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Apparently the Tolkien Estate has 'disavowed' the biopic.

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On Tuesday morning, the estate and family of Tolkien issued a terse statement in which they announced their “wish to make clear that they did not approve of, authorise or participate in the making of this film”, and that “they do not endorse it or its content in any way”.

A spokesperson for the estate told the Guardian that the statement was intended to make its position clear, rather than heralding future legal action.
It's not really clear whether that's 'we disapprove of it and condemn it', or simply a statement that 'this does not have an official Seal Of Approval from the Estate'. John Garth (Tolkien and the Great War seems to think it's the latter, and points out that a Seal of Approval (or an... absence of an absence of such a seal, so to speak) could lead people to think the inaccuracies in the film have a stamp of authenticity.

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Old 04-23-2019, 08:55 PM   #24
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Some discussion I've just read online has posited that the lack of Estate involvement makes the biopic less likely to be hagiographical, but the trailers hardly make it look like some warts-and-all study of his life (not that there would be many 'warts' anyway, as far as I know).

It just looks to me like a fairly tepid period-piece coming-of-age/romantic drama with a WW1 backdrop and a bit of fantasy imagery thrown in for flavour.

I agree with John Garth, who manages to put a more cheery and positive spin on it than I would, that misconceptions will arise from this film. I expect Facebook comments sections and Reddit threads full of arguments between people who've only seen the film and people who've read a biography but misremember or misunderstand it. Interesting times ahead.
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Old 04-24-2019, 10:35 AM   #25
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I would say that like any cultural touchstone or legend, misconceptions and myths always arise.

Which is a testament to the longevity and long width of Tolkien's Legacy and the shadow he casts over popular culture

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Old 04-24-2019, 03:15 PM   #26
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Which is a testament to the longevity and long width of Tolkien's Legacy and the shadow he casts over popular culture
I have to wonder, though, how much of that shadow is Tolkien's, and what part Peter Jackson's.
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Old 04-24-2019, 07:36 PM   #27
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I have to wonder, though, how much of that shadow is Tolkien's, and what part Peter Jackson's.
The Jackson movies would not exist if not for the source material. Even people who haven't read the books if they are even marginally aware of the movies they enjoy know that Tolkien was the author. Thus even the movies ultimately owe their clout to Tolkien because without him they could not exist.

Also the studio has responded to the estate's disavowal. https://www.google.com/amp/s/www.gam.../1100-6466429/
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Old 05-01-2019, 05:29 PM   #28
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I think people often forget that, although he wasn't the first or only fantasy author of the early twentieth century, it was Tolkien who launched the genre into the stratosphere. He's so pervasive that it's almost impossible now to conceive of the classic fantasy races in any terms other than his. You could argue that without him there would be no D&D, no sword and sorcery films, no fantasy culture as we know it. It's even possible that he has led more people to serious medieval studies than any other academic of his generation, and he certainly showed the way to anyone who wanted to use European mythology in fiction.

In short, he casts a long shadow. He's so much a part of the cultural landscape that people mistake Tolkien's inventions for tradition, or quote him without realising it. I think Peter Jackson owes him for more than some story ideas: he only had an audience, or even a subculture to join, because - in a rare move for him - Tolkien actually finished his Hobbit sequel. Those films are almost Tolkien eating himself, because so much that they take for granted was invented, revived or re-imagined by Tolkien, and much of the popular culture they draw on was influenced by his work. The shadow is his, and the films are just a finger of it.

