In the past few years, we’ve seen competing friends-with-benefits romcoms (No Strings Attached and Friends with Benefits), Snow White reinterpretations (Mirror Mirror and Snow White & the Huntsman), Hercules flicks (The Legend of Hercules and this month’s Hercules), and two versions of The Jungle Book taking form at Disney and Warner Bros. Now, it appears that Hollywood has latched onto the next hot commodity, and it’s… J.R.R. Tolkien?
As odd as that sounds, two biopics about the bestselling author of The Lord of the Rings trilogy and The Hobbit are racing to get into theaters. In one corner, Chernin Entertainment is developing Tolkien for Fox Searchlight, and in the other, London- and Brisbane-based Attractive Films is working on a much smaller project called Tolkien & Lewis.
Now, although Tolkien is the bigger project and boasts a script from Cowboys & Aliens scribe David Gleeson, it looks like Tolkien & Lewis is going to beat it into theaters. With an $18 million budget set and a director signed on in the form of Expendables 2 helmer Simon West, it’s already aiming for an Easter release.
According to The Hollywood Reporter, Tolkien & Lewis “will court the faith-based audience.” The movie, which opens around the beginnng of WWII, will focus on the tumultuous relationship between Tolkien, then haunted by memories of his time in the armed forces during World War I. Tolkien taught at the University of Oxford with the agnostic C.S. Lewis, whom Tolkien, a devout Catholic, wound up converting to Christianity.
Thanks to Tolkien, Lewis’ newfound faith permeated his most popular books, including The Chronicles of Narnia series. Simultaneously, Lewis pushed Tolkien to work on a decades-old project that ended up becoming The Lord of the Rings trilogy. However, Lewis’ increasing fame as an untrained theologian began to complicate his relationship with Tolkien, and the two writers’ friendship was soon “poisoned by jealousy, paranoia and creative and religious differences.”
According to Attractive principal Wernher Pramschufer:
“Lewis becoming the poster boy for Christianity upset Tolkien. And obsessive genius Tolkien is blocked, terrified of finishing The Fellowship of the Ring, for fear of the strange, psychotic visions which torture him.”
Their relationship certainly sounds like fertile ground for a film. Tolkien, on the other hand, is being pursued as a straight biopic about the author’s life. It’s not as far along as Tolkien & Lewis, so expect to be seeing that one first. Which movie will be the better treatment of Tolkien’s story, however, remains to be seen.