Tolkien fans, take note. The Lord of the Rings: The Rings of Power episodes 1 and 2 have finally debuted on the streaming platform Amazon Prime Video, and most reviewers are in praise of its grandeur.
The set design, CGI and costumes are so visually enchanting that one can easily understand where the USD 465 million budget (and even more for promotion) for the eight-episode season one went. Additionally, every reviewer has noted that it easily surpasses many of the big-screen blockbusters across departments.
Ensuring that people around the world will be able to watch this outstanding achievement in television history unfold at the same time on their TV sets, Amazon simultaneously released two episodes of The Rings of Power worldwide. The show premiered on 2 September in Asia.
The Rings of Power is created by J.D. Payne and Patrick McKay. The first two episodes are directed by Spanish filmmaker J.A. Bayona who is best known to international audiences for Jurassic World: Fallen Kingdom (2018). The remaining episodes are directed by Wayne Che Yip and Charlotte Brändström.
Knowing Amazon boss Jeff Bezos’ interest in the series, the makers have certainly not left any stone unturned to make the series one of the finest fantasy shows ever made.
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About The Rings of Power
The Rings of Power is a prequel to Peter Jackson’s epic The Lord of the Rings (2001-2003) and The Hobbit (2012-2014) trilogies, both of which were based on the books of the same name written by J.R.R. Tolkien.
The story of the series is mainly derived from the vast trove of information that the writer created in the appendices of his books. Therefore, nearly everything in The Rings of Power is essentially more of an inferred representation of Tolkien’s vision of Middle-earth, as it was before the period shown in The Hobbit and The Lord of The Rings.
Its primary leads are a young Galadriel (Morfydd Clark) and Elrond (Robert Aramayo) — elf characters from the two film trilogies, in which they were portrayed by Cate Blanchett and Hugo Weaving, respectively.
Other pivotal characters include elves Gil-galad (Benjamin Walker), Arondir (Ismael Cruz Córdova) and Celebrimbor (Charles Edwards); humans Halbrand (Charlie Vickers), Bronwyn (Nazanin Boniadi), Tar-Míriel (Cynthia Addai-Robinson), Elendil (Lloyd Owen) and Isildur (Maxim Baldry); dwarves Prince Durin IV (Owain Arthur) and Disa (Sophia Nomvete); and harfoots Sadoc Burrows (Lenny Henry) and Nori (Markella Kavenagh).
Several of these characters, including Arondir, Bronwyn and Nori have been created exclusively for the series, which means they do not exist in Tolkien’s literature.
The main places explored in the show are primarily the Númenor, Southlands, dwarven kingdom of Khazad-dûm, and the elven lands of Valinor, Eregion and Lindon. Additionally, the wide, rolling meadows and forests of Rhovanion, the wildlands east of Anduin, where the harfoots roam can be seen.
The story is set some 3,000 years before the events depicted in The Hobbit trilogy.
As fans of the film series and the books know, Sauron, the evil lieutenant of the dark lord Morgoth, made the elves forge 19 powerful rings — three for the elves, seven for dwarves and nine for men.
However, he secretly created the One Ring to control all the others. When he unleashed his brutality on the free people of Middle-earth, Sauron was defeated by the last combined force of men and elves.
The Rings of Power is about these events, starting with how Sauron tricked the elves into creating the rings and how his own ring was cut off his hand by Isildur.
What critics say
The reviews of the show have been mostly positive, and all prominent reviewers agree the series is best for the big screen.
“Most viewers will see The Rings of Power on a small screen, but it is best designed for a theatrical experience (like what was offered to some critics before release). Funneling this many resources into visual effects is appreciated, certainly, yet it seems like a bit of a shame for a series that many viewers will watch on palm-size screens,” notes Kathryn VanArendonk for Vulture.
“It is a forthrightly sincere show, with no room for cynicism. Everything is about Friendship or Honor or Greed or Strength, and it’d be so easy for it all to read as completely goofy if it were not utterly committed to that sincerity in every single beat,” VanArendonk adds.
Writing for The Guardian, Rebecca Nicholson says that “it is easy to spend the first episode simply gawping at the landscapes, as it swoops and swooshes between the lands of elves and dwarves, humans and harfoots.”
“This is TV that is made for big screens, although surely destined to be watched on smaller ones. It is so cinematic and grand that it makes House of the Dragon look as if it has been cobbled together on Minecraft,” writes Nicholson, comparing the show to the prequel of Game of Thrones (2011-19), which premiered on HBO (and Disney+ in some markets) on 21 August.
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Drawing a similar comparison, Stephen Kelly of the BBC notes, “Unlike, say, Game of Thrones, the characters of The Rings of Power are more archetypal, more traditionally mythic. This is not to say that Game of Thrones is better because it is more subversive: Tolkien and [George R.R.] Martin merely inhabit two different realms of fantasy. Game of Thrones is engrossing because of its complicated characters and challenging morals; The Lord of the Rings, while not a simple tale of good and evil (remember Boromir?) is arguably more poetic in tone, and ultimately more moving in nature.”
