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Posts Tagged ‘Tolkien’

I spent more time as a teenager than I’d care to admit tracking down DOS games based on Tolkien’s work (many released before I was born), including Mike Singleton’s attractive-looking-but-not-particularly-good War in Middle Earth (1988). The failure of that game seems odd now, since a couple of years earlier the same guy put together perhaps the best “Tolkien with the serial numbers filed off” game of all time, the justly famous Lords of Midnight.

I decided to give Lords of Midnight a whirl after reading an article about its creation on The Digital Antiquarian. The original game came out in 1984 for the Sinclair Spectrum and ran on a mere 48 K from a cassette tape. It was revolutionary for the time, letting you take first-person control of multiple characters and walk them around a dynamically shifting fantasy landscape trapped in a long winter A Song of Ice and Fire-style. Though I have to express my scepticism over how people who write about old software characterize computer graphics in the 80s as looking impressive at the time. I’m pretty sure people who regularly saw photographs and paintings could see the shortcomings of pixel art like this:

midnight_000

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Continent-shifting cataclysms have been a mainstay in fantasy literature since the 1920s, epic fantasy in particular. It’s a curious thread. After all, human history is such a miniscule portion of geological time that while we’ve seen coastlines shifts or islands rise and sink, we haven’t seen significant alterations of any one landmass since the Stone Age. Continental drift will, by necessity, rarely affect a story or the characters except in the broadest sense. Yet massive geological shifts stay simmering in the foundational works of the modern fantasy genre. Robert E. Howard’s Hyborian Age, while ostensibly set in our prehistory, has a significantly different-looking map of what would become Europe, the Middle East and Africa.

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In a recent episode of Folding Ideas, the paper-built host discusses the problems faced by film adaptations using the Sci-Fi channel’s adaptation of Ursula K. Le Guin’s Earthsea series as an example of an adaptation gone horribly awry.  I’ve decided to steal my title from that episode. There’s no argument that Sci-Fi’s Earthsea is an abomination unto man, but thinking on that particular travesty makes me wonder whether book adaptations are really worth it all. That question came to a head when I (finally) watched The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey last night and spent most of the running time completely baffled by the choices Peter Jackson & co. made. This touches on a conversation I’ve repeatedly had with a good friend of mine every time we wander onto the topic of the latest book-to-film, most often HBO’s Game of Thrones series.

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I have a penchant for seeking out obscure adaptations of The Lord of the Rings, if you haven’t noticed. First was my quest to play every pre-film trilogy computer game remotely related to Tolkien’s work. Then there was my long-time interest in a Finnish television series from 1993 called Hobitit (The Hobbits) based on The Lord of the Rings. I was first made aware of its existence back in The Tolkien Forum’s heyday, when one user made an offhand mention. Those were the days of my high school Tolkien obsession, so when I got wind of this, I just had to find it.

There was a problem. The series aired on Finnish television all of two times, and was never released on VHS. Because of the huge cost of the license after Jackson’s films, it’s not likely we’ll ever see a DVD release. Thus, I immediately met with frustration on trying to find it, and once my willingness to hunt after these sorts of things wound down, I stopped looking. But never fear, the internet has come to the rescue and finally sated my curiosity: the entire series is now available on YouTube, complete with English subtitles. Would it live up to the mystique that slowly built over the years due to its rarity? Or would it be like the Soviet adaptation of The Hobbit (i.e. “What did I just WATCH”)?

Warning, there be spoilers ahead. This review also assumes you’ve read the book, because hey, why else would you seek out an obscure Finnish adaptation like this?

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I’m resigned to the fact that post-2001, computer games based on The Lord of the Rings will look to the films for inspiration. I recently watched the game trailer for Guardians of Middle Earth with a touch of sadness at this state of affairs. I like seeing different visual interpretations of Tolkien’s books, and now they’ve become a homogenous blend of John Howe and Allen Lee. More to the point, I have a kind of fascination with older Tolkien-based games and the wildly different styles between them.

When I was 12 I bought my first computer, and I didn’t have an internet connection until I was 17. However, I would drop by the school library at lunch with a floppy disk and download abandonware off Home of the Underdogs to play at home. I also had something of a Tolkien obsession, so when 13 year-old me stumbled across the Tolkien Computer Games page I ended up trying to get my hands on all of the games listed. Thus began my DOS-based adventures in Middle Earth.

I often at least attempted to play these games straight to the end, even the bad ones, and if I didn’t finish it usually had to do with glitches caused by running DOS games on a Windows machine. Why? I’m not sure, now, but rather than let all those hours spent playing go to waste I thought I’d review them all here.

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