IIn the beginning there is Galadriel. How could it be otherwise? Like a black screen that accompanies The Rings of PowerThe opening seconds give way to a blissful scene of elven children in white tunics frolicking among fields of gold, it tells the cosmic origin story of a time before evil. On the banks of the creek, a small, flaxen-haired Galadriel launches a sort of origami swan boat, its wings unfolding into sails when the wind hits them. It’s wonderful – until the other kids stone him. Later, Galadriel’s beloved older brother Finrod comforts her, creating an allegory around the falling stones and the miniature ship, “whose gaze is not down but up, fixed on the light that guides her, whispering of greater things than darkness has ever known.’
So, in the first few minutes of episode 1, the central metaphor of The Lord of the Rings: The Rings of Power is set. This is not particularly imaginative; beyond his central role in J. RR Tolkien Middle Earth lore, the pair of righteous light battling evil darkness permeates Western storytelling from the Judeo-Christian Bible to star Wars. In that sense, the choice of metaphor reflects the approach Amazon and first-time creators JD Payne and Patrick McKay have taken to the most expensive TV show of all time, which premieres September 1 in the US and September 2 in Europe, Asia. and the Antipodes. Instead of reinventing Tolkien’s lore, they’re reinventing it in a story that reverently and dearly draws from ones viewers have heard many times before. The end result can be timeless or tired. But in its earliest episodes, Rings of Power it torments without challenging.
Nazanin Boniadi and Ismael Cruz Cordova in The Rings of Power
As far as I can tell (since Amazon’s extensive security measures include putting huge, opaque watermarks on screening videos), the show looks great. The record budget of 1 billion dollars allowed him to literally light up the screen. So very adult oriented fantasy Television — not only Franchise Game of Thronesbut also The Witcher, Living Deadand Amazon’s own Carnival Rowamong others – is played against a dark background that creates an eerie mood and hide the shoddy CGI. Rings of Power can move to a future where humans given the opportunity to destroy a ring whose very existence keeps evil alive in Middle-earth instead fall prey to its allure. But like the rest of Tolkien’s canon, it has a more upbeat vibe for all ages, so the production design creates a tone that’s more whimsical than dark. The elven realms seem to exist in an eternal golden hour, while mortals live among rolling green hills, snow-capped mountain ranges, and foaming white waterfalls. Even the vast underground dwarven kingdom of Khazad-dûm is illuminated by flaming lanterns and emerald foliage.
These vividly realized environments will host the culminating events of the Second Age of Middle-earth, an age that was sketched out in Tolkien The return of the King applications and this led to the forging of the rings that would play such a crucial role in a Third Age described in The Hobbit and LOTR. Elven immortality allows Payne and McKay to bring back a few familiar faces. There’s Galadriel (Morphyd Clarke), of course. A calm, ethereal presence played by Cate Blanchett in Peter Jackson‘c LOTR movies, the hero here is a sword-wielding commander who took over his brother’s crusade against evil after he died at the hands of the most evil Sauron (a physical precursor to the film’s eye of fire in the sky). After a long period of peace, the elves – led by High King Gil-galad (Benjamin Walker) and his deputy, a young statesman named Elrond (Robert Aramaio) – act as if all evil in Middle-earth has been defeated. Galadriel senses that this is not the case.
Robert Aramaio as Elrond c Rings of Power
In less rarefied realms we meet a handful of new characters invented by Payne and McKay. Arondir (Ismael Cruz Cordova) is an elven soldier nearing the end of an uneventful 75-year mission patrolling farmland for signs of evil forces. He has recently developed a forbidden relationship with a human healer, Bronwyn (Nazanin Boniadi), who is also a single mother of a small boy (Tyro Muhafidine). Wandering into other provinces, there is a lively community of Charophotes—nomads, little pixie-like hobbits with dirty faces and disheveled hair who look as if they’ve stayed too long at a Renaissance fair. Our window into their world is Norrie Brandyfoot (Markella Cavena), a restless teenager who is always dragging her best friend Poppy Proudfellow (Megan Richards) into dangerous adventures the Harfoots rarely attempt.
Star romances between humans and elves. Little people with big hearts get a rare chance to prove their mettle. And in a storyline that takes Elrond to Khazad-dûm in an attempt at diplomacy with Prince Durin IV (Owain Arthur) and his wife, Princess Dissa (specifically the first female dwarf from Middle-earth to be depicted on screen, played by Sofia Nomvet), mutual distrust as an obstacle to cooperation between elves who lead a life of the mind and earth dwarves. Some of these strands are more promising in the early episodes than others. But like the overarching narrative of an impending war in Middle-earth, between good and evil, light and dark—and despite the fact that said war canonically has a more depressing outcome than LOTR — they’re all hackneyed Tolkien plots with a limited range of outcomes.
Megan Richards, left, and Markella Cavena in “Rings of Power”
Ben Rothstein—Prime Video
Given the longevity of franchises from star Wars to DC to MCUthat regularly break box office records by recycling old archetypes and plot structures, I have no doubt that Rings of Power will find many viewers, especially among Tolkien superfans, who are legion, and younger audiences. Its brilliant wholesomeness, of course, provides a welcome alternative to blood, rape, and body-horrifying births from so many post-Thrones fantasy television—just as its clear, deliberate storytelling avoids the constant confusion of so much prestige drama. For another section of viewers, the awe-inspiring visuals coupled with acting and dialogues that neither dazzle nor disappoint will be enough to fuel them through the eight-episode season. And frankly, it’s still a relief to see a fantasy show that assembles a diverse cast and creates a number of powerful female roles; in a world of orcs and anthropomorphic trees, a non-white elf shouldn’t raise an eyebrow.
But the show’s simultaneous grounding in established traditions and repeating some of Tolkien’s most common tropes results in a series that doesn’t seem quite suited to newcomers or existing fans. Perhaps Rings of Power will become its own thing over time (Payne and McKay have planned a five-season arc); a handful of early developments suggest that there may be more to some of these characters and situations than meets the eye. Even if the show doesn’t stray too far from its original setup, it’ll be hard to place too much blame on the creators, whose affection for the source material rings true. While so much IP-based storytelling smacks of cynicism, their scripts read as a sincere, if a little too reverent, homage to Tolkien’s work.
I’m not sure the work was ever suitable for the small screen, though. Television thrives on complex characters and slow-burning conflicts and shifting allegiances; should surprise us every week. that’s why Thrones it worked so well (until it did). Tolkien’s unparalleled world-building is what did it Lord of the Rings the adaptations are so immersive and have given the Amazon series so much to live up to. But his moral universe is relatively simple; there is light and dark without much gray area. Can Payne and McKay create space for complexity and ambiguity in yet another Middle-earth story where good people from different humanoid species unite to fight shadowy, monstrous avatars of evil? It’s probably not impossible, but they haven’t done it yet.
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