Lord of the Rings: The Rings of Power review – this complex show struggles to find its feet

·3-min read
 ( Amazon Prime Video)
( Amazon Prime Video)

For those who have ever wondered what Jeff Bezos is doing with his multi-billion pound empire (in addition to cracking space travel), welcome to the answer.

The Lord of the Ring: The Rings of Power is upon us – but does it pass muster?

Adapted from Tolkien’s extensive writings on Middle-earth (but only tangentially, due to a very complicated copyright deal Amazon struck with the Tolkien estate), this new series is set during the Second Age, 3,000 or so years before the events of the original Lord of the Rings books – and is focused around the forging of the legendary Rings of Power and the rise of Sauron.

Our heroine on this journey is Galadriel, previously played by Cate Blanchett in the film series and now by Welsh up-and-coming actress Morfydd Clark, who imbues the character with a kind of detached arrogance that makes it rather hard to warm to her.

As we learn in an exposition-heavy introductory sequence, Galadriel is out for revenge. Where once she and her brother dwelled in the Undying Lands (Tolkien’s version of Heaven), they now live in Middle-earth, where a devastating war against the forces of evil have decimated elf-kind.

In the battle, Galadriel’s brother was slain by Sauron, and now she has made it her mission to eradicate the forces of evil from the map. Unfortunately, her elvish brethren feel that the fighting is over – which is unfortunate, because wouldn’t you know it, evil is actually rearing its ugly head once more.

This series inevitably invites comparisons to the previous films – though to compare the two would be like comparing apples and oranges. Amazon’s epic is the sexed-up, sophisticated older sibling to its Peter Jackson filmic forebears.

Hobbit-lites: The Harfoots (Amazon Prime Video)
Hobbit-lites: The Harfoots (Amazon Prime Video)

But is it any better? What made Peter Jackson’s Lord of the Rings trilogy so iconic was the reverence with which Jackson treated the source material. That was combined with an easy cast of characters easy to invest in , who you wanted to see triumph over the course of a relatively simple story: destroying the One Ring.

That sense of reverence is equally apparent in the Amazon spin-off, but it was hard to shake off the feeling that this was more like very elaborate cosplay – a sense that wasn’t helped by the Harfoots – essentially nomadic Hobbit-lites with less of the charm – and the dialogue, which gets bogged down in places under the weight of exposition.

It all looks very expensive – and for an Amazon production (especially one that spent a reported $1bn on creating all five seasons) you would expect it to be.

New Zealand, or at least the bits that aren’t green-screened, has rarely looked so good. The rushing rivers, the rolling hills and jagged mountains: they’re all there from the original Lord of the Rings films. The costumes are lush; the sets are incredibly detailed.

The plot is also more complex and more ambitious, but with fewer appealing characters, which makes it harder to invest in (save the dwarves, who are reliably good entertainment value no matter what adaption you find yourself in).

Elrond (Robert Aramayo) is a bookish idealist who lives in a state of semi-ostracism from his people, due to his status as a half-elf; most of the elves seem to have rather suspect motives; there’s also a completely random subplot involving a romance between an elf archer and a mysterious human healer that was rather perplexing.

How you feel about this series will, I suspect, depend on how precious you are about the original films and books – and hey, perhaps it’ll find its feet a little more as the episodes progress.

But it’s hard to deny that The Rings of Power is compelling viewing: if only for the gobsmacking visuals Amazon’s big bucks can buy. Sit back and let it wash over you.

Lord of the Rings: The Rings of Power will premiere at 2am on September 2 on Prime Video