Bored of the Rings
A Review of Amazon’s The Lord of the Rings: The Rings of Power
The Lord of the Rings: The Rings of Power is odd on a conceptual level. It’s an expensive adaptation of the appendices for The Lord of the Rings trilogy, a collection of Tolkien’s notes about the history and characters of Middle Earth and The Silmarillion. It’s also notably set in the Second Age of Middle Earth, thousands of years before most of the beloved characters from the novels have even been born. Beyond this, it’s helmed by two inexperienced show runners that spurned the possible involvement of Peter Jackson, the man responsible for the best Middle Earth adaptations to date. Did it work out? It’s hard to say. There have been five episodes released at the time of writing, and while interesting ideas have reared their heads now and again, much of the show feels slow and stagnant.
Nearly every scene is absolutely decked out in a mountain of computer-generated effects. The sky, trees, and a lot of the environments are digitally edited. It’s disorienting and often visually unappealing. There are some genuinely impressive shots and locations, but most feel very bland or fake. In the original films, Jackson displayed an innate strength for fantasy landscape composition and intelligently only utilized CGI for things that genuinely could not be done practically. Despite the show runners’ insistence on keeping Jackson separate from the project, they still attempted to reverse engineer his filmmaking style. It’s all very odd and indicative of the muddled creative process that led to this project.
In terms of writing, the show feels unpolished and confused in what it wants to accomplish. Much of the story is inspired by Tolkien’s work in The Silmarillion, although due to legal issues the writers could not use the narratives presented in that body of work. Galadriel has been reimagined as a Wonder Woman-esque warrior, Elrond is blander and softer than his appearance in the original trilogy, and everybody else on the ensemble cast is original and largely forgettable. Galadriel in particular feels poorly written. She’s clearly meant to be an incredibly powerful and stoic character, but she comes off as tedious and unlikable. There isn’t anything to relate to in her character; she’s always right, and her attitude feels sourer as opposed to the stoicism they were likely looking for. Plot wise, the show has felt slow and disjointed. There’s a hunt for Sauron after his apparent disappearance long ago, a mysterious man from the sky, Elrond’s assistance to an elven smith, and evidence of a resurgence of orcs. All of these are fine ideas, but they’re presented in a way that feels completely dispassionate. Five episodes in and barely any plot progression has occurred since the events set up in the first episode. It’s a slow-burn style of narrative, but without the tone or complexity to pull off that kind of structure.
An aspect of the show that feels evident beyond the attempts to conceal it is that much of the show feels devoid of Tolkien’s signature character and vision. Tolkien’s work has heart and personality, and feels well-developed and lived in. It manages a tone that feels serious and stoic while also incorporating whimsical elements and a charming, friendly atmosphere. The Rings of Power does a constant tonal flip-flopping between dour melodrama and slapstick. The creators also seem to lack the attention to detail for the intricacies of Tolkien’s world, for example, they completely ignore the fact that Tolkien’s female dwarves have beards despite their push to have female dwarves in a prominent role onscreen for the first time.
Everything about The Rings of Power feels dispassionate about its source material, and ultimately unsure of itself. It may have been a smarter decision to just create a new fantasy universe or adapt a popular contemporary series. Tolkien’s work imposes too much pressure for most creatives to live up to and will be inevitably judged with absolute scrutiny to see if it is representative of Tolkien’s beautiful world. The Rings of Power is often bland, at times even feels soulless, lacking both the character of Tolkien’s work and the quality of Jackson’s adaptations.