Almost two decades since Peter Jackson’s much-loved and Oscar-winning Lord of the Rings trilogy concluded, and just shy of one decade since his much less-loved Hobbit trilogy, Amazon Prime Video brings viewers back to J.R.R. Tolkien’s epic fantasy world in the new streaming prequel series The Rings of Power. Reportedly the most expensive television production ever made (to date), the show arrives facing tough competition on two fronts – first from HBO’s similarly themed and equally hyped Game of Thrones spinoff House of the Dragon, and secondly from an army of online trolls determined to strangle it in the crib.
Posing as disgruntled Tolkien fans incensed at their favorite author’s work being treated so poorly, a vicious social media attack campaign began months before anyone had even seen a frame of footage from the show, culminating in organized review-bombing upon its launch last week. That’s not to say that Rings of Power is actually some sort of television masterpiece immune from legitimate criticism. Make no mistake, the series has flaws, but none serious enough to justify the amount of vitriol spewed against the premiere. In fact, the first two episodes have a lot of promise.
|Title:||The Lord of the Rings: The Rings of Power|
|Episodes:||1.01 – A Shadow of the Past|
1.02 – Adrift
|Release Date:||Sept. 1, 2022|
|Watched On:||Amazon Prime Video|
Having said that, I’m not going to pretend to be a Tolkien scholar. Although I read both The Hobbit and the Lord of the Rings books ages ago in my high school days, truth be told I found them kind of a slog and have never felt a need to revisit them. I saw Peter Jackson’s first movie adaptation, The Fellowship of the Ring, in the theater in 2001 and felt so blasé about it that I didn’t bother watching the two sequels until years later on DVD. I eventually upgraded those discs to Blu-ray, planning to force myself through a marathon binge of the full Extended Editions. That day has yet to come. I’ve also seen about half of Jackson’s first Hobbit movie and thought it was a total embarrassment that I couldn’t bring myself to finish.
In other words, I didn’t exactly go into Rings of Power as a slavering LotR fanboy, predisposed to either love or hate it for any reason. I’m mostly indifferent to this franchise. The most I hoped was that the show could provide a halfway decent story or interesting characters that I might want to spend some time following. At least so far, I think it accomplishes that goal.
From my understanding, Amazon doesn’t have the rights to adapt Tolkien’s The Silmarillion, only the Rings Appendices, a collection of world-building facts and trivia designed to flesh out the background of the author’s Middle-earth without a narrative connecting them. As such, the Rings of Power show creators had to invent much of their story from scratch. That’s been the biggest point of contention among the detractors – at least, among the ones who might be actual Tolkien fans, rather than professional trolls and bots funded by Amazon’s corporate rivals. As we’ve seen with other franchise extensions (notably the recent Halo and Resident Evil TV adaptations), gatekeeping subsets of fandom tend to get really upset about any deviations from their beloved source material. As a relative outsider removed from that, it doesn’t bother me nearly as much.
Rings of Power is set thousands of years before the events of Lord of the Rings or The Hobbit, which I suppose makes it a prequel to a prequel. Realistically, the time change doesn’t make a lot of difference in this type of sword-and-sorcery fantasy tale, which remains set in a basically identical medieval world with a comparable level of technology and culture. Also, because some of the magical races live for millennia, certain familiar LotR characters – namely the elves Galadriel and Elrond (previously played by Cate Blanchett and Hugo Weaving) can appear here in younger form. The evil wizard Sauron is name-checked in the first two episodes but not yet seen.
Hundreds of years after Sauron and his Orc army were defeated, Elf warrior Galadriel (Morfydd Clark) remains obsessed with hunting them to the ends of the world, even after her king declares the war finally over and orders her to retirement in a magical Elf heaven. Meanwhile, politician Elrond (Robert Aramayo) is sent on a diplomatic mission to forge an alliance with the Dwarf kingdom of Moria, and must rekindle an old friendship that he hadn’t realized he’s neglected too long.
In the Southlands, the “Land of Men,” a sort of Elf cop named Arondir (Ismael Cruz Cordova) has the hots for human woman Bronwyn (Nazanin Boniadi), and sticks around after he’s been ordered home, in order to help her investigate strange happenings involving mysterious poisoned grass and disturbing tunnels that have been burrowed underground.
