Lord of the Rings studio gets 15-year-old fan film taken down (and then backtracks)

"The Hunt for Gollum" is a new upcoming Lord of the Rings movie from Warner Bros. Discovery. It's also the name of a preexisting fan film will millions of views that's now been scrubbed from YouTube.
Times Square Shuttle Becomes "Middle Earth Shuttle" for the Release of "The Lord of the Rings : The
Times Square Shuttle Becomes "Middle Earth Shuttle" for the Release of "The Lord of the Rings : The / E. Dougherty/GettyImages

The other day, we learned that Warner Bros. Discovery — the successor to the studio that years ago released Peter Jackson's iconic Lord of the Rings movie trilogy — was going back to Middle-earth with a new movie: The Hunt for Gollum, to be directed by Andy Serkis, the man who played Gollum the Ring-obsessed toad person all those many years ago.

As it happens, there's already a movie called The Hunt for Gollum, a fan film directed by Chris Bouchard and released on YouTube years ago. It covers a subplot from The Fellowship of the Ring, the first book in Tolkien's trilogy, where Aragorn and Gandalf are on, well...the hunt for Gollum, who may have information about why everybody seems to be after Master Bilbo's silly old ring.

The fan film is 39 minutes long and had been viewed 13 million times, according to The Hollywood Reporter. It opens by telling viewers that it's a non-profit film for private use and is not affiliated with the Tolkien estate, Jackson, or any studio, and is produced “solely for the personal, uncompensated enjoyment of ourselves and other Tolkien fans" in what appears to be an attempt to head off legal challenges. It didn't work, though, as Warner Bros. Discovery has already hit it with a copyright strike. Now when you try and watch the video, you see this message: “This video contains content from Warner Bros. Entertainment, who has blocked it on copyright grounds.”

Now, don't tell anybody, but another version of the fan film was uploaded years later to a different channel, although that one may come down soon too. I'm not an expert, but I doubt Chris Bouchard has much resourse here. The original Hunt for Gollum movie did feature copyrighted characters, and WBD is probably willing to press its case in court if it has to. But it's obviously a little suspect that WBD left this film alone for over a decade and only acted after it decided to make its own movie called The Hunt for Gollum. Who's to say they weren't inspired by Bouchard's work?

When conflicts like this arise, I wish established players like WBD would bring fans like Bouchard into the process, rather than try and shut them down. I don't think the existence of a 40-minute fan film made on a shoestring budget was going to disrupt the box office for WBD's forthcoming blockbuster, and embracing high-quality fan works like this could endear the studio to the fanbase, rather than make them look like corporate vultures. But so it goes.

The Hunt for Gollum may only be one of several Lord of the Rings movies WBD has on the way; they seem determined to revive the franchise on the big screen, for better or worse. The War of the Rohirrim, an animated movie about the man who built Helm's Deep, is already in production. Meanwhile, Amazon Prime Video is working on the second season of the TV show The Lord of the Rings: The Rings of Power, which should premiere sometime this year. The Rings of Power is completely disconnected from anything WBD is doing with the franchise. We'll be visiting Middle-earth a lot in the coming years.

UPDATE: Almost immediately after it went back, the fan film The Hunt for Gollum has been restored, so maybe WBD realized striking it was a bad look and backed off. Bouchard himself confirmed this on X:

And as long as it's here, why not have a watch?

We don't know when the new Hunt for Gollum movie will be out, but it's likely some years off.

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