It was inevitable that a story written to contain thousands of years’ worth of backstory would eventually be scoured to create more adaptation entertainment. The Hobbit and The Lord of the Rings novels by J. R. R. Tolkien form the basis of Amazon’s big ticket release: The Lord of the Rings: The Rings of Power wherein an evil ‘shadow grows again in a new form’.
Delving back into the land of Middle-earth is an entirely different beast to how it was for director Peter Jackson back in 2001.
Jackson had the benefit of delivering Tolkien’s work to a wider audience beyond a fandom that was numerous but, like hobbits, frequently out of sight.
His trilogy of movies impacted popular culture so heavily that any other creative’s return to the material has one heck of a watermark to be measured against (sorry, The Hobbit movies, I’m not talking about you here).
What Is Rings of Power About?
Rings of Power is set in the Second Age of Middle-earth and over a planned 5 seasons will explore the events that led up to the Third Age (in which The Lord of the Rings trilogy was set).
Although spanning various locales and characters, Rings of Power focuses primarily on the blinkered commitment from Elven warrior Galadriel (Morfydd Clark) to find and root out any remaining evil from Middle-earth following the defeat of the Dark Lord Morgoth.
On the surface, Clark would appear to be a very different Galadriel from how she appeared in The Fellowship of the Ring (as played by Cate Blanchett, Nightmare Alley).
A life lived over hundreds of years will refine a personality and Blanchett’s cold stately self-assurance finds its sources in Clark’s un-tempered steeliness.
The elves have typically been portrayed as a soft-focus otherworldly presence who lack the granule of reality needed to draw them out from the screen.
Rings of Power thankfully puts some flaws into these marble statutes, of which Galadriel is one crack.
The Rings of Power Official Trailer
Similarly, while Tolkien-esque dialogue is evocative of a crafted time and place, it can tend to fall foul of diminishing any emotional connections.
Anyone who watched the superb Saint Maud will know that Clark can exude powerful presence and in her hands the dialogue is delivered with highly relatable bite. She is one of the few dissenting voices who believes that Morgoth’s chief lieutenant, Sauron, is still at large; the same dedication that killed her brother.
Clearly, as the audience, we know that Sauron is indeed out there somewhere, even if he remains unseen. Indeed the depiction of Sauron in The Lord of the Rings film trilogy as a giant flaming eye was powerful if disconnected.
Aside from a quick flashback the man himself was a presence only, and the concept of tracking him down during his insidious return to power is a big draw for the show, and for Galadriel’s plotline.
Other plot lines thus far include: a caravan of Harfoots (a pre-Hobbit species) where young Nori Brandyfoot (Markella Kavenagh) discovers a disoriented and powerful giant who fell from the sky; the efforts of elf Elrond (Robert Aramayo) to reconnect with his dwarf friend, Prince Durin IV (Owain Arthur) of Khazad-dûm, amid strange goings on within the dwarves; and the hostility faced by Elf Arondir (Ismael Cruz Córdova) as he investigates news of human disappearances in the Morgoth supporting Southlands.
Is The Rings of Power Worth Watching?
That said, Rings of Power suffers from the need to re-establish the weight of its geography, history, and inhabitants.
The first episode cannot escape from being an overwrought affair that has to generate not just the history leading up to now but also the starting point of its characters, and the pace is leaden as a result.
Therein lies part of the problem: heft. Any action-soaked tour around the scenery of Middle-earth would seem trivial. Such a setting requires you to feel the weight of history in every pore.
Rings of Power concentrates that into a lethargic first episode in order to create a springboard for events to unfold; an understandable hurdle of an approach.
Thus Galadriel’s narrow first episode focus is complimented narratively once she has a foil to clash with, which is provided courtesy of a mysterious human stranger: Halbrand (Charlie Vickers).
The collected works of Tolkien include various detailed appendices as well as The Silmarillion and the collection Unfinished Tales of Númenor and Middle-earth, but due to Amazon’s purchase of the rights to The Hobbit and The Lord of the Rings alone showrunners J. D. Payne and Patrick McKay are unable to draw on aforementioned other sources, instead picking out references to the Second Age of Middle-earth from the materials from the latter works.
This pick-and-choose approach is a mixed bag. By condensing a timeline spanning hundreds of years (which would otherwise have killed off all the human characters) we also get to meet and explore the backstory of people who are extremely important later, and referenced frequently, but have thus far remained a name on a page.
A young Isildur (Maxim Baldry) has 5 seasons of intriguing development ahead of him, but any deviations within an episode to the country bumpkin harfoots feels like ‘we want hobbits’ more than a natural choice to add to the momentum of the show.
Thankfully overall Rings of Power has succeeded in replicating the Tolkien look and feel of the Jackson movies whilst also striving to plump up the characterisation.
The first episode may be an endurance test and the localised real world accents offputting – was it wise to make all the soil-covered Harfoots speak with an Irish brogue? – but as the heavy pendulum of history swings ever closer to chaos, Rings of Power makes you want to cling on for dear life.
Words by Mike Record