One of the defining aspects of Peter Jackson’s film adaption of Lord of the Rings is its depiction of Gollum. The ring-obsessed former hobbit was not given an exact description in Tolkien’s original work, and artistic interpretations varied wildly as the years went on. Thanks to a standout performance by Andy Serkis in the films, that evolving image has crystalized into a big-eyed pale creature with two distinct voices. The upcoming video game The Lord of the Rings: Gollum doesn’t stray too far from Gollum’s film appearance, but it does adapt that version to a more cartoony world, a familiar change for many of the denizens of Middle-earth.
Before the Peter Jackson trilogy, the LOTR adaption that stuck in most minds was the animated films released in the late 1970s. 1977’s The Hobbit is a beloved Rankin/Bass film that has a wildly different take on the creature. Instead of a former hobbit, Gollum here looks like some sort of lizard creature with big ears and long claws. Gollum in The Hobbit is just one of several obstacles Bilbo must overcome on his adventure, so an adaption just focusing on the one book is much more likely to take these kinds of creative liberties. This version would return in the 1980s follow-up The Return of the King.
Ralph Bakshi adapted roughly half of the trilogy in 1978’s The Lord of the Rings, with Gollum appearing in a form similar to Peter Jackson’s adaption. The vocal work here by actor Peter Woodthorpe is what will most throw modern fans off. While there are some slips between a high tone and a more demonic pitch, Gollum mostly speaks like a normal person with none of the eccentricities of Serkis’ version of the character. Still, compared to Frodo and Sam’s looks from the same film, viewers can definitely see that it is Smeagol stalking the hobbits through the outskirts of Mordor.
Gollum has been in plenty of video game adaptions since the days of the Peter Jackson films, but even games not tied directly into the movies like 2003’s The Hobbit borrows some of the design from the popular blockbusters. Developer Daedalic Entertainment isn’t straying too far with The Lord of the Rings: Gollum, but it at least doesn’t feel like a direct translation of the Andy Serkis character. From the limited screenshots and gameplay previews of Gollum seen so far, the game will strip away the human element of the films and return to some of the fantasy designs more prevalent in the original animated entries.
Outside of games, another Lord of the Rings adaption is on the horizon, threatening to unseat Peter Jackson’s vision as the definitive way people think of Middle-earth. This is ultimately for the best, as a fantasy novel is meant to spark the imagination of all who read it. Lord of the Rings is full of nuance that can make for all sorts of interpretations, and there’s a good chance that the subtle shift to cartoonish visuals in The Lord of the Rings: Gollum are just the tip of the iceberg in terms of straying from the popular vision of the world. If popular, it could help spark a new string of adaptions that go even further off the beaten path and straight into every Tolkien fan’s heart.