As for the biopic: it will be what those are. It will give you a few highlights and greatest hits, interspersed with conjecture and narrative licence. I'm not planning to watch it until it appears in the Christmas schedule, when I'll be filling up the corners and not paying much attention anyway.
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Old 05-03-2019, 12:00 PM   #29
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I really can't blame Christopher for not wanting to give his seal of approval to a fictionalized biopic of his own parents, one which almost certainly is going to get almost everything from their appearance to their speech to their mannerisms to their personalities, wrong.
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Old 05-03-2019, 04:29 PM   #30
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I really can't blame Christopher for not wanting to give his seal of approval to a fictionalized biopic of his own parents, one which almost certainly is going to get almost everything from their appearance to their speech to their mannerisms to their personalities, wrong.
No. Tolkien expressed disdain for the prospect of being "an object of fiction while still alive", but I don't think he'd have been all right with it ante mortem either.
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Old 05-28-2019, 03:56 PM   #31
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Well, I've seen it. It's a pretty thing, but very slight. Lovely sets and costumes, competently acted (except by Jacobi, who phoned it in)... but really pretty empty. Most significant, I think, isn't really whether or not this incident or that was "real" but rather that the film gave us absolutely nothing of Tolkien as a person or as a mind. We have Nicholas Houton doing a reasonable job playing a man to whom the same life-events happened as happened to Tolkien- but it isn't Tolkien, and that goes beyond looking nothing at all like him (why for the love of God couldn't they at least put a mustache on him for the wartime bits?), but extends to not speaking or thinking like him (or much like anyone at all; the character is written as a cipher). The man we know from his letters, his essays, from anecdotes by those who knew him- he simply isn't there. Instead we have an earnest young man who can recite bits of texts in dead languages and who really likes his chums.

Even where the film makes an attempt to link up its ostensible subject to his writing, it gets it wrong. The discussions of sound and meaning with Edith and then with Wright* completely misrepresent Tolkien's own clearly expressed views, which were themselves heavily dependent on comparative philology as it was understood in his day: languages need peoples to speak them, because the history of a language is inseparable from the history of its speakers. The proto-Silmarillion, already during WW1 (something which the movie denies ever occurred!), could I think be fairly said to be Tolkien answering the question, "How did Eldarissa and Goldogrin come to be different?"

--
The battlefield scenes were palpable nonsense (as almost always in the movies). Cavalry? Seriously? Charging across no-man's land into machine guns? That lesson was learned the hard way in August 1914 and wasn't repeated.** For that matter, if a bunch of Tommies was going over the top, then the entirety of Tolkien's journey along the trenchline would have been thunderously drowned out by the preparatory bombardment, which by 1916 doctrine would have gone on for days.

(Incidentally, Smith was killed well after JRRT had already been invalided home, and it happened behind the lines as he was organising a football match. CL Wiseman did not as the movie suggests suffer from "shell shock" or PTSD, since aside from being present but not engaged at Jutland, he spend the war at anchor in Scapa Flow, or conducting event-free patrols)

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*The writers apparently have no clue how academics work at Oxford, either: professors then and now don't have "classes" in the American sense; and Tolkien would have had no "grades" at all until Trinity (spring) term of his second year, after taking Honour Moderations.

**During the opening phases of the Somme the British maintained a cavalry force well in the rear in reserve, anticipating a breakthrough that never happened; by October it had been dispersed. There was no German cavalry at all in France at the time, since there was no use for it.
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Old 05-28-2019, 04:55 PM   #32
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Thanks for that, WCH.

I have not seen it. I honestly forgot about it, as a lot of RL stuff has been going on the past few months. I wasn't all that enthused about it anyway, obviously.

I wasn't expecting any real insight into the man, that I didn't already possess. I thought style over substance would be the direction, and the main effort toward reflecting a Tolkien that would fit in with the recent LOTR and Hobbit films.

I am curious as to how Catholicism was treated. Was there any mention Tolkien's stance on "dramatisation" of his works?
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Old 05-28-2019, 07:29 PM   #33
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Catholicism was basically omitted entirely. I'm not entirely sure if it even pointed out that Fr Francis was RC and not Anglican. As to Tolkien's stance on 'dramatisation' - well, the film ends in 1916 but for a flash-forward epilogue ca 1930, so it's not an issue. But the film basically doesn't present Tolkien's stance on anything.
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Old 05-28-2019, 09:58 PM   #34
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The battlefield scenes were palpable nonsense (as almost always in the movies). Cavalry? Seriously? Charging across no-man's land into machine guns? That lesson was learned the hard way in August 1914 and wasn't repeated.** For that matter, if a bunch of Tommies was going over the top, then the entirety of Tolkien's journey along the trenchline would have been thunderously drowned out by the preparatory bombardment, which by 1916 doctrine would have gone on for days.*
Were they also wearing red trousers?

