I’ve seen many a fan film, but they usually stick to the short film format; rarely do they venture into feature film territory. Whether that be to a lack of a story that could warrant a longer running time, or lacking the necessary resources, I can’t definitively say (it’s likely a different consideration for each film). In the case of Kate Madison’s Lord of the Rings fan film, a prequel entitled Born of Hope, the filmmaker didn’t just go for a feature, she went for fleshing out a few paragraphs worth of content into an entire backstory.
Which itself is in keeping with the spirit of the Lord of the Rings cinema adaptations (The Hobbit being three movies for the shortest book, for example). Keeping that in mind, though, we’re talking about Peter Jackson’s epic, CGI-laden, multimillion dollar adventures as the visual touchstone for these tales; how’s a small independent fan film to fare in the same waters?
You know, it does pretty good for itself. While I’m no expert on the attire of Middle-earth, everyone looked like they fit into the world that was visually created by Jackson’s films. The orcs looked appropriately orc-like, with only a moment here or there where perhaps their makeup could’ve used some touching up, and there’s even a CGI troll in the film… that’s done really well. On sheer aesthetic and mood, Born of Hope could easily be a less polished deleted scene from one of Jackson’s films, or at least an extension of a scene.
On the story side, though, the film falters a little bit. Giving the backstory of the Dúnedain, Sauron’s most hated human enemy due to being the people of the man who defeated Sauron initially, Isildor, the film tracks Arathorn (Christopher Dane) and his rangers as they repel orcs who have begun invading villages in search of a ring of some sort. When Arathorn rescues one family from attack, he becomes enamored with Gilraen (Beth Aynsley), and the two strike up a courtship. Well, when they can.
First Arathorn is sent out alone by his father, Arador (Iain Marshall), to find out why the orcs are invading, and later, after his father has died and Arathorn becomes Lord of the Dúnedain, he must continue his father’s campaign to rid the woods of orcs to protect his people. During this time, the film hops between periods of relative prosperity and then fighting. In the quiet times, we see Arathorn and Gilraen get married, and eventually have a son, Aragorn. Meanwhile, one of Arathorn’s rangers, a woman named Elgarain (Kate Madison), who he took under his wing years ago, deals with her emotions over the fact that Arathorn chose someone else to love, and never saw her as much more than a friend. In the end, the fate of the boy who would grow up to become one of The Lord of the Rings‘ greatest heroes, Aragorn, is set into motion.
On the surface, you might read that and think, what’s the problem? And if you’re already knowledgeable enough about the Tolkien books or the Jackson films, you understand the inherent importance behind the events in this film. But if you’re not aware, say, of who Isildor is, or the importance to come for Aragorn, then the film doesn’t do much to help you understand as much. The argument could be made that, as a fan film, its audience would already be knowledgeable and, therefore, this more than does its job, a point in which I’ll give due credit, but it then misses out on being more powerful in a universal sense. The film becomes a good fan film as opposed to just a good film .
My other issue with the story is its repetitiveness, and that might be due to the extended running time. As previously expressed, the film falls in either a time of relative prosperity and happiness in a village or fighting with orcs somewhere. The story of the orcs doesn’t change much, even though much time does pass in the film. They’re attacking, getting run off, everyone is happy for a bit and then they’re attacking again, getting run off, etc. The end wraps up the cycle, but it made a few too many turns for my liking, and I would’ve liked another element in the narrative somehow.
Overall, where do I stand? As a fan film, I think it is extremely ambitious, respectful and successful. For an independent production, I think it could at least stand in the same room with Jackson’s films and not look too out of place. Comparing the resources between the two productions, that makes Born of Hope that much more impressive.
As a film, I needed more from the story, perhaps more of a reason to care for the people onscreen rather than recognizing names and already knowing their importance in the tales to come. The film takes a stab with the unrequited love angle to give it a more universal heart, but I needed a bit more to truly engage with the characters.
This film was submitted for review through our Submission for Review system. If you have a film you’d like us to see, and we aren’t already looking into it on our own, you too can utilize this service.