The Dazzling 'The Lord of the Rings: The Rings of Power' Instantly Recaptures Middle-Earth's Magic

'The Lord of the Rings' franchise looks as spectacular as a streaming series as it did in cinemas — and this prequel series glistens with adventure and discovery, too.
Sarah Ward
September 02, 2022

Long-awaited prequels to huge fantasy franchises: everyone's doing them. Within less than a fortnight, HBO has stepped back into the Game of Thrones with House of the Dragon and now, weekly from Friday, September 2, Prime Video brings The Lord of the Rings back to the screen. Yes, it's a great time to be a fan of the biggest names in the genre, and of two of the most popular page-to-screen sagas ever printed then filmed. It's also quite the moment for anyone keen on mammoth power battles between good and evil, and the historical-looking but purely fanciful worlds in which they unfurl (and of oh-so-many expensive special effects as well).

In The Lord of the Rings: The Rings of Power's case, JRR Tolkien's stories make the move from Peter Jackson's six LoTR and The Hobbit cinema releases onto streaming, courtesy of the show's initial eight-episode first season. It's no less breathtaking to behold than the first three movies, however (the headache-inducing high frame rates used in the latter three flicks made New Zealand's stunning landscape look like any old ordinary hills, rocks and grass, and made for awful viewing). Is such astonishing spectacle enough to recapture the magic of Middle-earth? The answer is right there in every image. This debut batch of instalments reportedly cost US$465 million, and the visual splendour all that money has bought goes a long way. That said, sumptuous sights aren't the only drawcard that The Rings of Power boasts.

Like knowing that House of the Dragon was coming, and winter as well, it's been impossible to avoid news about The Rings of Power. The series has been in the works for five years, and is already locked in for five seasons, all jumping back to Middle-earth's Second Age. That's a period of elves, men, dwarves and harfoots — precursors to hobbits — and of the lurking evil of Sauron, plus orcs, trolls and more. It's also when the titular jewellery is forged. On the page, it's largely been covered in an appendix to Tolkien's Lord of the Rings books, taking this new series into previously unseen on-screen territory. And, as The Rings of Power focuses on, it's where Galadriel and Elrond's tales truly kicked in, with Morfydd Clark (Saint Maud) taking over from Cate Blanchett and Robert Aramayo (The King's Man) doing the same for Hugo Weaving, with their characters thousands of years younger.

Showing how history repeats by repeating a past hit's scenario but setting it further back in history: everyone's doing that, too. The young Galadriel narrates The Rings of Power's explanatory introduction, setting the scene for the show's fight against Sauron — and slowly putting the pieces in place for the compilation of a fellowship to do so. She tells of the dark lord Morgoth and his defeat in wide-ranging wars. She notes that the elf Finrod (Will Fletcher, The Road Dance) was convinced that Sauron, Morgoth's apprentice, still lingered afterwards. And she advises that such a belief and the search to prove it right cost Finrod his life. He was Galadriel's brother, and now she has taken up his mission.

Alas, a time of relative peace, as Middle-earth has been under since Morgoth was vanquished, isn't a prime time for Galadriel's quest. She's still scouring far and wide for Sauron, but High King Gil-galad of the Elves (Benjamin Walker, The Ice Road) wants to bathe her in glory for past victories instead. If that's the path she took, there wouldn't be much of a series — although it's not The Rings of Power's only narrative strand. Elrond, Galadriel's closet friend, has been tasked with seeking help from the dwarves of Khazad-dum to build a new forge, but Prince Durin IV (Owain Arthur, A Confession) is wary. Fellow elf Arondir (Ismael Cruz Córdova, The Undoing) follows strange happenings in a human village, where he also warms to single mother Bronwyn (Nazanin Boniadi, Bombshell). And harfoot Nori Brandyfoot (Markella Kavanagh, True History of the Kelly Gang) and her fellow diminutive creatures get drawn into odd occurrences, too, after a ball of fire tumbles from the heavens.

As overseen by showrunners and executive producers JD Payne and Patrick McKay, with filmmaker JA Bayona (A Monster Calls, Jurassic World: Fallen Kingdom) directing the first two episodes, The Rings of Power spends its opening double instalments setting the scene and building its world. More subplots and characters are weaved in — including a bearded stranger (Daniel Weyman, The North Water) and the stargazing of Sadoc Burrows (Lenny Henry, The Sandman) among the harfoots, elf-prejudiced human Halbrand (Charlie Vickers, Palm Beach), plus Durin's relationship with his king father (Peter Mullan, The Underground Railroad) — and more will follow given the show's hefty cast. A sense of scale shimmers through at every moment, whether via all of the faces gracing the screen or the locations such as Elvish home Lindon, the dwarves' Khazad-dum or the Sundering Seas that they traverse. And it's that grandeur, unsurprisingly, that's one of The Rings of Power's biggest early strengths.

While Lord of the Rings and The Hobbit fans will have had The Rings of Power on their must-watch list since it was first announced — it's the franchise's equivalent of second breakfast, after all — it doesn't just take that loyalty for granted. It isn't as content to blatantly tread in its predecessors' footsteps either (not as much as House of the Dragon, with the two destined to be forever compared), even if it's clear that it likely won't deviate too far either. The Rings of Power feels lived in from the outset, but also excited and eager, as if it too wants to roam far and wide rather than merely return to beloved confines. Among the dazzling spectacle, there's a sense of adventure and discovery about the series as well, leaving its audience as keen as a dwarf with a pick to keep digging into more.

Tolkien's prose and the films that've sprung from it have always glistened with earnestness and sincerity, and favoured a poetic take on its noble-versus-wicked fray; that gleams again here, thankfully. Perhaps that's what makes The Rings of Power's familiar parts shine with possibility — and makes it seem like anything could follow, even when viewers already know that Sauron won't be toppled no matter how much determination pumps through Galadriel's veins. The first episode doesn't completely find its pace, but by the time the second wraps up, the show has established both an enticing starting point and a firm foundation to keep building upon. Proving epic in all the expected ways, and yet also thrilling via its own surprises: yes, that's powerful.

Check out the trailer for The Lord of The Rings: The Rings of Power below:

The Lord of the Rings: The Rings of Power streams weekly via Prime Video from Friday, September 2.

Images: Matt Grace / Ben Rothstein.

Published on September 02, 2022 by Sarah Ward
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