Tolkien ★★½

When J.R.R. Tolkien’s estate issued a statement objecting to Dome Karukoski’s dour new biopic about the “Lord of the Rings” writer’s formative years, they had yet to actually see the film. Odds are they never will, as Christopher Tolkien has made clear his frustrations over the way that contemporary pop culture has devoured his father’s legacy: “Tolkien has become a monster, devoured by his own popularity and absorbed by the absurdity of our time,” he told Le Monde in 2012. “The commercialization has reduced the aesthetic and philosophical impact of the creation to nothing.” That didn’t stop the estate from selling the rights to Tolkien’s signature fantasy saga when Amazon showed up with a $250 million check, but it’s hard to blame them for that.

Be that as it may, there’s a peculiar irony to the family’s pro forma objection to “Tolkien,” a modest period drama that affords the author his own low-key version of “Shakespeare in Love.” If the understandable concern was that this film — or any film like it — would bastardize its subject’s life for the sake of cheap entertainment, that fear has turned out to be largely unfounded: “Tolkien” doesn’t seem all that interested in providing any kind of entertainment.

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