Twenty-one years after Peter Jackson‘s The Lord of The Rings: The Fellowship Of The Ring, we are back in Middle Earth once again. Set in the Second Age during the forging of the Rings of Power, thousands of years before the events in the original LOTR trilogy, the Amazon Original series currently holds the distinction of being the most expensive television series ever made. Just to secure the rights alone cost Jeff Bezos $250 million, totaling $1 Billion for a 5-season series.
Even just looking at this video of how the title sequence was made should give you a hint that Bezos + co. spare no expense in making this thing.
The story was primarily based on the appendices of The Lord of the Rings and reportedly includes consultation with JRR’s grandson Simon Tolkien during development. I wouldn’t call myself a die-hard fan of LOTR as I’ve only seen the original trilogy a couple of times despite owning one of the extended blu-ray box sets, but I’d go so far as to call them modern masterpieces.
Jackson has set the bar high in developing fantasy adventure films that stand the test of time. Showrunners J. D. Payne and Patrick McKay clearly strive to match Jackson’s phenomenal production design and cinematography, and I love that they still use the main theme by Howard Shore, but it’s Bear McCreary who scores the show itself.
Since only two episodes are available to see so far, this post is more of my first impressions of what I like and don’t like about the show so far.
Now, I wish I were one of the lucky ones who got to see the first couple of episodes on the big screen, alas there’s not a single Cinemark cinema in Minnesota As I watched the first episode, I was in awe of the breathtaking visuals, I bet they look phenomenal on the big screen! I suppose you get what you pay for–per Wiki, it takes 1,500 visual effects artists to create nearly 10,000 VFX shots combined with practical sets that the actors could inhabit.
Khazad-dûm, the Kingdom of the Dwarves beneath the Misty Mountains known Moria Cave is especially breathtaking to behold. In LOTR, Moria is a decaying ruin overrun by Orcs, but here we see the splendor of the subterranean city where miners and blacksmiths thrive. I love Elrond’s awestruck expression as he’s escorted to see Dwarf Prince Durin.
The scale is undoubtedly epic, I was ooh-aah-ing at the sheer epic scale and lush visuals. I have to admit that for the first few minutes I was mostly in awe of the set pieces that it was hard to pay attention to the story. Thankfully, most of episode 1 is basically one long exposition by Galadriel (Morfydd Clark) who narrates the story. Which brings me to the …
Morfydd Clark has huge shoes to fill given the tremendous job Cate Blanchett did in the role originally, but I think the Welsh actress did a fine job inhabiting the role. I enjoyed seeing the origin story of Galadriel as an Amazonian-like Elven warrior driven by grief of the loss of her brother Finrod (Will Fletcher) and her determination to see the enemy destroyed.
Before Sauron, there was Morgoth … even though their world is currently enjoying the great peace, Galadriel believes evil is still lurking. Morgoth is part of a powerful, immortal race Ainur who rebelled against its creator. Given the many Biblical parallels in Tolkiens’ work, Morgoth is akin to a fallen angel that becomes the devil. While Morgoth has been defeated during the battle of the First Age War, Sauron is thought to have escaped, thus Galadriel’s vow to continue the search. It’s interesting to see a more hot-headed Galadriel before she becomes the wise, serene stateswoman in the original trilogy. She always appears so intense here, but it’s understandable given she constantly has to fight off her peers and superiors for the cause she truly believes in.
Diverse cast playing various characters
Screw the trolls! I’m not going even pay attention to dumb, racist folks complaining about casting actors of colors in a fantasy project! I for one am thrilled to see more diverse faces playing various characters, not just relegated to the Orcs, especially when they’re filled with such talented actors! We’ve got British-Jamaican Sir Lenny Henry as a Harfoot (the Hobbits’ ancestral race with a browner complexion), South African/Iranian Sophia Nomvete as a Dwarf princess, Puerto Rican Ismael Cruz Córdova as the oh-so-hot Elven warrior Arondir and Iranian Nazanin Boniadi as mortal human Bronwyn, the subject of Arondir’s affection.
The harfoots and the dwarfs are naturally more lively and mirthful which provides the more humorous bits, while the beautiful elves, all glass-cut cheekbones, and smoldering eyes are more solemn and serious. I’m liking the friendship between the two young harfoots–Nori Brandyfoot (Markella Kavenagh) and her bestie Poppy Proudfellow (Megan Richards), and my hubby remarked right away that Poppy reminds him of Samwise Gamgee who’s loyal to Frodo.
Arondir and Bronwyn are the series’ Aragorn + Arwen with their forbidden romance, there’s an electric charge between these two beautiful creatures that’s palpable to see. One thing I find so refreshing is to see a sweet kiss between Dwarf Prince Durin (Owain Arthur) and Princess Disa, showing them thriving as one happy family with their two children. One could even see Elrond looking amused and inspired watching them, though he doesn’t marry until the Third Age.
I quite like Robert Aramayo as Elrond, I previously saw him in the disturbing-but-indelible Netflix miniseries Behind Her Eyes. Given the many screentime between him and Galadriel, it’s important to have actors with good chemistry together. While there’s tenderness between them, there’s also tension as they don’t see eye-to-eye about the threat of Sauron.
Lastly, there’s Benjamin Walker as High King Gil-galad and Charlie Vickers as the mysterious figure called Halbrand whom Galadriel encounters on a wrecked ship. I’m curious to see the true identity of Halbrand as well as the Stranger giant (Daniel Weyman) that falls from the sky into a meteor crater.
Plot and Pacing
Watching the first two episodes feels a bit like exposition overdrive. Director J.A. Bayona (The Impossible, Jurassic World: Fallen Kingdom) has the arduous task of reintroducing fans and new viewers Middle Earth and presenting both familiar and new characters. The fact that this series has been green-lit for five whole seasons, we can expect stronger character developments and more detailed storylines, but I wish the pacing weren’t so sluggish.
Some of the dialogs are overlong and repetitive, while some are too cryptic for those who haven’t read the books. I already mentioned that the gorgeous visuals prove to be quite distracting at times, but even at my most attentive, some scenes seem to go on forever. I sure hope the pace will improve for the rest of the series.
Twenty years ago, there were hardly any fantasy series of this scale but Game of Thrones was released over a decade ago in 2011 and the George R. R. Martin creation has already spanned a prequel, House of Dragon, that’s currently running. I sort of got left behind the GOT wagon as I never watched a single episode even though I enjoy the fantasy genres. Well, one of the main reasons is all the gory violence and explicit sex scenes that I’ve never been comfortable watching.
So I’m glad that Rings of Power is more family-friendly, matching the PG-13 rating of the original LOTR and The Hobbit movies. Sure there are frightening moments and mature topics, but I don’t see why showrunners need to dial up the shocking scenes just because they can.
Will I keep watching?
The classic tale of good vs evil is what ultimately draws me to Tolkiens’ world and so far Rings of Power remains faithful to the source material in that regard. What’s more important than visual grandeur is the sense of gravitas of the original films, so I’m glad that the showrunners manage to retain that aspect. Whether or not it’s faithful to the text is perhaps not as crucial, given the Rings Of Powers‘ showrunners only have the appendices instead of the actual books filled with fleshed-out characters that Jackson could work with. The appendices contain different historical aspects of Middle Earth and its languages, which leaves plenty of room for creative liberties.
I for one am happy to trade Marvel Cinematic Universe with the Tolkien expanded universe so I definitely will keep on watching and am curious where the story will lead.
Though I generally refrain from rating a series based on just a couple of episodes, I’m doing that here just for the sake of argument.
Have you caught up with LOTR: Rings of Power series yet? Well, what did YOU think?