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By Mark Bell | December 22, 2012

When I was a kid, I wanted to be Indiana Jones. I acted out scenes from the first two films in my backyard with friends, and generally had lots of fun in Indiana Jones world. I never thought to film it, but some did, and those adventurous filmmakers are now older, and have a book written about their experience. My point in saying that is, even though it would be easy to dismiss a fan film made by children or young adults as simply just Pretend Time on Camera, that doesn’t necessarily mean it’s a bad thing. Every filmmaker has to start somewhere, and to be a filmmaker you must make films to perfect your craft and learn more.

Which brings us to Jason Wright’s short Lord of the Rings fan film, The Road to the End. In it, Wright, as Frodo, travels along with Gollum (Brian Wright) in his quest to rid Middle-earth of the One Ring and the evils of Sauron. While it takes some artistic license (where’s Sam?), the fan film seeks to shed a bit more light on how Frodo comes to understand Gollum’s plight, and sympathize, with someone whose life may be a sign of Frodo’s fate, should he never part with the One Ring. It’s a noble idea.

In practice, though, it is much like the criticisms lodged at Jackson’s own work, with some fan film-specific ones thrown in. The narrative is predominantly just Frodo and Gollum walking around. They may have a moment here or there of conflict, but there’s no real tale in there, beyond what we already know of the grander story. Because of the narrative’s lack of arc or conflict, it begins to feel repetitious and long, without focus.

Other criticisms are technical ones that are obvious, and born of both the filmmaker’s youthful nature and potential lack of resources. Gollum, for instance, was never going to be a motion-captured creation anywhere near what Peter Jackson came up with, but he could’ve been more than just a kid in a grey shirt and black shorts and sneakers, running around on all fours. Maybe some make-up? It’d probably be easier to accept Gollum’s lack of art direction in costuming if Frodo’s wasn’t so well done. Save the flip-flops on his feet, costume-wise, Frodo looks every bit the hobbit we’ve seen in other incarnations of the character.

Now, having said all that, the film has a number of strengths. The edit is extremely well-done; if it feels long, it’s not the pacing so much as it is the story. Additionally, despite the limited resources concerning the camera utilized, it is shot with a brilliant eye for composition. In other words, the film shows a true talent for filmmaking, shot composition and editing, including on the audio side of things.

Because, honestly, this isn’t that far off from being something truly strong; take off the flip-flops, and maybe wear a wig or let the hair grow out, and you’ve solved the criticisms of Frodo. Come up with a way to make Gollum look less like a kid in regular clothes, and that one’s taken care of too (the performance, outside the look, is great). Then you’re left with finding a story, which is no doubt the more difficult one to tackle, but also the most important. Sometimes that’s just a case of time or, worst case scenario, finding someone else who can write a great tale.

The Road to the End was shot in 2003, hence the young look of those involved (considering they’re all out of high school now), and I’m very impressed with the filmmaking involved. The talent was there, the skills were getting there; if this is what Wright was capable of making as a kid, I’m curious as to what he’s making now, nine years later.

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.

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