Tolkien (Blu-ray) (2019)

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Released 2-Oct-2019

Cover Art

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Details At A Glance

General Extras
Category Biography Deleted Scenes-x 7 Scenes (12:37)
Featurette-First Look (12:59)
Audio Commentary-director Dome Karukoski
Rating Rated M
Year Of Production 2019
Running Time 111:42
RSDL / Flipper Dual Layered Cast & Crew
Start Up Menu
Region Coding 2,4 Directed By Dome Karukoski

Twentieth Century Fox
Starring Nicholas Hoult
Lily Collins
Tom Glynn-Carney
Patrick Gibson
Anthony Boyle
Derek Jacobi
Colm Meaney
Pam Ferris
Case Standard Blu-ray
RPI ? Music Thomas Newman

Video Audio
Pan & Scan/Full Frame None English DTS HD Master Audio 5.1
English Descriptive Audio Dolby Digital 5.1
German dts 5.1
Spanish dts 5.1
French dts 5.1
Italian dts 5.1
Russian dts 5.1
Chinese Dolby Digital 5.1
Widescreen Aspect Ratio 2.40:1
16x9 Enhancement
16x9 Enhanced
Video Format 1080p
Original Aspect Ratio 2.40:1 Miscellaneous
Jacket Pictures No
Subtitles English for the Hearing Impaired
Smoking Yes
Annoying Product Placement No
Action In or After Credits No

NOTE: The Profanity Filter is ON. Turn it off here.

Plot Synopsis

     Tolkien covers the adolescence and early adulthood of fantasy author J.R.R. Tolkien, finishing when he begins The Hobbit in the 1930s (the book was first published in 1937). Along the way we meet the people who influenced him, including the woman who was the love of his life and the school friends who became the members of the first “fellowship”. In the film these relationships are intercut with Tolkien’s hallucinatory visions while serving on the Somme battlefield in WWI; amid the industrial scale desolation and carnage, being shelled and gassed, Tolkien suffered trench fever which resulted in him being invalided back to England.

     Despite the fact that Tolkien returns to the Somme battlefield frequently it is otherwise a straight forward, old fashioned, chronological story. Tolkien (played by Harry Gilby when young and Nicholas Hoult when older) and his younger brother are orphans who come under the guardianship of Father Francis (Colm Meaney) and are placed as lodgers in Birmingham with Mrs Faulkner (Pam Ferris). Also lodging with Mrs Faulkner is another orphan, Edith Bratt (Mimi Keene when young Lily Collins when older), who became the love of Tolkien’s life and whom, after the war, he married. With a scholarship Tolkien attended a Birmingham Public School. At first he suffers from the class animosity so prevalent in the English public school system but soon a close friendship, indeed a fellowship, is forged between Tolkien, Christopher Wiseman (Ty Tennant / Tom Glynn-Carney), Robert Gilson (Albie Marber / Patrick Gibson) and Geoffrey Smith (Adam Bregman / Anthony Boyle), a fellowship that continued when, after school, two of the group went to Oxford and two to Cambridge. At Oxford Tolkien does not do well and he is about to leave when he meets Professor Wright (Derek Jacobi) and discovers his true vocation – philology. But then the war intervenes.

     Tolkien is Finnish director Dome Karukoski’s first English language film. In his hands Tolkien is a romanticised, almost mythical, view of the England before the Great War. I have no idea how much of the film is accurate and how much is dramatised, although it is a film after all so liberties are to be expected, but much of the pre-war events are twee and feel unrealistic, although the interactions between the four young chums are fun. In contrast, the sequences on the Somme battlefield, with the mud, blood, shell holes, wire, killing, shellfire and devastation, are harrowing as Tolkien, accompanied by faithful private soldier Sam Hodges (not Samwise Gamgee Craig Roberts) searches for Gilson amid the carnage and mud while seeing visions of dragons and armoured knights amid the swirling smoke, explosions and mustard gas. A vision that became Mordor!

     Tolkien is quite episodic and individuals such as Father Francis and Professor Wright flit through Tolkien’s life, and the film, without much character development. There are things to admire in Tolkien, some beautiful photography of the English countryside in autumn colours, the harrowing battlefield, all grey and brown mud and oxide brown, bloody water in shell holes, good performances from Nicholas Hoult and Lily Collins, but the film is not as engaging emotionally as it should be; it is as if we are watching the influences upon and the development of this major writing talent, the man who invented a genre, from a distance which in the end it leaves one wanting more.

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Transfer Quality


     Tolkien is presented in the 2.40:1 aspect ratio, in 1080p using the MPEG-4 AVC code.

