Editor’s note: The online version of this article is an extended version of the print article.
The rights to “The Lord of the Rings” have been purchased by Amazon, and its first product to inject itself into J.R.R. Tolkein’s world has been pumped out. The final episode of “The Lord of the Rings: Rings of Power” aired Oct. 14 on Amazon Prime, and it is a depressingly poor attempt at capturing the magic of prior books and films.
“Rings of Power,” set around a thousand years before the “The Lord of the Rings” and “Hobbit” trilogies, takes place in the Second Age. As a prequel, the show had the opportunity to provide context to Middle Earth, showing fans how the world in “The Lord of the Rings” came to be and what past events inform characters’ prejudices and interactions. Instead, the characters are little more than cardboard cutouts being dragged from one plot event to the next. A plot, by the way, that is so simplistic that it in no way justifies eight hour-long episodes. After watching each episode, there is a general feeling that not much has happened.
“Rings of Power” cost at least $1 billion, making this the most expensive single season of a show, according to Business Insider. Around $500 million was spent on production alone, with the other half put toward promotion and purchasing the rights to the property. While Amazon’s monetary investment is sometimes clear in the show’s appearance, it certainly does not come through for the writing.
For viewers able to turn off the critical part of their brains and simply enjoy appealing sets and the aesthetic of “The Lord of the Rings,” this show may be enjoyable. While relying far too much on CGI, at times the show looks quite good. Unfortunately, an ugly story wrapped in a pretty bow is still an ugly story.
The show follows main character Galadriel, a royal elf. While fans of “The Lord of the Rings” trilogy will recognise her name, this version of Galadriel has essentially nothing in common with the well-liked character from the trilogy. As a long-lived elf, Galadriel is one of the few characters present in both the original trilogy and this new prequel. While Galadriel in “The Lord of the Rings” is a wise and helpful character that sets the protagonists on the path of their journey, the Galadriel in this show is a blank, inexpressive soldier that shows little regard for others. In the trilogy, she is a fair elf in a supportive role that offers important guidance; here she is a brash character that occasionally spouts nonsensical metaphors written by writers that made the mistake of thinking they were smarter than they are. The actress playing Galadriel in this show, Morfydd Clark, whether due to poor acting or bad directing, shows only one vaguely angry expression throughout the show. This contrasts heavily with Cate Blanchett’s graceful performance in the trilogy. In “Rings of Power,” she is in a leadership position over other soldiers and consistently shows a bizarre lack of consideration for not only her soldiers’ lives, but many other characters’ in the show as well. In a poor effort to make her seem brave and confident, the writers accidentally wrote an unlikeable sociopath.
The show’s equivalent of the trilogy’s hobbits are the harfoots. The two are quite similar in appearance, except the harfoots are apparently incapable of bathing and keep twigs and acorns in their hair. They are a frustratingly foolish and superstitious group, entirely willing to leave behind members of their own community to their peril if they get a bad feeling about things. The audience is supposed to root for this idiotic group that shockingly consistently puts themselves and others in danger through their stupidity. The one standout of the harfoots is the character Nori, who, quite similarly to Frodo Baggins from “The Lord of the Rings,” wants to venture outside of the group and see the world. Although she is similarly foolish throughout the show, she has much more compassion than the others, and is at least more expressive and likable than Galadriel –– however small that praise is.
The plot is very thin and filled with glaring coincidences. For instance, early in the season, Galadriel is retired from serving as a soldier and is honored by being sent to the Undying Lands, the elven equivalent of heaven. Elves journey to these lands by traveling across the ocean. Just as Galadriel is about to arrive, she changes her mind, jumping into the ocean to swim back to Middle Earth. Unsurprisingly, this genius plan doesn’t go well, but luckily she just so happens to run into a boat in the middle of the ocean. That boat is then destroyed, but luckily she then bumps into another boat in the middle of the ocean. If this sounds like lazy writing, that’s because it is.
Given that the “Rings of Power” showrunner compared the show’s villain, Sauron, to Walter White from “Breaking Bad,” I’m eager to see what bizarre decisions the writers make for the next season.
If looking for a simple show to turn on just to enjoy seeing a fantasy world, “Rings of Power” may be a good choice. However, if you are at all a fan of “The Lord of The Rings” or good writing, do not watch this show.