'Rings of Power' review: Amazon spares no expense in gorgeous 'Lord of the Rings' series
Courtesy of Prime Video
With the initiative of finding their next “Game of Thrones,” Jeff Bezos and the powers that be within Amazon Prime Video may have found the answer, and it cost a whopping $465 million dollars (the most expensive show in history), $200 of which was just for the naming rights alone. And for “The Lord of the Rings: The Rings of Power,” the first series set within the iconic Middle Earth saga 200+ years prior to the Peter Jackson trilogies, you can see every penny. Nothing in this series is cheap and each minor detail has been fully realized as the show (at least in the first two episodes) is massive, gorgeous and brimming with immaculate production design. I was lucky enough to screen the episodes in a massive, IMAX-sized auditorium which brought Howard Shore’s score to rip-roaring life and the color grading and sheen glow couldn’t have appeared more breathtaking. It’s all to say “The Rings of Power” makes the J.R.R. Tolkien estate and fans of the brand proud despite the initial foundational legwork becoming more jarring and intensive than inviting.
First time-showrunners J.D Payne and Patrick McKay and director J.A Bayona (in the first episodes with Wayne Yip and Charlotte Brandstrom coming in later) have the unenviable task of finding the appropriate line between fan service and approachability as everything about “Lord of the Rings” is sacred. Slip-up once and it could be the death sentence of Prime Video. Rest assured, “Rings of Power” hits all the sweet spots while juggling an array of characters and locations only the most ardent and eagle-eyed LOTR fans will probably understand. It might require a flowchart to keep track of the dozen locales unspooled in the show's first hour, but once it settles into a steady rhythm in the second episode, the potential for “Rings of Power” can’t be denied.
But you have to maneuver through the hurried opening moments first, as the initial 10-minutes quickly jaunt from one intense sequence to the next. Initially, the show begins in a serene pond on the outskirts of Valinor where we see a young Galadriel sailing a paper ship before it dives into the complicated history and mind-numbing lore of this universe; like the countless wars and the overthrowing of Morgoth, the dark lord. Again, doing some light reading or quick brush-ups on how this series charts back to the original films and stories could go a long way.
Eventually, the show settles into the Second Age where Galadriel (Morfydd Clark) is now the commander of the northern armies and the headstrong Warrior of the Wastelands still working effortlessly in her pursuit of Morgoth’s right-hand-man, Sauron, despite rumors within the the elf community he’s dead. Elsewhere in Middle Earth, we’re introduced to the harfoots, or Tolkien’s prelude to what would eventually become the hobbits. The harfoots are an ingenuous and fun bunch who forge their own supplies as they prepare for a seasonal migration. The first episode also introduces us to the Southlands, where elves and humans awkwardly co-mingle with each other as sanctioned in the war's aftermath. In other words, you can cut the tension with a knife.
There’s plenty to unpack in the first episodes that will no doubt require multiple viewings to fully comprehend the scope of these characters, but once episode two kicks into gear and we meet some dwarves, “Rings of Power'' starts to feel like the grand spectacle Bezos and company have been preaching. The dwarves obviously steal the show and bring several moments of hilarity with them (thanks to Owain Arthur’s ace performance as Prince Durin IV, second-in-line to the dwarf dynasty). If only their self fulfilling prophecy of “our days of war are over'' could be true.
If you can get past the initial homework and find a way to immerse yourself in the landscape, “Rings of Power” flourishes. While I’m partial to what HBO's currently doing with “House of the Dragon,” there’s a world in which both of these shows can co-exist for the greater good of nerdom everywhere (plus one is more family friendly than the other). In the end, even if the pace is relentless and sometimes overwhelming, the CGI-less scenery and solid character performances (not to mention the millions of dollars you can literally see on screen) “Rings of Power” wins the day. I’m eager and excited for where the remaining six episodes of this season are headed.
The first two episodes of THE LORD OF THE RINGS: RINGS OF POWER debut on Amazon Prime Video Friday, September 2nd with subsequent episodes dropping weekly.