The fantasy genre really exploded into prominence back in the ’80s with films like “Flash Gordon,” “Xanadu,” “Clash of the Titans,” “Excalibur,” “Conan the Barbarian,” “The Dark Crystal,” “The NeverEnding Story,” and, well, everything by Hayao Miyazaki. The 2000s saw an uptick with franchises like “The Chronicles of Narnia,” “Harry Potter,” “Pirates of the Caribbean,” “Shrek,” “Avatar: The Last Airbender,” and “The Lord of the Rings” gaining worldwide popularity. “Game of Thrones” kept the genre alive through the 2010s while the MCU restructured the playing field in the worst ways possible. But finally, in the 2020s, we are seeing a much-needed resurgence with shows like “The Sandman,” “Locke & Key,” “The Witcher,” “His Dark Materials,” “Shadow and Bone,” and “Maya and the Three.” And a new “Dungeons & Dragons” film is already on its way. And “Lord of the Rings” is back with a bang in the form of “The Rings of Power.”
The overall series has been developed by J.D. Payne and Patrick McKay while the episodes have been directed by J.A. Bayona, Wayne Yip, and Charlotte Brändström. It’s based on the novel “The Lord of the Rings” and its appendices by J.R.R. Tolkien. And they’ve been adapted for the small screen by Payne, McKay, Gennifer Hutchison, Helen Shang, Jason Cahill, Justin Doble, Bryan Cogman, and Stephany Folsom. The show is set in the Second Age of Middle Earth (thereby predating “The Hobbit” and “The Lord of the Rings” trilogies) and covers the forging of the Rings of Power, the rise of the Dark Lord Sauron, the fall of the island kingdom on Númenor, and the last alliance between Elves and Men. And it’s told from the perspectives of Elrond (Robert Aramayo), Galadriel (Morfydd Clark), Arondir (Ismael Cruz Córdova), and Elanor “Nori” Brandyfoot (Markella Kavenagh).
Disclaimer: This review is based on the first two episodes of “The Rings of Power” that were provided by Prime Video.
“The Rings of Power” is so immersive, engaging, hypnotic, gorgeous, elegant, and beautiful that when the first episode ended, I thought that a mere 15 minutes had passed. Whereas, in reality, a whole hour had gone by like it was nothing. The same goes for the second episode. That compliment is targeted at J.A. Bayona’s masterful storytelling; the pitch-perfect writing; the acting; the visual effects; the CGI; the practical effects; Oscar Faura’s cinematography; Jaume Martí and Bernat Vilaplana’s crisp editing; Howard Shore and Bear McCreary’s pulse-pounding and adventurous score; and to be honest, every department (especially the production design, costuming, and make-up teams) that has made this show possible. Every piece of furniture in a room, every blade of grass on a field, the ice hanging like daggers from a mountain, and even the light has this excellent balance of surrealism and lived-in feeling to it. It’s as if the team found the middle ground between “The Hobbit” trilogy’s unreal smoothness and the “LoTR” trilogy’s stunning tangibility and treated it like something sacred.
That’s the thing, though. The generations who have grown up watching “The Lord of the Rings” and the “Hobbit” trilogies got to witness it on the big screen first. They felt the scope and scale of Peter Jackson’s vision. Then they revisited it multiple times over the years on their small screens and inflicted it upon those who weren’t aware of it. However, that’s something that those who’ll be entering this franchise (or the fantasy genre) won’t get to experience. And there’s nothing sadder than that. “Rings of Power” doesn’t look, sound, or feel like a regular TV show. It’s equipped with eye-popping visuals, a score that can make your chair vibrate, locales where you’ll want to live, and monsters that you’ll want to run away from. But how much of that will be felt through the small screen is a big question mark. Which is a roundabout way of saying that every episode should’ve been released theatrically with a Prime Video season pass kind of situation.
Coming back to the show itself (and this is actually for those of you who are afraid to tune in because there’s too much textual and cinematic history around “The Lord of the Rings”), the showrunners do a brilliant job of partaking in a little hand-holding and then letting you do the rest. They don’t expect you to know everything about the lore. They explain all that in a poetic and almost dreamy way. They only expect you to pay attention and, hopefully, become emotionally attached to the intertwining journeys of its characters. And, as far as I can tell, that won’t be tough because acts of friendship (Elrond’s journey), revenge (Galadriel’s journey), love (Arondir’s journey), and seeking out adventure (Nori’s journey) are pretty relatable. Add to that some major conflicts about the need to follow orders religiously, the forbidden nature of interracial love, and, of course, the threat of total annihilation, and you are automatically on board. Who knew sticking to the basics of storytelling (along with a healthy dose of fan service) could do wonders?
“The Rings of Power” is nothing without its cast. Yes, people on the interwebs have expressed their concern regarding the lack of popular faces in the show, especially when the franchise is known for it. Elijah Wood, Ian McKellen, Liv Tyler, Viggo Mortensen, Sean Astin, Cate Blanchett, John Rhys-Davies, Christopher Lee, Billy Boyd, Dominic Monaghan, Orlando Bloom, Hugo Weaving, Andy Serkis, Sean Bean, Richard Armitage, Martin Freeman, Lee Pace, Ian Holm, Benedict Cumberbatch are big names. That said, even if this show’s cast isn’t as “popular” as the aforementioned folks, Morfydd Clark, Nazanin Boniadi, Robert Aramayo, Benjamin Walker, Ismael Cruz Córdova, Owain Arthur, Sophia Nomvete, Markella Kavenagh, Megan Richards are as good as or better than their franchise predecessors. All of them walk that fine line between being accessible and having an air of Shakespearean theatricality. All of them are so convincing that, after a point, they start feeling less like live-action actors and more like characters born out of our imagination while reading a book.
In conclusion, “The Rings of Power” is a masterpiece. If you are wondering why I am saying that based on two episodes, well, some streaming platforms send all of their episodes and others send some of their episodes for review purposes. There’s one real reason for that: unfinished CGI and VFX. That said, those who send a limited number of episodes usually hope that it’ll be enough to impress the critics. Sometimes that endeavor backfires. Sometimes it doesn’t. The case here is synonymous with the latter. After watching way too many shows, it becomes somewhat easy to determine if the IP is going to maintain the quality or not. By the looks of it, “The Rings of Power” will end up being one of the best shows of the year. If it doesn’t, I’ll concede my prediction. And the only way to know if I am right or wrong is by checking out “The Rings of Power.”