     Detail is excellent, whether it be the delicate autumnal leaves of the English countryside or the blood and desolation of the Somme trenches, wire and wasteland; the visions are the deliberate exception looking suitably misty. Close-ups of dirt, mud and blood on faces and uniforms are strong. Colours, especially the yellows, reds and greens of the country, are pleasant although having that digital glossy look. The trenches and Somme battlefield are grey/brown mud with shell holes filled with dirty, stagnant oxidised, bloodied water, contrasted with the bright yellow and red of the flame throwers and explosions. Blacks and shadow detail are excellent. Skin tones are natural, contrast and brightness consistent. There is deliberate distortion in hallucination scenes and glare is prevalent in quite a few scenes where the light source is behind the actors.

     English subtitles for the hearing impaired are available plus French, Spanish, Danish, Dutch, Finnish, German, Italian, Norwegian, Swedish, Russian, Estonian, Latvian, Chinese, Vietnamese and Ukrainian subtitles. Audio commentary subtitles are available in a range of European languages.

Video Ratings Summary
Shadow Detail
Film-To-Video Artefacts
Film Artefacts


     Audio choices are English DTS HD-MA 5.1, French, Spanish, German, Italian, Russian DTS 5.1, Chinese and Ukrainian Dolby Digital 5.1, English Descriptive Audio Dolby Digital 5.1 and the English Audio Commentary Dolby Digital 2.0.

     The battlefield scenes are suitably chaotic with explosions, shots and impacts across all speakers. Outside of the action in the Somme scenes there is often the muted boom of cannons in the distance while scenes in England add the sounds of birds in the country and voices in Oxford and Birmingham. Dialogue is clear. The score by Thomas Newman is nicely added into the mix. Newman has been nominated for Oscars on 15 occasions, including for The Shawshank Redemption (1994), American Beauty (1999), Skyfall (2012) and, most recently, 1917 (2019), but has yet to win. His music for Tolkien is a delicate piano and orchestral score that is fine but not as memorable as some of his other scores. The subwoofer provided appropriate support to the explosions and gunfire.

     There are no lip synchronisation issues.

Audio Ratings Summary
Audio Sync
Surround Channel Use


Deleted Scenes (12:37)

     Seven deleted scenes with optional commentary by Dome Karukoski explaining why they were cut from the finished film. The scenes were obviously deleted quite late as they have complete effects. The scenes are:

First Look (12:59)

     Nicholas Hoult and Lily Collins host a superficial HBO first look at the film. This extra includes a lot of film footage plus comments by director Dome Karukoski, co-producer Dan Finlay and cast Harry Gilby, Tom Glynn-Carney, Patrick Gibson and Anthony Boyle; covered is when Hoult and Collins first became aware of Tolkien, an outline of the story, their characters, fellowship and the young life of Tolkien.

Audio Commentary by Dome Karukoski

     The story of the life of Tolkien is obviously one that is dear to Karukoski as he relates things that happened to Tolkien back to his own circumstances. This is not a technical commentary but it is a decent non-stop commentary by Karukoski who talks about his intentions in various scenes, how he tried to show visually on film the developing elements of Tolkien’s imagination, allegorical elements, memories and confronting evil, the fellowship, working with young actors, locations, casting, anecdotes about Tolkien’s life, the music, the look of the film, and poetic licence.


     Seventeen on set stills. No music, the stills advance automatically or they can be advanced via the remote.

R4 vs R1

NOTE: To view non-R4 releases, your equipment needs to be multi-zone compatible and usually also NTSC compatible.

     The US Region A Blu-ray of Tolkien has the same extras as our release but far less audio and subtitle options. Buy local.


     Tolkien is a user friendly and a rather surface level look at the events and people which influenced the imagination of author J.R.R. Tolkien when he created the world, myths and stories of Middle Earth. The frequent intercutting between the brutality and carnage on the Somme and the peaceful pleasures and fellowship of pre-War England with the changes of tone becomes abrupt, which is the filmmakers’ point I guess.

     The video and audio are good. The extras are lightweight, although the commentary is good, and we get what is available elsewhere.

Ratings (out of 5)


© Ray Nyland (the bio is the thing)
Friday, July 31, 2020
Review Equipment
DVDSony BDP-S580, using HDMI output
DisplayLG 55inch HD LCD. This display device has not been calibrated. This display device is 16x9 capable. This display device has a maximum native resolution of 1080p.
Audio DecoderNAD T737. This audio decoder/receiver has not been calibrated.
AmplificationNAD T737
SpeakersStudio Acoustics 5.1

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