Peter Jackson’s ‘Hunt for Gollum’ movie is likely a hidden Aragorn epic

The news is out: Peter Jackson and his Lord of the Rings collaborators will executive produce a new movie set in Middle-earth, with Andy Serkis directing and reprising his role as Gollum, and the working title is Lord of the Rings: The Hunt for Gollum.

So there’s just one question: What, exactly, could it be about? With real experts on the text like Philippa Boyens, Peter Jackson, and Fran Walsh involved, there’s one thing that leaps to mind immediately — a 50 day slog during which Aragorn captured Gollum in a marsh and dragged him bodily overland for close to 900 miles until they reached the court prisons of the elven king Thranduil.

So actually there are two questions: What is The Hunt for Gollum about? and How do you make that into a great movie?

Gollum, half in shadow and half in light, snarls at hobbits in Lord of the Rings: The Two Towers
Gollum in The Two Towers.
Image: New Line Cinema

Most of what we know about this period in Aragorn and Gollum’s lives comes from the text of The Fellowship of the Ring, from some asides during the Council of Elrond about Gandalf’s long quest to verify whether Bilbo’s ring was indeed the fabled One.

Jackson’s movie shortens this period for brevity, but in Tolkien’s text 17 years elapse between Bilbo’s birthday, when Frodo gets the Ring, and the scene when Gandalf returns to see if he’s kept it secret (kept it safe). Gandalf spent a lot of that time looking for Gollum, so that he could question the creature about how he got the Ring. To that end, he recruited Aragorn’s skills as a tracker.

But finding Gollum in all of Middle-earth turned out to be a real needle-in-a-haystack kind of thing, and eventually they decided to give up. Gandalf went to Gondor, to read ancient texts, and Aragorn headed west, back to his rangers. That’s when, by complete chance, Aragorn found Gollum’s tracks in the Dead Marshes and caught him.

Then it took him over a month and a half to drag his prisoner to civilization so that Gandalf could interrogate him. You know that scene where Sam and Frodo are dragging Gollum along while he screams like hell’s own toddler? Imagine that, but for seven weeks. Tolkien makes it extraordinarily — maybe hilariously — clear that this was not fun.

“He was covered with green slime,” Aragorn tells the Council. “He will never love me, I fear; for he bit me, and I was not gentle. Nothing more did I ever get from his mouth than the marks of his teeth. I deemed it the worst part of all my journey, the road back, watching him day and night, making him walk before me with a halter on his neck, gagged, until he was tamed by lack of drink and food, driving him ever towards Mirkwood. I brought him there at last and gave him to the Elves, for we had agreed that this should be done; and I was glad to be rid of his company, for he stank.”

You heard it, from the mouth of Aragorn II, King Elessar Telcontar, Chieftain of the Dúnedain of the North, Isildur’s Heir, Elendil’s Heir, High King of Gondor and Arnor, King of the West.

Gollum: “He stank.”

This interlude is really the only thing in the Lord of the Rings that matches up with a “hunt” for Gollum. Nobody else really hunts for him! Sure, he was tortured by Sauron, but only after he freely wandered into Mordor. He did eventually escape from Mirkwood’s prisons, but elves lost his trail pretty immediately.

If we’re really talking about Aragorn’s terrible, horrible, no good, very bad month here — Are Viggo Mortensen and Ian McKellen coming back to play Aragorn and Gandalf? What about Lee Pace and Orlando Bloom as Mirkwood’s King Thandruil and Legolas? Tolkien fans put together a well-regarded unofficial The Hunt for Gollum film in 2009, but at a mere 38 minutes long. How on Middle-earth does this single-paragraph saga get built out into a feature length blockbuster?

If it were anyone else than Boyens, Jackson, Walsh, and Serkis, it would be easy to dismiss the whole idea to begin with. But the group has got at least a 50% gold track record on producing Lord of the Rings movies — maybe they can make the world’s worst buddy road trip movie work.