The Lord of the Rings: The Rings of Power
Streaming on Amazon Prime
Fantasy themes and violence
It’s been a five-year wait for Amazon’s blockbuster series The Rings of Power, which – if you haven’t been keeping up with the TV ads and online buzz – is based mainly on the voluminous appendices to The Lord of the Rings by J.R.R. Tolkien.
And when I say “blockbuster”, it’s no exaggeration. Amazon bought the television rights to The Lord of the Rings in 2017 for $US250 million (about $A368 million), and a number of reports have pegged the additional cost of this first season at more than $US460 million ($677.5 million).
So, big bucks. Very big risk. And probably the biggest series launch of the year. The question is, has all this effort been worth it? Based on the episodes available so far, the answer would have to be “Yes”.
Regardless of whether fans of Tolkien’s books (of which I am one) agree with all the creative and dramatic decisions, the producers and writers of the TV series have done an excellent job of recreating the majestic sweep of Middle Earth that first appeared in Peter Jackson’s Lord of the Rings (LotR) film trilogy.
As with the films, The Rings of Power was shot in New Zealand, most of its peoples look similar in dress or style, and the soundtrack for the TV series contains echoes of the work done by Howard Shore for LotR. While the music for the series itself is written by Bear McCreary, the opening theme for The Rings of Power was composed by Shore – a nice touch.
The Rings of Power also follows the cinematic introduction to Tolkien’s universe in The Lord of the Rings films by using the voice of Galadriel (Morfydd Clark) to provide viewers with backstory: the creation of a spotless, perfect world, how it was tainted, and the many battles and sorrows that followed.
These backstory events form the first “age” of Tolkien’s mythology, but The Rings of Power focuses on the Second Age. It’s a smart move, for two reasons: first, it’s the era of Middle Earth history about which Tolkien wrote the least, so inventive imaginations can fill out the story while (hopefully) keeping the main events similar to what was originally written.
Second, among the TV series’ numerous plot threads and new characters are names that, thanks to the movies, are familiar to many, such as Galadriel, Elrond and bad guy Sauron. We are also introduced to settlements of Elves, Men, Dwarves and Harfoots (a nomadic forerunner to hobbits), learn about the issues that are dear to them, and see their uncertainty about whether evil still lurks undiscovered.
This is the linchpin to the series opener because, naturally, evil is still out there. Tolkien’s histories contain many echoes of the Bible, so the sorrow and misery in our world caused by greed, lust, the desire for power and misplaced loyalty are all mirrored in Middle Earth. And, of course, even those who seek to do the right or good thing regularly fail because of their own flaws.
The Rings of Power begins by showing us that, unlike many others, Galadriel is certain that evil does remain in Middle Earth. It is clear she has travelled the length and breadth of the known world to find proof of Sauron’s presence, but without success.
For other Tolkien nerds I will briefly mention that Galadriel is portrayed as a hot-tempered warrior, which she never was, and by this point in the author’s history she had been married for a long time – and she’s single here. No biggie, but worth noting.
In addition, it looks as though more than 2000 years of Tolkien’s history will be compressed for the sake of a more exciting storyline. This could also be okay, but time will tell if it works. Certainly, it’s necessary to provide a ripping yarn that’s easy to digest for those who will come to The Rings of Power with no real knowledge of Tolkien’s work, and the story so far has plenty that will engage viewers.
Production values are high, there is a wealth of detail in the costumes and set design and it’s all beautifully shot. Most of the performances are also excellent – although, so far, Robert Aramayo’s characterisation of the younger Elrond seems a little superficial, and I wish the Harfoots didn’t look and sound quite so twee. I also have a strong suspicion that the pace of the plot is going to be glacial.
While not thrilled with all the story choices that have been made, I am still impatient for each new episode. And I guess that’s the ultimate litmus test.