Kelly underlines that the “production values are staggering” for a television series.
“The sets feel huge and lived-in, the costumes are beautiful and intricate, and the digital effects are sharper than most movies,” he points out.
The first two episodes of The Rings of Power were shot in New Zealand, the location made famous by Jackson in his films.
“Just as it did in the LOTR films, New Zealand’s scenery grounds the story in a place that manages to feel both authentic and unearthly,” writes Kelly.
Caroline Framke of Variety appreciates the production design.
“As for production value, it’s not exactly surprising that the physical world-building and glittering, armored costumes rate so high given the show’s astronomical price tag, but it’s still refreshing to escape into an alternate world that feels more tangibly real than it does CGI creation. When the action does require a visual effect — for, say, an enormous, undulating sea monster creeping underneath a splintering raft — clearly no expense was spared in making it ring true and palpably ominous,” Framke writes.
Underlining that 50 episodes are reportedly planned, Framke says “it’s hard at this point to say how successful The Rings of Power will ultimately be as a whole.”
“For now, however, it’s safe to say that Amazon throwing the weight of its coffers at this property has resulted in a perfectly winning adaptation that unfolds swashbuckling adventures with clear reverence and affection for the considerable mythos behind it,” concludes Framke.
Emphasising the fact that Jackson couldn’t recreate the success of the LOTR trilogy for The Hobbit trilogy, Vanity Fair’s Esther Zuckerman writes that “perhaps the most shocking and heartening thing about the first two episodes of The Rings of Power is that the show really feels like Lord of the Rings, from the first moment that Morfydd Clark’s Galadriel intones: ‘Nothing is evil in the beginning’.”
In praise of Clark’s performance, Zuckerman says that she’s the “series’ anchor point.”
“Clark…manages to ground her Galadriel in stubbornness and drive without losing that magic elven touch. Even when she twitches in anger, she seems to hover above the earth,” Zuckerman writes.
Commenting on the approach of Payne and McKay towards the show, Judy Berman writes for TIME magazine, “Instead of reinventing Tolkien’s lore, they reinscribe it in a story that reverently and expensively draws on ones viewers will have heard many times before. The end result could be timeless or tired. But in its earliest episodes, Rings of Power tantalizes without challenging.”
Praising the diversity of the cast, Berman writes, “It is, frankly, still a relief to see a fantasy show assemble a diverse cast and create a number of powerful female roles; in a world of orcs and anthropomorphic trees, a nonwhite elf shouldn’t raise an eyebrow.”
Like several other critics, Daniel Fienberg of The Hollywood Reporter agrees that the first episode of the show is dedicated to world-building, while the second is where the plot actually starts developing.
But Fienberg is also slightly critical of the show.
“Two episodes isn’t enough time to make a conclusive decision, but I quickly tired of Córdova’s brooding and the ethereal blandness of some of the supporting elves. Many of my complaints are species-specific complaints, an objection to the balance of storytelling and the variations of character groupings, just as House of the Dragon created instant Targaryen fatigue,” he writes.
Particularly sharp criticism comes from Darren Franich of Entertainment Weekly.
“There are ways to do a prequel, and The Lord of the Rings: The Rings of Power does them all wrong,” begins his scathing review, in which Franich criticises — everything, from how the episodes progressed to the wide gap in understanding Tolkien’s work for this series.
“This series is a special catastrophe of ruined potential, sacrificing a glorious universe’s limitless possibilities at the altar of tried-and-true blockbuster desperation,” he concludes.
What you may have missed in The Rings of Power
It is important to note that The Rings of Power is largely based on the appendices of the books and at times, references The Silmarillion, a collection of stories Tolkien wrote as an extension of the mythological universe he created.
Thus, a reading of the books is necessary for a better understanding of some moments and dialogues in the series. However, there are also depictions which fans could connect to the two film trilogies if they watch the new series carefully.
Opening scene similar to The Fellowship of the Ring
Only die-hard fans of The Lord of The Rings will remember how Cate Blanchett’s version of Galadriel gives a brief history of Middle-earth in the opening minutes of the first film of the trilogy, recounting how Sauron created the One Ring and how he was eventually defeated by the forces of men and elves.
The first few minutes of The Rings of Power mirror the narrative style. It is again Galadriel but played by Clark, who tells viewers the history of the First Age of Middle-earth when Sauron’s master, Morgoth, was defeated.
The trees of Valinor
The first episode shows the destruction of the two magical, light-bearing trees of Valinor by Morgoth. The elves go to war against the dark lord following this incident.
The trees appear only for a moment but are extremely significant to the mythology. As the Tolkien lore goes, the two trees become the sun and the moon. Yet the lineage of one of them continues and is seen as the White Tree of Gondor in Jackson’s LOTR trilogy.
The White Tree of Gondor is the sigil of the Kingdom of Gondor, which fans see on the breastplate of Aragorn (Viggo Mortensen) in The Lord of the Rings: The Return of the King (2003). The White Tree of Gondor, which has been dead for a long time, eventually comes back to life after Aragorn is crowned king in the film.
