Fan Made Fantasy: Born Of Hope - A Lord of the Rings Fan Made Prequel (2009)

It is said that imitation is flattery. It is the nature of creation. Art inspires art, music inspires music, and so forth. In the film industry directorial styles have inspired new film makers for decades. Each year new movies debut with reminiscent qualities from by gone eras. Imitation is a common hobby among fanatics of large franchises films and TV series. Star Wars, Star Trek and the Marvel and DC universe have all inspired cosplay performance art. Yet a fan made film is on a completely different level. It's an obsessive beast that knows no rival. Most are short, with a handful of stand outs. They are passion projects, made with small budgets, and some with no money at all. They are made by those whose fan level are extreme. It is the ultimate street cred. “I could make a better film,” many fans argue while walking out of a movie theater after the latest money grab franchise disappointment. And some do. That is the heart of a fan film. They can not be made for profit. All thoughts of money are removed from the creative development. The ultimate clean slate. No executive producer meddling. No budget cuts. Just an idea, and the rabid passion to make it a reality.

The stories of Tolkien lore span several millenniums. Much of these tales were hinted at in the Lord of the Rings appendices. The success of Peter Jackson’s Rings trilogy put a spot light on the fantasy novels. Previously only an animated feature, Jackson shot all three films at once in a span of 18 months, and released them in three consecutive years. Many of the vast stories from Tolkien’s history are mentioned in passing, and made for great additions on the extended home release. One scene in particular is included in the extended edition for The Two Towers. The scene involves Aragorn revealing he is 87 years old, and he is one of the remaining Dunedain Rangers. The Dunedain’s lives were typically three times longer than that of a normal man. Born of Hope explores the days before Aragorn, and follows his father, Arathorn and the Dunedain’s mission to rid the spread of orcs and goblins who have been popping up across the lands of Middle Earth.

Kate Madison on the set of Born of Hope

The idea for Born of Hope started in 2003 when director/ producer/ actress Kate Madison set her sites on making a film for the Tolkien Fan Film Exhibition. A script was drafted by Paula DiSante based on Tolkien’s appendices, and Madison started location scouting. What started out small quickly grew to a much larger project than intended, one that would need money to achieve. Madison made the decision to drain her savings account to fund the film. £8000 pounds to be exact (around $10,500 US). Test shots were filmed in 2006, and from there a trailer was generated and posted on a crowd source funding site, which generated an additional £17,000 pounds ($22,000 US). Filming began in 2008, with the goal to have the film completed for Ring*Con 2009. All in all it took Madison 6 years to make Born of Hope, and took a team effort of 400 cast and crew members, many who set up tents to sleep on location. With all of the money going into production, all the actors and production crew donated their time and worked without financial compensation. It is a unique aspect in fan film making, especially in an era where so many look at box office numbers to judge a films success. Without a profit as motivation, Madison set her sites are making the best film possible. Luckily for Tolkien fans, her efforts were not in vain.

Born of Hope borrows a lot from Peter Jackson’s Lord of the Rings trilogy, yet it is important not to use the influence as a standard for comparison for this film. That being said, Hope does a good job exploring another branch of Tolkien’s vast story. Most of the film was shot at the West Stow Anglo-Saxon Village, an open air historical village in Suffolk, England. Additional shots were filmed in Epping Forest, an ancient woodland in Sussex, and the Snowdonia mountain region, which is home to the highest peaks in the United Kingdom outside of Scotland. The locations work well within the story, helping incorporate Tolkien’s ancient fantasy realm. 

Hope is set in the Third Age, the same timeline as the Rings of Power, which concludes when Gandalf and the Elves leave for the Grey Havens after the destruction of the One Ring. Hope occurs before the events of The Hobbit or LOTRs. As Sauron slowly regains his power, he has sent out orcs in his command to seek out and destroy all remaining bloodlines of Elendil (the first King of Gondor, father to Isildur, and the last owner of the Narsil Sword, which was broken into shards fighting Sauron during the Battle of Dargorlad – Depicted in the prolouge to The Fellowship of the Ring). The film follows Arathorn, played by Christopher Dane, who is head of the last band of Dunedain Rangers. As Sauron’s armies continue to invade the lands of Middle Earth, the Dunedain struggle to keep peace across the land. One such battle leads to a prosperous chance encounter when Arathorn meets Gilraen, which leads to romance and marriage. Hope works as a great companion film to the Lord of the Rings, in particular Aragorn’s storyline. Many would be questions are answered in Hope, all incorporated from Tolkien’s appendices.

"When I was looking for a story to do I found those few paragraphs and the idea of a film about Aragorn's parents and where he came from seemed a great idea," Madison said in an interview. "Aragorn is such an important character in The Lord of the Rings but we know hardly anything about him until he turns up in The Prancing Pony in The Fellowship of the Ring." In terms of a fan made film, Hope is top notch. A lot of heart went into the making of this film. On top of production and director duties, Madison also played the character Elgarain, and ranger friend of Arathorn. Christopher Dane also got involved with making Hope, contributing to the script and tackling the editing duties of the film. Fellow film maker Chris Bouchard, who made the fan film The Hunt For Gollum, also lent his services as camera operator and effects artist.

Born of Hope debuted at Ring*Con 2009 in Germany. It was well received by fans and critics alike, with many reviews claiming it was far superior than most fan made productions. Despite a budget of £25,000 pounds (around $32,600 US), Hope displays few signs of being a low budget film. With a captivating story, impressive cast, and a lot of determination and sacrifice, Born of Hope surpassed expectations and is considered one of the most impressive fan made films ever made. It's available to watch for free on YouTube.

Lee L. Lind