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The Real Middle Earth: A Quest for the Magical Places That Inspired The Lord of the Rings (DVD) Review by Kathy Gelzer

A Quest for the Magical Places That Inspired The Lord of the Rings (DVD)
Janson Media

The Real Middle Earth is a 105-minute documentary that explores the geographic and historical reality of places in Tolkien's Middle Earth. I received no accompanying literature with this DVD. Nowhere on the case does it say what ages it is for, but after viewing the documentary, I would say it is most suitable for high schoolers to adult. Perhaps very mature middle schoolers would also enjoy it.

Using interviews with Tolkien scholars interspersed with maps of Middle Earth and beautiful cinematography of England, the DVD asserts that Tolkien's imaginary world is based on real places. I don't know if the connection between fact and fantasy is that clear, but it is certainly a possibility. I think most writers rely on familiar places in their works. The discussion gets pretty philosophical at times. The beautiful English countryside certainly makes you want to schedule a tour of the United Kingdom! After the 60-minute documentary there are 45 minutes of extra features. These are made up of three additional interviews with the Tolkien scholars from the documentary and an interview with the map artist for the 1992 paperback series. The last extra feature is an interview with the prosthetic team who used special techniques with lifelike silicone to create the masks for the movie characters. This last segment, though very interesting, didn't seem to fit with the theme of the documentary.

I appreciated the biographical information about Tolkien but would've liked to hear even more about his life. Some illustrations from the books or perhaps artists' renditions of some of the places in The Hobbit and The Lord of the Rings in comparison with real land and townscapes would have been a nice addition.

As it stands, the documentary is a bit dry and unorganized. There doesn't seem to be a logical flow of the information. It needs more of an organizational structure. Chronological perhaps? I found one of the scene change devices annoying. When switching to and from the Tolkien map, the scene/map would appear to burn with rolling flames centrifugally or from bottom to top. In addition to finding it jolting, I didn't understand the significance of this metaphor. Ease of viewing was further compromised by the fact that there was no menu for scene selection.

All in all, I'm sure most Tolkien aficionados will like this documentary.

Product review by Kathy Gelzer, The Old Schoolhouse® Magazine, LLC, June 2007