It’s one of the most beloved series of books of all-time. The films garnered exponential critical and audience acclaim, with over 17 Academy Awards from 30 nominations for 3 films. The cultural impact that formed what the fantasy genre has become today, owes so much to The Lord of the Rings. A spectrum of stories, worlds and characters intricately crafted by J.R.R. Tolkien in literary form (including appendices and spin-offs galore), before becoming the incredibly well-known film series from Peter Jackson.
Primarily based on the lore found in the appendices of the books, set during the Second Age (thousands of years before The Hobbit is set), comes the Prime Video series, The Rings of Power. The series opens during peacetime in Middle-Earth, but not long before the Dark Lord Sauron emerges with an orc army that threatens to destroy all living beings. Similar to The Fellowship of the Ring, this series begins with a narration-guided montage of Sauron’s rise and the battle between the Elvish and the Orcs, with lead character, an elf named Galadriel (Morfydd Clark) explaining how the brutal war took the life of her brother and led her on a path to track down Sauron and take her revenge. However, Sauron has not been sighted for many decades, leading many of those in Middle-Earth to believe he is gone.
This opening prologue and set-up for this series is truly phenomenal. Immediately, director J.A. Bayona visually transports you into Middle-Earth, and it’s clear that the budget Amazon set for the show (alleged to be the most expensive television show ever made) is seen on the screen. Each location boasts vibrant scenery, both naturally caught in camera and the CGI used to create the towering cities such as Lindon or Sauron’s tower, Barad-dur. One moment specifically depicting the brutal war between the Elves and Orcs feels like a worthy homage to Jackson’s films, on the same immense scale and with stunning visuals of violence, fire and even an awesome shot of a flaming dragon!
The visuals are a constant treat for the eyes in these first two episodes, as the show does take us to many different locations, each one looking a stunning as the last, with Bayona creating full immersion on screen. The show also does a fantastic job of constantly making sure the audience knows where the story is currently taking place in Middle-Earth, with the helpful use of text, maps and unique establishing imagery of the scenery to make each kingdom feel distinguished from each other.
The Power of the Rings strongly focuses on Galadriel and her quest to avenge her brother, even if it is much to the behest of the Elvish elders. Clark’s performance does cover the incredible depth of this character, as she showcases her physical strength in some exciting battles, but also her ability to be an emotional stronghold against those who don’t always agree with her mission. Clark is incredibly exciting in the role and has a strong presence on screen. Galadriel’s storyline leads to her friendship with fellow elf, Elrond (Robert Aramayo) who is requested by the Elvish elders to work with Celebrimbor (Charles Edwards), a respected artisan who is working on creating a item that can hold the powers of true evil within it, initially to hide it from man, but reveals there may be more sinister powers at play. Aramayo gets to properly shine as Elrond in the second episode, as a storyline focuses on his history with the dwarves of Khazad-dum, another visually incredible moment in the series, filled with the levity-inducing charm and humour that does make The Lord of the Rings feel unique and enjoyable.
We are also introduced a community of Harfoot’s who are beginning their migration to a new land, one not filled by travellers and wolves who threaten their safety. Harfoot elder, Sadoc (Lenny James) often uses old texts to obsess over predicting the future for his community, and when a curious, young Harfoot named Nori (Markella Kavenagh) makes a truly amazing, yet horrifying discovery, Sadoc believes that there is more than just danger for the Harfoot’s ahead.
And finally, the first episode also introduces us to Arondir (Ismael Cruz Cordova), a silvan Elf who is a soldier looking over a town of humans after a battle that took place 79 years previously created a rift between man and Elf, with mankind blaming the elves for not protecting their kind from the decimation created by the Orc armies. When Arondir is told that the Elves’ watch over this town is over, he confesses his love for a human woman and his desire to remain in the town with her, despite the feelings of animosity thrown towards him by the human villagers. However, his longing for love is cut short when the discovery of a nearby town that had recently been left by the Elves is destroyed by a mysterious, underground dwelling creature.
The first episode of The Power of the Rings is quite dense, introducing many characters and storylines, but the pacing and structure is treated with enough care that it doesn’t feel like unnecessary exposition and implies each character will have enough importance down the line to justify their focus. In saying that, it’s not until the second episode in which the tone is established in a stronger fashion, with a more magical sense of wonderment surrounding each storyline, rather than strict plots being set-up, as it is in the first episode. However, both episodes have a strong mix of storytelling and visual brilliance that the overall experience of the show is enjoyable and astonishing.
It’s hard not to compare this series to the previous works, both in film and book form, of The Lord of the Rings. In the nicest way possible, The Rings of Power feels like the ‘TV’ version of this universe. This is found mainly due to some of the performances not feeling a strong as others in a noticeable way, and some of the dialogue (especially when it comes to off-kilter lines providing humour or levity) falling flat because the characters don’t feel fully explored yet. The latter is predominantly an issue in the first episode, as the second does expand on the characters more confidently, but it is a glaring issue as the show finds its feet. However, the foundations of potential are there, and as television shows go, there is still a strong entertainment factor that makes The Rings of Power and enjoyable time, and a show that is truly looking to make its name in the ‘fantasy-TV’ genre.
The most decisive factor of the show will come down to those who are in-depth fans of the lore that Tolkien offered in all his writings. Character arcs, especially Galadriel’s, do differ from the initial appendices, and other creative liberties have been taken within this series. Whether it’s due to Amazon not having the complete rights to all the source material, or whether the showrunners believe this is the direction they wish to take the show, will come down to how The Rings of Power fairs in it’s upcoming episodes, and whether the changes serve the greater good of the (potential 5 season) story.
While it may not be up to the almost impossible to replicate standard of the books and films that fans already adore, The Rings of Power is a step in the right direction to become a worth successor of the materials within The Lord of the Rings franchise that have come before it. With a strong performance from Morfydd Clark leading the charge, and a truly awe-inspiring, visually immersive look into Middle Earth, the foundations are there to make this a truly enjoyable story that will please fans of Tolkien’s work.
The Lord of the Rings: The Rings of Power will debut it’s first two episodes of Prime Video at 11am AEST, Friday September 2, with a weekly roll out of the remaining episodes each Friday following.
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