A magnificent, magical and mystical return to Middle-Earth. The Lord of the Rings: The Rings of Power, Amazon Prime Video’s ambitiously mounted series embedded in JRR Tolkien’s fantastical universe and chronicling the tumultuous days of Middle-Earth’s Second Age, makes a deep dive — visually and otherwise, in ways more jaw-dropping than one — into its ample budget and sweeping story to deliver a watch that’s both splendid and sparkling.
With the first two episodes dropping on the streaming platform today, first-time showrunners Patrick McKay and JD Payne ensure that the series fits as seamlessly into Peter Jackson’s cinematic universe of The Lord of the Rings and Hobbit films and richly taps into Tolkien’s fantastical world, but also as the heft and heart to function effectively and effortlessly as a standalone watch.
The series brings us back to the beginning of time, as Galadriel, now a younger and fiercer version (of Cate Blanchett in the films) played magnificently by Morfydd Clark details the origin of things. Through her keen eyes, the viewer is guided through a prologue that recounts the rise of Sauron, who stole the elves’ light, waged war across Middle-Earth, and nearly wiped out the elven army. The elves reacted with strength, beating him back to the edges of known society and taking a stronghold over human lands. Some humans had sided with Sauron, with the result that a tentative political landscape has all sides biting at one another. With the threat of Sauron not fully banished, a distrust permeates every new meeting or unexplained occurrence.
The series begins with the words, “Nothing is evil in the beginning. And there was a time when the world was so young there had not yet been a sunrise. And even then, there was light.” Which in a way encapsulates the simple yet powerful thought that hope, and even life, often stem from the darkest of spaces.
The prologue is similar to the one seen in Jackson’s The Fellowship of the Ring, but this one goes deeper and further into Middle-Earth’s history.
The Rings of Power demands and commands your attention, dense as it is with lore and characters. The show’s first two episodes are entirely devoted to setting up its characters, locations, and various story strands. The sprawling, larger-than-life visuals — the series has been shot in New Zealand, with the experts at Wellington’s Weta Workshop bringing it magnificently alive — are testament to every dollar that Amazon Prime Video has spent
The first two episodes, which have been made available for review, are concise and compelling, even as The Rings of Power goes about making its introductions and gradually finding its niche. Taking place thousands of years before the events of The Hobbit and The Lord of the Rings, the writing of the initial episodes strike a fine balance between the warring, the politics and the humdrum of everyday life, even as it establishes protagonists from every corner of Middle Earth-and beyond.
We don’t have Hobbits here, but we do have Harfoots. They are essentially Hobbits of the wandering variety, long before the Shire was settled in the west, with one of them played rather winningly by Lenny Henry.
The Rings of Power demands and commands your attention, dense as it is with lore and characters. The show’s first two episodes are entirely devoted to setting up its characters, locations, and various story strands. The sprawling, larger-than-life visuals — the series has been shot in New Zealand, with the experts at Wellington’s Weta Workshop bringing it magnificently alive — are testament to every dollar that Amazon Prime Video has spent. The Rings of Power’s first season cost $465 million. At the end of its $1 billion, five-season run, it will be the most expensive show ever made. These are big numbers, thankfully backed by a series which is just as big.
Despite having to be careful as to the story being told, due to the issue of rights, the series has quite a few Easter Eggs thrown in. Plus, Amazon’s deep pockets have allowed the makers of the series to pull out all the stops — a dialect coach, calligrapher, a Tolkien scholar and language expert on board aside, Simon Tolkien, JRR Tolkien’s grandson, does duties as series consultant.
While it may seem premature to judge a series on the basis of two episodes when a five-season commitment has been made, for now it is safe to state that The Rings of Power is a winning adaptation that unfolds swashbuckling adventures with clear reverence and affection for the considerable mythos behind it.