Elsewhere, in the village of the Harfoots – which I guess are not quite the same thing as Hobbits, though you could fool me – young Nori Brandyfoot (Markella Kavenagh) has wanderlust and longs for adventure. She may find it when a fireball falls from the sky and deposits a strange giant (Daniel Weyman) that Nori feels she must protect even if she can’t yet figure out how to communicate with him.
The two premiere episodes have a lot more plotting that I won’t attempt to recap here. This is a huge, expansive tale with many characters, spanning multiple realms across the fictional world. It may be a bit confusing for a novice or casual fan to keep track of all the details. Fortunately, the scene transitions showing a handily labeled map help a lot.
Amazon spent a fortune on this series and it shows on screen. The production values are very impressive, especially when watched in 4K. The fabulously sharp and detailed 2.35:1 image has a lovely application of HDR. Most of the visual effects are excellent. (A few, admittedly, scream too much of CGI or green-screens, but I’ve seen worse in recent big-budget movies.) The enveloping Dolby Atmos soundtrack fills the room from every direction, including effective usage of overhead speakers if you have them. Strictly on a technical level, this is very nice home theater eye candy.
I have a few quibbles with other aspects of the show. The first episode often feels like an extended montage recapping the history of Middle-earth; the story doesn’t really start to warm up until the second episode. I’m not quite sold on Morfydd Clark’s performance, the dialogue is sometimes stilted, and the heavy-handed attempt to make Galadriel and Bronwyn seem “badass” is a little ridiculous. An early scene has Galadriel single-handedly defeating a troll (something it took a whole team of characters to do in LotR), in a fight that mostly consists of her posing dramatically. I could do without nonsense like that. Nevertheless, most of the characters are engaging and the story is interesting enough so far to make me want to watch more.
As far as comparisons to HBO’s House of the Dragon, these are two very different shows with different intentions and objectives. House of the Dragon has much more focus on political intrigue and character drama (not to mention more adult subject matter), while Rings of Power is an adventure yarn. Personally, I’m more invested in the Game of Thrones universe than Lord of the Rings and favor what I’ve seen of House of the Dragon, but I’ve enjoyed both so far and don’t see why a fan of the genre should be forced to choose between them. If anything, it’s an embarrassment of riches to have two high-quality series like these airing at the same time.
That said, I was pretty amused that an early scene in Rings of Power features a dragon slain in battle falling from the sky. I don’t imagine that was coincidental. Which of the two shows will actually claim victory in the battle for viewers’ attention remains to be seen.
2 thoughts on “Amazon’s Power Play – The Lord of the Rings: The Rings of Power (2022) Series Premiere”
I try to go into these things with an open mind, ignoring advance negativity. The live-action Cowboy Bebop got a lot of hate but I was entertained, and I’ve seen the original series several times.
I saw only the first episode of Rings of Power and it was much worse than I expected. Terrible writing, bland cast.
Yes, I am a Tolkien geek. I watch the Jackson films but they also frustrate me in many dimensions. Rings is a whole different level of Just Plain Bad.
As I’m not a LOTR fan and am not interested in this show, I have heard from those that are the show is basically a mess. I do know the promotional videos Amazon put out with hand selected (paid) “fans” hitting specific talking points were cringe inducing. Once again, I’m not invested in the show, but even I could see it was shilling on the level of a trillion dollar corporation.
But I am a Resident Evil fan, and after suffering through 5 of the 8 episodes of the live action series, I disconnected because I started bleeding from the ears (even though Coach says it’s okay to do that*). It has horrible CW level drama and zero common sense. RE ain’t deep or smart, but it usually IS good gory fun. The show failed on all these levels by making even less sense than the games. While the characters in the games are mostly engaging, the showrunners went out of their way to make the main girls/women of this show as unlikable as possible. And when this happens, who cares what happens to them?
Fans want to see their beloved creations treated with care and respect. They don’t mind seeing those creations evolve as long as the evolution makes sense or is entertaining on some level (the only real reason with RE). When it doesn’t…well you get “Prometheus” and the Star Wars prequels.
We all know Amazon bought the LOTR name for fan recognition because whatever fantasy series they concocted without it would have been stillborn. The fans can tell when the creators care about a project and when they’re phoning it in.
*I had to reference “Not Another Teen Movie” in this post…it seemed to fit considering the topic.