Tolkien Estate Disavows Forthcoming Film

From The Guardian:

The family and estate of JRR Tolkien have fired a broadside against the forthcoming film starring Nicholas Hoult as a young version of the author, saying that they “do not endorse it or its content in any way”.

Out in May, and starring Hoult in the title role and Lily Collins as his wife Edith, Tolkien explores “the formative years of the renowned author’s life as he finds friendship, courage and inspiration among a fellow group of writers and artists at school”. Directed by Dome Karukoski, it promises to reveal how “their brotherhood strengthens as they grow up … until the outbreak of the first world war which threatens to tear their fellowship apart”, all of which, according to studio Fox Searchlight, would inspire Tolkien to “write his famous Middle-earth novels”.

. . . .

On Tuesday morning, the estate and family of Tolkien issued a terse statement in which they announced their “wish to make clear that they did not approve of, authorise or participate in the making of this film”, and that “they do not endorse it or its content in any way”.

. . . .

John Garth, author of the biography Tolkien and the Great War, said he felt the estate’s response to the film was “sensible”.

“Biopics typically take considerable licence with the facts, and this one is no exception. Endorsement by the Tolkien family would lend credibility to any divergences and distortions. That would be a disservice to history,” he said. “As a biographer, I expect I’ll be busy correcting new misconceptions arising from the movie. I hope that anyone who enjoys the film and is interested in Tolkien’s formative years will pick up a reliable biography.”

Tolkien’s estate has been careful to protect his legacy. In 2011, it took legal action over a novel that used the author as a central character, months after his heirs settled a multimillion-pound lawsuit over royalties from the Lord of the Rings films. In 2012, the estate also took legal action over gambling games featuring Lord of the Rings characters, saying that it was “causing irreparable harm to Tolkien’s legacy and reputation and the valuable goodwill generated by his works”.

Link to the rest at The Guardian


6 thoughts on “Tolkien Estate Disavows Forthcoming Film”

  1. Can’t really blame them, it’d be a bit like that silly ‘Battlefield Earth’ (thousand-plus page paperback that they crushed into a ninety minute movie …)

    • There is no copyright involved when someone creates something about you – except for the creator of that thing about you, of course.

      The right to absolutely control your name and/or likeness I think only runs while you are living (anyone who knows for sure, please chime in).

      Defamation and consequent damage to the value of the estate – unless it’s blatant – I think would be hard to win in court.

    • Whether there was a deal/check or not, the estate may disavow the work if they think/know it has things offered/presented not in the way the estate thinks they should.

  2. Writing Observer, I doubt it is a question of copyright, but it may be a question of trademark. As to defamation, it is a rule of law that you cannot defame the dead; by that I mean no action for defamation lies because you spoke ill of Helen Keller.

    • Depending on location, Right of Publicity might apply.
      It is a state by state IP right but 20 states say it extends to the dead.

      The UK has no explicit Right of publicity but California does and it runs life plus 70. So if the movie really annoys the estate they’ll have some recourse.

      That said, the statement from the estate could be setting the groundwork for a lawsuit to come (for misrepresentation, which is actionable in the UK) or just warning Tolkien fans not to take the movie as gospel.

      A lot will depend on how the movie portrays Tolkien. For example, the intentionally silly LEGENDS OF TOMORROW show last year used WWI Tolkien as a character, presenting him as an action hero of sorts. Nobody would take that presentation as anything but a loving tribute.

      The estate apparently saw no need to say anything in that case. 😉

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