‘The Hunt for Gollum’: Should ‘Lord of the Rings’ Fans Be Excited?

Andy Serkis side by side with Gollum
'The Batman' (2022) © Warner Bros. Pictures; 'The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey' (2012) © Warner Bros. Pictures

Warner Bros. recently announced that Middle-earth will be returning to the big screen in 2026, with The Lord of the Rings: The Hunt for Gollum, set to be directed by Smeagol himself, Andy Serkis. But is this just a senseless plea for money? And will the growing output of Tolkien-based content poison the brand?

Bringing The Team Back Together To Hunt Gollum

David Zaslav, CEO of Warner Bros., has been summoning filmmaking talent to his studio like Sauron and his Ringwraiths: Tom Cruise, Paul Thomas Anderson, Margot Robbie and Ryan Coogler have all recently procured deals to generate quality films with the titan studio. Similarly, the release of upcoming films like George Miller’s Furiosa: A Mad Max Saga and Kevin Costner’s ambitious Horizon: An American Saga shows that Zaslav is emphasising director and star power (potentially) over financial success, enabling fertile soil for filmmakers to cultivate their passion projects. 

The announcement of The Hunt for Gollum (which is also a popular YouTube fan film) came with the information that the masterminds behind The Lord of the Rings and The Hobbit trilogies, Peter Jackson, Fran Walsh and Phiillpa Boyens, will be heavily involved with the production and screenplay. This is a surprise to be sure, given the well documented pressures Warner Bros. dumped on Jackson for The Hobbit, forcing him to turn it into a trilogy at the last minute and to largely film the final instalment without satisfactory pre-production and the loosest of scripts. But it is a welcome surprise, as the trio of writers clearly treat J.R.R. Tolkien’s world with respect. Perhaps Zaslav has rebuilt bridges with Jackson. 

Andy Serkis has yet to prove himself as a director. Any marketing material would do well to avoid using “from the director of Venom: Let There Be Carnage,” but, with films like Breathe (2017) and Mowgli: Legend of the Jungle (2018), he has displayed early signs of visual splendour and emotive storytelling. It is also worth noting that Serkis served as 2nd unit director for The Hobbit films, so his directorial experience already encompasses Middle-earth. Moreover, if Gollum is the lead of the film, there is a greater chance of Serkis finally, finally, getting awards recognition—not just for himself, but for motion-capture performances in general. 

The Lord of the Rings: The Fellowship of the Ring (2001) © New Line Cinema and WingNut Films

Other Middle-earth Trips

Since The Battle of the Five Armies (2014) closed out the Middle-earth sextet of films, audiences have only returned to the fictional world once, with Amazon’s Rings of Power, a show that few people watched and even fewer people finished. Without noticeable talent within the cast and crew, the show was dismissed as a cash-grab. Despite its enormous budget, the Rings of Power never felt as tangible and raw as its cinematic counterparts. This may have reinforced to audiences that the reason why The Lord of the Rings is so beloved is because it is complete and whole in its own way. Taking the franchise back to its practical, non-digitised routes would be a great choice.

Warner Bros. have a trial run in December with The Lord of the Rings: War of the Rohirrim, an anime film set 200 years before The Battle of Helm’s Deep. This theatrically released film is an uphill battle—how well will Middle-earth translate to anime? If consensus is positive it will solidify the studio’s mandate to delve deeper into Tolkien adaptations, but negative reception will poison the well for the hardcore fans. 

Choosing ‘The Hunt For Gollum’ As The story

The Hunt for Gollum is a fascinating choice to begin a run of new, live-action films for the franchise. The guess work here is that it will not need to be a big-budget battle-driven epic. The film’s plot details are currently wearing the One Ring, evading observation and passing unseen among the speculating Twitter threads. In the books, Gandalf and Aragorn spend years hunting Gollum to determine if he had the One Ring and what information about Bilbo Baggins he has. Aragorn catches Gollum in the Dead Marshes and brings him to Mirkwood for Gandalf to interrogate him. 

If this is the outline of the film’s plot then the immediate thought is recasting: would the irreplaceable Ian McKellen and Viggo Mortenson have to be… replaced? Accepting any other actor in those roles is a challenge. 

The story too feels like a one-off episode in an anthology rather than a two-hour fantasy film – Andy Serkis is phenomenal as Gollum, but would audiences really enjoy watching him bicker with himself for an elongated amount of time? 

The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey (2012) © Warner Bros. Pictures

Filmmaking: A Struggling Business

It has become common consensus to groan when IP-related prequels, sequels, remakes, reboots, re-quels and TV shows are announced. Every villain now gets an origin story, every world must have its history explored. Everything is regurgitated. Everything is labelled as a cash-grab. But truthfully, who can really blame the studios?

2023 may have shown the industry that audiences mostly reject franchise films in favour of the new, but even then, the ‘new’ was still based off of massive IP: Barbie, Mario and Christopher Nolan are incredibly well established. With cinema audiences shrinking every month, it is up to the big blockbusters to keep the business going to negate the quiet periods. When Hollywood does make new and exciting films, the audiences who have been clamouring for them to fail turn up, reflected in the underwhelming box office takes of Challengers (2024), The Fall Guy (2024) and Abigail (2024). 

Warner Bros. may have the solution: if one Lord of the Rings film can bring in the money, then that can fund and cover any losses from the studio’s riskier business ventures, such as Paul Thomas Anderson’s untitled IMAX blockbuster next year. To see this as a cash-grab is to ignore that filmmaking is a business, and a dying one at that. 

Returning to franchises may be tiresome, but when experienced talent is hired and there is a goal to make it as good as it can be (to encourage profits, yes), then there is hope. The Batman (2022) featured the seventh Bruce Wayne in thirty years yet covered new ground in a refreshing style. Rise of the Planet of the Apes (2011), the seventh installment of its franchise, utilised ground-breaking visual effects to more realistically tell its story. Prey (2022) restored genuine thrills to the Predator franchise—it is often overlooked just how many lazy IP cash grabs actually prove the naysayers wrong.

Returning to the The Lord of the Rings franchise with something like The Hunt for Gollum is definitely worth being cautiously optimistic about. Chances are it will be a worthy continuation of one of the 21st century’s most legendary franchises. 

Words by Jacob Hando 

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