*This review is based on the first two episodes of Amazon Prime Video’s The Lord of the Rings: The Rings of Power.
After a decade of silence, J.R.R Tolkien fans finally have something to look forward to, and we’re not talking about singing Hobbits, or whatever it is that defined Peter Jackson’s later trilogy based on the ever popular The Lord of the Rings franchise. This time, the writer’s world of elves, hobbits, dwarves and other mythical creatures are intricately explored in television’s most expensive series yet – Amazon Prime Video’s The Lord of the Rings: The Rings of Power, the latest attempt to capture the complex and expansive world of The Lord of the Rings.
Set over a thousand years before the events of Tolkien’s tomes, the series brings viewers to Tolkien’s Middle-earth, but in the second age way before the events of The Lord of the Rings and The Hobbit books and films. This streaming series can be looked at as a prequel to the franchise, though they’re not related to Peter Jackson’s iconic film trilogy. The one thing they have in common though are special effects, and a lengthy runtime that tries to do the written word justice, as audiences are taken on a journey through the show’s main character, Galadriel (Morfydd Clark), as she hunts for Sauron and seeks revenge for the death of her brother.
During her journey, she meets up with familiar (at least, to those who read the books) and new original characters, like Hallbrand (Charlie Vickers), along with other characters that were just mentioned in passing in the books. It seems like a simple premise, but the books were anything but, and with an exhaustive list of cast and characters, The Rings of Power has a lot to introduce and establish for fans and new audiences alike.
In the first two episodes, the series already delves deep into the lore, such that even long-time fans of Lord of the Rings may require the help of Google or The Silmarillion to get up to speed. That said, it can be overwhelming for newcomers to the franchise, but it’s here where viewers get to truly appreciate the worldbuilding by series writer Patrick McKay and director J.A. Bayona.
The duo introduce groups that audiences have never seen before in a way that is approachable and familiar. The Harfoots, for example, are the ancestors of the Hobbits but instead of telling viewers straight away, the creators show these characters existing in their little humble community – happily working on their crops and putting plenty of importance on staying together in their conversations with each other. By the end of one episode, viewers will have a slight idea of how each group functions and what values they uphold. The Elves fight their wars, the Harfoots take care of their community and the Dwarves mind their mines, and everything is mapped out as clearly as possible, so that viewers don’t get too lost in the lore that the series attempts to delve into.
Out of all the characters introduced, both orignal and new, Nori Brandyfoot (Markella Kavenagh) stands out as a personal favourite. A Harfoot whose only desire is to explore Middle-earth and find her individual purpose outside of serving her community, Nori brings childlike innocence and adventure in a series that can at times lean towards grittier tones.
Outside of lore and well-written characters, The Rings of Power also explores a number of ‘firsts’ that fans haven’t seen on screen, and in some cases, even in the pages as well. The Rings of Power debuts the first dwarven princess, original character Disa (Sophia Nomvete), as well as female Orcs – both of which have never existed in all of Tolkien’s books, and the previous films. Nomvete is a joy to watch as the dwarf Princess who is both warm and kind, yet firm whenever needed.
The Lord of the Rings have never been viewed as feminist media and famously lacks female characters and leadership in comparison to other franchises in the fantasy genre. This is a change we highly welcome, especially since competing series House of the Dragon, the prequel to HBO’s hit series Game of Thrones, is concurrently working toto improve, and at times, clean up, the mess left behind by its predecessor.
In addition, the close friendship between the elf Elrond (Robert Aramayo) and the dwarf Prince Durin IV (Owain Arthur) is particularly interesting as in the lore of the books and films, dwarves and elves are often at odds with each other. First cordial where necessary to full-on display of rivalry, the close friendship (though seemingly sour at first) opens new ways for fans to understand the world of The Lord of the Rings and how politics, war and most obviously, the rings itself, have heavily impacted and shifted Middle-earth as we know it.
Production wise, Jackson set the gold standard in creating distinct visuals for his trilogy, and it’s no secret or surprise that The Rings of Power is as visually stunning, if not more so. Shots and sequences of Middle-earth are a gorgeous sight to behold, and every episode feels cinematic in its execution and ambition. The scale, scope, ambition and grandiosity of this show is currently unmatched on TV, and it almost makes us wish that the presentation was done in cinemas instead, so that we can experience and appreciate every inch of Bayona’s cinematography. Make no mistake – you want to watch The Rings of Power on the largest screen possible, to appreciate and embrace the strong visuals, rather than view it on a laptop, tablet or phone.
That said, each episode runs for an hour and while it’s visually stunning, the pacing can be somewhat sluggish at times. That said, pacing for The Lord of the Rings itself is typically slower but The Rings of Power takes so much time, some portions do feel dragged out. The pace picks up in actions scenes – a department, episodes one and two does not lack – but because it is placed at random parts of the episode (sometimes towards the start, sometimes in the middle, other times towards the end of the episode), it’s easy for viewers to lose interest, no matter how pretty it is.
If you love binge-watching a series at one go, The Rings of Power is definitely not the one to do so. Despite Amazon Prime Video’s plans to release one episode weekly following the two-episode premiere, the amount of energy and brain power required to sit down through one of its one-hour episodes may put off viewers who’d rather kick their shoes off after a long day of work and put something on to destress.
Despite this, the series is promising, with powerhouse storytelling and even more stunning cinematography that just bleeds out onto the screen. With the first two episodes successfully establishing the show’s premise and neatly introducing the various factions and characters we’re expected to journey with as the series progresses, we pray that the remainder of the series doesn’t fall victim to loose plotlines that focuses on one too many sub-plots, as well as with stories that attempt to keep its exhaustive list of characters relevant.
The Lord of the Rings: The Rings of Power releases on Amazon Prime Video on 2 September.
GEEK REVIEW SCORE
The Lord of the Rings: The Rings of Power is a cinematic masterpiece deeply embedded in J.R.R Tolkien’s lore. With plenty of likeable characters and excellent world-building, the series’ sole downfall is its incredibly slow pacing.
Story - 7/10
Direction - 10/10
Characterisation - 8/10
Geek Satisfaction - 7/10