Harfoots’ love of food parallels the hobbits
Thousands of years later, the harfoots evolve into the hobbits seen in the two trilogies. This is why both have a lot of shared traits. One of them is depicted in The Rings of Power — an appetite for good food.
Jackson’s LOTR trilogy particularly shows massive feasts hobbits partook in for almost any happy occasion. Even though harfoots live a nomadic lifestyle and are basically foragers, unlike hobbits who cultivate their produce, the eating habits of the two certainly intersect.
Nori and the others are, therefore, seen eating the freshest fruits almost all the time.
The sheltered life of the harfoots
“Nobody goes off trail and nobody goes alone,” Marigold Brandyfoot (Sara Zwangobani) tells her daughter Nori in a scene where the familial bonding of the harfoots is clearly depicted. This is another trait that is passed down to the hobbits, who, too, are shown as always sticking together in the Shire.
The ents make a brief appearance
In the first episode of The Rings of Power, a meteor streaks across Middle-earth. In a blink-and-you-miss-it moment, three tree-like structures are seen moving amid the forest. These are the ents — a unique species in Tolkien’s world which are meant to protect forests from harm.
The ents were first seen on the big screen in The Lord of the Rings: The Two Towers (2002, pictured) when the hobbits Merry (Dominic Monaghan) and Pippin (Billy Boyd) implore them to help in the war against Saruman (Christopher Lee). They refuse at first but join in after they see the destruction of trees by Saruman’s forces.
Valinor is also where Bilbo and Frodo went
Valinor is where the story of The Rings of Power begins. Galadriel was born here and is seen travelling back to in the first episode. However, it is not on the continent of Middle-earth, but a land across the Sundering Seas, or the Great Seas, where immortal elves are permitted to live. It is also known as the Blessed Realms and the Undying Lands.
At the end of The Return of the King, Frodo accompanies Bilbo, Gandalf and other elves to the Blessed Realms on a ship. In fact, ships make more frequent appearances in The Rings of Power than they did in the two trilogies. This is because the series includes the entire geography of the world that Tolkien imagined.
Is it Gandalf or another wizard or Sauron?
The biggest development in the first episode is the arrival of a mysterious bearded stranger (Daniel Weyman) who hurtles down on Middle-earth in the form of a meteor. Surrounded by flames that harm no one, he is rescued from a pit by Nori and her harfoot friend Poppy (Megan Richards).
The Stranger, as he is credited in the first two episodes, is childlike, unable to understand or behave rationally to whatever Nori’s attempts at befriending him. In episode 2, he displays powers that are beyond comprehension and slowly speaks in a tongue that Nori doesn’t understand.
However, it is towards the end of the episode that he displays an ability that seems similar to Gandalf the Grey (Ian McKellen) in the two film trilogies. He communicates with fireflies and makes them take the shape of a constellation, which Nori deduces is what he intends to find.
This is somewhat similar to what Gandalf displayed when he communicated with a moth to escape Isengard, where he was trapped, in The Fellowship of the Ring.
It is also possible that The Stranger is not Gandalf but one of the other Istari — the five wizards of Middle-earth, comprising Gandalf, Saruman, Radagast and two Blue wizards. Some speculate that there is also a possibility that The Stranger could be a returning Sauron, who is himself a mythical entity in Tolkien’s universe. This is because, at the time of his arrival in the first episode, several dark events are also simultaneously shown.
Fianor’s hammer is the closest reference to The Silmarillion
In the second episode, Elrond admires a beautiful hammer on display in the elven realm of Eregion to the west of the Misty Mountains and remarks, “Fëanor’s hammer; the tool that wrought the Silmarils.”
The crucial object is the closest and the most direct reference in the series to The Silmarillion and directly connects the series with the First Age, the period that Galadriel narrated at the very beginning of the first episode. The Silmarils were three jewels that contained the magical light of the two trees of Valinor. Their theft was also one of the reasons behind the war against Morgoth and a dangerous vow, known as the Oath of Fëanor, that the sons of Fëanor took.
Fëanor is never shown in Jackson’s films and might not be shown in The Rings of Power, as he exists before the timeline of the series. However, in the first episode of the series, a similar oath is taken, though not directly referred to as the Oath of Fëanor.
Khazad-dûm is a far cry from Moria
The second episode brings Tolkien fans inside the underground dwarven kingdom of Khazad-dûm. Elrond visits it to meet his friend Prince Durin IV of Khazad-dûm. He sees untold riches — waterfalls flowing within the massive caverns, dwarves tilling terraced farms and tons and tons of gold everywhere. The dwarves are happy, healthy and in high spirits. The engineering skills of the dwarves are also highlighted when Prince Durin IV and Elrond use a mechanical elevator to reach the former’s rooms.
Fans know this very place as the infamous Mines of Moria from The Fellowship of the Rings. The titular Fellowship is forced to go through Moria but finds all the dwarves dead and the place infested with Orcs. In the dark corridors of the mines, Gandalf encounters a Balrog while the others escape.
(Main and Featured images: IMDb)
This story first appeared on Lifestyle Asia India