As for the cavalry. Heh.
Come WW2 though and the opinion on the usefulness of cavalry is completely reversed again because unlike motorized forces they don't require fuel. I still can't remember the specific incident I was referring to earlier in the thread - it was a (retrospectively) funny story of how the motorcycles that were supposed to play a critical role in a large scale operation ran out of fuel or engineers or something like that and the horses had to step in last minute, and they did way better than what the motorized unit was expected to do. I'll post it here is I come across it again. It's bugging me.


Thanks for the summary and the impressions. I will now neglect to watch it with a completely clear conscience.
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Old 05-29-2019, 04:18 AM   #35
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Catholicism was basically omitted entirely. I'm not entirely sure if it even pointed out that Fr Francis was RC and not Anglican. As to Tolkien's stance on 'dramatisation' - well, the film ends in 1916 but for a flash-forward epilogue ca 1930, so it's not an issue. But the film basically doesn't present Tolkien's stance on anything.
Par for the course, I guess.

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Come WW2 though and the opinion on the usefulness of cavalry is completely reversed again because unlike motorized forces they don't require fuel.
The US army's last cavalry charge was in the Philippines in early 1942. I don't know about the British forces or the Japanese, but the Wehrmacht used horses extensively in Russia.
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Old 05-29-2019, 09:23 AM   #36
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The US army's last cavalry charge was in the Philippines in early 1942. I don't know about the British forces or the Japanese, but the Wehrmacht used horses extensively in Russia.
The incident I'm thinking of was on the USSR side. Tried searching for it, but it's not much help given that their cavalry participated in pretty much every battle all the way up to Berlin. To me it has the feel of 1943 onwards, but I might be mistaken. Oh well. I'll just live with not remembering. If I do come across it again I will definitely let you know.
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Old 05-29-2019, 01:51 PM   #37
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Cavalry has remained useful in certain niche roles, right down to the war in Afghanistan. Horse was used widely in WWI on the Eastern Front and in Palestine with wide-open spaces to maneuver in. But the trenches of the Western Front was no place for them. Although the Germans did have "cavalry" regiments there, by 1916 they had turned in their horses and were infantry like everyone else.

In WWII in Russia, both sides used cavalry* because for so much of the year terrain was simply impassable for wheeled and sometimes even tracked vehicles. Cossacks in particular made something of a specialty of raiding German supply lines in the dead of winter.

As for the US in the Philippines, the 26th Cav (in fact a Filipino unit) did good service covering the retreat to Bataan; however it wasn't a "charge" but a delaying action.
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*As well as horse-drawn transport. Legend aside, the "mechanized" Wehrmacht moved most of its supplies and artillery with horses; a standard infantry division had 15,000 men and 5,000 horses, and there were as many vets and farriers as there were doctors and medics.

NB: horses do too burn fuel- and they burn it whether they're working or not. For thousands of years of organized warfare, one of the biggest logistical headaches was simply providing and transporting enough fodder.
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Old 06-04-2019, 05:44 PM   #38
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Saw the movie, one recurring thought was “do all the people in the theatre understand the references this movie is making?”

Earendil is referenced, as is Beren and Luthien, same with Morgoth I believe.

In a lot of weird pseudo illusion scenes.

Regarding the catholic aspect one thing I did think was telling was that the movie didn’t show Tolkien insisting that Edith become catholic. Likely because that would not have gone over well with a modern audience.

As an aside as a Star Trek fan it was good to see Colm Meaney, Miles O Brien.
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Old 06-04-2019, 09:14 PM   #39
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As an aside as a Star Trek fan it was good to see Colm Meaney, Miles O Brien.
I like Colm Meany a lot too (also from the Alan Parker films)- but Fr. Francis wasn't Irish, he was born Welsh and raised in Spain.
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Old 06-15-2019, 03:18 PM   #40
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So my mom was saying that she wanted to see this movie with me when she came to visit. Now that she's here, I kind of want her to forget it. She always takes movies literally, even if they're not supposed to be accurate to the last detail.
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