11 short days after the premiere of another prequel The House of the Dragon on HBO Max, the Amazon original The Lord of the Rings: The Rings of Power made its debut. Choosing between the two high fantasy prequels was a rather easy decision to make – watch both and bask in the glory of living in a time where the highest quality and care is given to each IP. Often, way too often, I use the term ‘an embarrassment of riches’ for the type of content genre fans are receiving. A golden age of sorts. Along with Andor on Disney Plus, the weeks have been full of new and familiar characters, stories and places to look forward to, and all three genre additions have far exceeded the expectation placed on them.
Getting off to a slower than expected start compared to the aforementioned House of the Dragon, The Rings of Power spent most of its first 2 plus hours laying the foundation for what would become an overall fine first season. Taking place in the second age of Middle Earth, director of the first two episodes J. A. Bayona, eases into the story with a much-welcomed return to the world many know and seldom few forget. 19 years after the release of the final Peter Jackson directed The Return of the King, Middle earth looks as it did before, getting an expensive touch up from Amazon Studios.
Buying the rights from the Tolkien Estate in 2017, Amazon would commit to a 5-season series at a cost of $1 Billion making it the most expensive show ever made. From the opening frame in episode 1 on, Amazon put the money wherever it needed it, filling the frame with details that have depth and dimension added to those details. The Rings of Power is breathtaking, every scene, whether it’s a landscape shot of the vast world or a closeup between two characters is a painting – an accomplishment like no other, capturing the rich Tolkien atmosphere and lush environments – money well spent, every penny is accounted for on screen.
Creators of the series J. D. Payne and Patrick McKay set their story in the second age, largely based off the appendices and the Silmarillion works by J. R. R. Tolkien. Those familiar with the appendices and the Silmarillion will note that Tolkien used those to further expand on his diverse world of middle earth – covering different lands and species that inhabit the massive world set centuries before the Jackson helmed films.
Like those appendices and short stories, The Rings of Power is comprised of many different moving parts, a collection of individualistic stories that somehow are connected to one another. The slow start to the first few episodes puts further strain on the distance and isolation, dragging the pace along rather than connecting the dots. Characters are off doing their own thing, like chapters in a book, once a character is featured a new chapter begins and the momentum shifts and starts gaining traction all over again.
It may work in novel form but for the sake of the series, the pace often falls far behind, playing catch up until the middle episodes of the season.
Like the trilogies that came before it, The Rings of Power is a true ensemble piece, full of diverse and interesting characters. However, the main character, driving the oftentimes muddled plot forward is a younger version, by 1000 or so years of Galadriel (Morfydd Clark). Opening on Galadriel, she tells a tale of her brother’s death at the hands of Sauron, whom she vows to seek revenge no matter the cost. Galadriel’s hate consumes her, makes her arrogant, head strong and paranoid in her quest that takes centuries. Though a familiar face, this version of Galadriel is fresh, frustrating, and intriguing, giving her a new dimension that hasn’t been explored on screen. It’s not the same character we meet in Peter Jackson’s trilogy played by the fantastic Cate Blanchett but a version of Galadriel that transforms into the one we know.
Where Galadriel starts the season and ends it comes with growth. Morfydd Clark gives an excellent performance as the younger version on a journey to who she will ultimately become.
When the focus is off Galadriel, subplots follow a younger Elrond (Robert Aramayo) tasked with saving Lindon by seeking out his once considered best friend, a dwarf named Durin IV (Owain Arthur), a colony of Harfoots (that are ancestors to the Hobbits), Nori (Markell’s Kavenagh) and Poppy (Megan Richards) who discover a Stranger (Daniel Weyman) falling from the sky, mortals Bronwyn (Nazanin Boniadi), her son Theo (Tyroe Muhafidin) in the Southlands, defending their home from the Uruk Adar (Joseph Malwe) and his orcs with aid from an elf Arondir (Ismael Cruz Córdova) and the army of Númenórean’s led by the queen regent Míriel (Cynthia Addai-Robinson), Elendil (Lloyd Owen) and his son Isildur (Maxim Baldry).
Season 1 soars when moments hold more power than any of the rings can hold when forged. As expansive as the world is, it’s the intimacy between characters that have the heft to them. Many of these relationships and personality traits feel familiar, the Harfoots sense of adventure and the bond between Elves and Dwarves, particularly between Elrond and Durin IV anchor the series in place. Robert Aramayo and Owain Arthur have a magnetic chemistry between them, a true bond that lasts decades and survives as long because of their ability to communicate and see the fault in their actions. Well, Durin’s wife Disa (Sophia Nomvete) pushes Durin to be more friendly in certain moments. To me, the trio of Elrond, Durin and Disa are this first seasons glue – each performance stands out among the rest of solid performances all around.
Looking at the villain, we know its Sauron and writers sure spend precious time throwing breadcrumbs and hints at the potentiality of which character introduced it actually is. Cases can be made for several but season 1’s climactic moment, coming in episode 6 rather the penultimate or finale like most do, is an event in time, a set up for the remaining 4 seasons and wars to come in the future. Getting there takes patience, a lot of it, The Rings of Power asks that much of its viewers. As beautiful as the visuals are, too much of time is spent boasting at the scale of the immersive world.
Season 1 both exceeds and suffers under the weight of its expectation. Featuring a scope unlike any other, creators J. D. Payne and Patrick McKay live up to the task of re-introducing middle earth in all its visual, eye-popping glory. Composer Bear McCreary’s score doesn’t quite capture the same emotions that Howard Shore’s does however, the music is one of the strongest aspects, creating the tension right before an action sequence and filling out the intimate moments with a softer touch. Overall, season 1 of The Rings of Power gets the job done, messy and directionless as it may be, the ship rightens by mid-season and ends on an acceptable note.
Created By: J. D. Payne & Patrick McKay
Episodes Directed By: J. A. Bayona, Wayne Che Yip & Charlotte Brändström
Music By: Howard Shore (Theme), Bear McCreary (Composer)
Cinematography: Aaron Morton, Alex Disenhof & Oscar Faura
Starring: Morfydd Clark, Lenny Henry, Markella Kavenagh, Megan Richards, Robert Aramayo, Ismael Cruz Córdova, Nazanin Boniadi, Tyroe Muhafidin, Charles Edwards, Daniel Weyman, Owain Arthur, Charlie Vickers, Sophia Nomvete, Lloyd Owens, Cynthia Addai-Robinson, Trystan Gravelle, Maxim Baldry, Joseph Mawle
Where to Watch: Amazon Prime
Release Date: September 2, 2022
Rotten Tomatoes Score: 82%
Based On: The Lord of the Rings & appendices by J. R. R. Tolkien