The Rings of Power, was it any good?

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by | Oct 23, 2022 | Film & TV

A patchy first season with moments of quality and, um,dullness

So that’s the first season of The Rings of Power

Watching this first season of The Rings of Power makes you realise what a massive task it was to stitch a dramatic story together from Tolkiens outline of the Second Age of Middle Earth. The few pages of text that Amazon got the rights to alluded to much, but specified little. Crafting a drama from it has proved a bit, well, problematic.

On balance they have succeeded on most fronts, the season as whole has been worryingly wobbly in tone, but the final episode turned out as well as could be expected and was probably the best instalment over all. Which isn’t really a great endorsement for the most expensive TV series in history is it?

The early scenes of Arondir and his detachment of Elves watching over the Southlands were emotive. Durin and Disa bickering yet being clearly devoted to each other was fun. Galadriel leading the Numenorian cavalry across the Southland grasslands was thrilling. Even speculating whether the ‘meteor man’ was one of the Istari was fun, for a while. The three weird women from Rhun searching for Sauron were really cool, until they were revealed to be complete muppets by getting the wrong man all along. So much for their sorcerous skills.

The VFX was generally stunning, the early scenes of Numenor and Khazad Dhum in their prime were genuinely awesome. The Balrog was superb, albeit just the same as the one in LotR – whereas the Wargs were amazing. The practical effects are the real stars, by using prosthetics for the orcs they got round the biggest failings of the Hobbit movies – implausible and slightly crappy cgi.

Morfyd Clark as Galadriel was the anchor to the whole series, she imbued every scene with a sense of gravitas often missing from the bigger picture. Likewise Ismael Cruz Córdova as Arondir felt believable at all times, and he was the only elf that came across as feeling genuinely Elvish. Many of the Elven race felt more like bickering partners in a respectable solicitors than immortal, slightly angelic, beings.

There has been a huge debate over the accent choices, we had a whinge about it as well, and it all revolved around the questionable choice to represent the wide-eyed whimsical proto-hobbit waifs as if they were all from Ireland. Was there seriously a meeting where the question was asked ‘how will the rural simpletons sound like?’ And some smart arse said ‘let’s make them Irish’. The result was a cringe worthy bit of cultural appropriation.

In fact they only seemed to be there because hobbits were a central part of the Jackson films. They play no part in the source material for the Second Age that this series is (loosely) based upon. Apart from some comedic relief the only thing they contribute is in offering an apple to the Istari, which obviously keeps him on-message as one of the good guys.

Why does Middle Earth feel a bit small?

Peter Jackson created a fully rounded world in his adaptation of the Lord of the Rings, take the evacuation of Rohan to Helm’s deep, it genuinely felt like there was a population spread over a vast area on the move. Contrast that with The Southlands in RoP, a vast area literally the size of Mordor where lots of humans apparently lived. But we are shown only a village full of rustics, waiting for a king who has been missing for a thousand years. There is no sense of anyone else being there at all. If there were other inhabitants, were they all killed when Mount Doom erupted?

The series has taken huge inspiration from Jacksons work, but hasn’t quite nailed it. Which is odd because it can’t be held back by budget constraints, so it must be from creative and design teams falling a bit short. Another example would be the forging of the Three Rings, a momentous event demanding all of the powers, knowledge and wisdom of the Elves. On screen it looked like a slightly intense day in a jewellery degree course workshop, Elrond and Celebrimbor scratching imaginary beards like stuffy lecturers. You can’t help feeling that in Jacksons hands the whole scene would have been bigger and better, honouring the mythic standing that the forging of the rings has for ensuing events.

Damn that Dam

In the final episode the creepy human takes the evil sword and uses it as the key to unleash the waters held behind the dam close to Mount Doom, thus triggering the eruption of said sleeping volcano. But why was there a dam there in the first place? There didn’t seem the population size to need a reservoir of drinking water, and hydro-electric power isn’t mentioned in Tolkiens work. So was it simply created to serve the story? And how come an evil talisman such as the sword was designed to be the thing that made it fall apart? Was the dam made by the bad guys for just that eventuality? In which case what make the method of delivery (digging ditches with slave labour) so difficult?

Brain Sibley’s departure is now explained

Revered Tolkien expert and scholar, Brian Sibley, was an early advisor to the Amazon series. But then he left without a reason being given. Seeing the way they have murdered the timeline and tweaked every major characters actions you can see why. There is a general lack of care for the source material that gets a bit wearing to fans of Tolkiens work. Now a counter argument is that those Tolkien nerds are probably in the minority of the audience, the general viewer will have a very different take of the series. Plus there is a nasty and vocal racist/misogynist element to the fandom, who deserve to be ignored and denied. But why spend so much money on it in the first place securing the rights to something you’re going to butcher?

This line of thought brings us to another fact, this is a series with a mind-boggling budget made by an online shop (OK, a multi-billion dollar behemoth, but basically a mail order business). Is it a colossal loss-leader that will benefit the company through people signing up for Amazon Prime to watch it, and then carrying on to order anything and everything from Amazon with free delivery? Or is it a genuine attempt to position the new studio as a major player amongst its elders?

So, the jury is still out, will season 2 address some of the criticisms? The producers seem open to listening and learning from feedback. And just maybe it shouldn’t be too beholden to the minutia of Tolkiens lore, but let’s hope they aim high. A mark of ‘event TV’ today is how long the online chatter carries on after the series finishes – for Game of Thrones it’s still going on, for better or for worse, but crucially it’s still being talked about, meaning new and repeat viewings. For the Rings of Power the noise seems to be slipping away more quickly, there are less online articles like this one than for GoT or House of the Dragon. So the final reckoning will be carried out by the bean counters at Amazon, it all boils down to whether has it resulted in more subscribers. We won’t be privy to that data though will we?

As ever, Honest Trailers hit the nail on the head

Written by Iain Hazlewood

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