We review the first two episodes of The Lord of the Rings: The Rings of Power
Amazon's hugely expensive series is almost here, and we've seen the first two episodes.
Permit me for starting out this review of the first two episodes of Amazon's The Lord of the Rings: The Rings of Power on a slightly different note. Sure, it's perhaps a tad too subjective, and it might even not jive with some of the other editors' opinions on this particular matter, that now have to translate and run this review (sorry, colleagues). You see, Rings of Power is already notorious, already controversial, already hated by some, who consider it the antithesis of everything that is green and fair in this world, largely because of some of the freedoms taken by the creative team behind the series, and which seemingly is at odds with some of the precise depictions and descriptions created by Tolkien some 100 years ago.
One dwarf character does not have a beard, and she's black, for instance. Galadriel is, in this early stage of her life anyway, a fierce warrior hunting Sauron to the ends of Middle-Earth, and then there's some debate about the Harfoot's and their overall placement geographically and historically. You get the idea. There's probably more.
So let me start by saying that I don't consider it an inherent issue or flaw, that a dwarven female does not have a beard, or that Galadriel is a warrior. I don't consider an interpretation of the source material to be problematic, and I don't think it's all that interesting to get a 1/1 rendition of a story already told anyway, some freedoms must be taken to ensure new ownership of a new story based on known source material. Peter Jackson did that, and it's widely considered one of the most successful movie trilogies of all time, but conversely he also received anger from Tolkien descendants, who felt that the material had been sensationalized, simplified and misrepresented.
This probably isn't enough of a disclaimer, or mission statement. But let me end by saying that I did not decide beforehand whether I liked, or disliked, Rings of Power, before watching it. I did not, leading up to its premiere, partake in the quite frankly toxic debate surrounding its existence, or the acquisition that Amazon is ramming politics into the series (which is quite frankly ridiculous anyway). So I went in with a blank canvas.
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Okay, can we get started on the proper review now?
The Lord of the Rings: The Rings of Power takes place in Tolkien's second age, which started with the final defeat of the corrupted Valar Morgoth, widely considered to be the biggest baddie in Tolkien's world, and which then subsequently paves the way for the third age when Sauron is first defeated by Isildur during the last stand of elves and men thousands of years later.
Morgoth has been defeated, and particularly the elves now yearn for well-earned peace and rest after centuries of slaughter. Middle-Earth is quiet. But behind a thin veil a new darkness looms, and it becomes increasingly apparent to the main cast as the two episodes roll on, that the evil hasn't been vanquished, but is biding its time until its return.
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This is a fantastic backdrop for the series, as it does both give it a unique identity far removed from Jackson's world, and allows it to retain some of the visual identity and splendour established by that very same world. There are familiar faces, mainly because the average lifespan of an elf is so long, so we meet younger versions of Galadriel, of Elrond, and even Gil-Galad (which we meet only briefly in the opening of The Fellowship of the Ring) alongside Isildur's father Elendil (who's Númenórean also allowing for a much longer lifespan). There are new characters too, or at least new to those who haven't flipped through all of Tolkien's collected works, such as the elven smith Celebrimbor (whom you might remember from Monolith's games), Arondir and Halbrand.
It's a large ensemble, reminiscent of Game of Thrones, as the focus sweeps across the lands of Middle-Earth giving us glimpses into each character's unique circumstances. It works well, and even if the first episode is exposition-heavy, it quickly establishes a quite measured pace allowing the audience to both take in the grandeur of the world, and some breathing room as the perspective switches.
Honestly, it all works pretty well most of the time. Every single actor brings their best, and their relative unknown-ness means that this blank canvas allows for more freedom in each portrayal. The dialogue is pulpy and pompous, as it should be in a fantasy epic, and furthermore, the series really does believe in its own premise, and ditches modern storytelling standards which recently has a tendency of undermining it with comedic quips. None such tomfoolery here, as The Rings of Power is a serious series with stakes, with heart, and what does seem like affection and respect for the source material, even if it takes liberties with it.
And it's gorgeous, as in the most beautiful opening two episodes of a television show I've seen, ever. It also has to, with the amount of money going into each episode's production, but it looks the part, it really does. While there's CG, as did Jackson's trilogy, there's a more tangible nature to every scene. It's physical rather than digital, lived-in rather than otherworldly. It might be because beyond the sweeping waterfalls and gorgeous valleys, the show's creator clearly wanted to play with light, and contrast.
Bear McCreary's score is amazing, as in actually amazing, invoking the iconic musical vistas of Howard Shore's original score, while carving out an identity all on its own. When combined with the beautiful cinematography, it really is a show you must watch on the biggest screen you can find. And beyond perhaps Game of Thrones, how often can you say that about a TV show?
It's not without flaws, obviously. It's perhaps a tad too exposition-heavy in its first episode, relying too much on telling, rather than showing. And while the Harfoot's are a quirky addition to the overall premise, its significance to the major events rushing to meet us is ultimately unknown.
Not perfect, no, but great, and even more importantly; I felt like coming home. I watched the original trilogy with my dad when I was just 10 years old. They've formed my life, and are partly responsible for why I'm doing what I do today. And from the very first frame of Rings of Power, it felt like this is exactly what I personally needed it to be, even if it still needs to prove that it can maintain momentum before I'm ultimately ready to give it a fuller recommendation.