The Rings of Power (Ep 1-4) – Reel Review

Creator: J.D. Payne and Patrick McKay | 60mins (episode) | Fantasy, Adventure

Set many years before The Hobbit or The Lord of the Rings, we follow multiple characters during the Second Age of Middle Earth. Mainly following Galadriel as she hunts the remains of Morgoth’s armies, as well as Elrond maneuvering Elven politics, Durin as the prince of Khazad Dhum, new faces in the Southlands and the Vales of Anduin, and many more.

There’s a plethora of resources to base any adaptation of J.R.R Tolkien’s work from, the many stories surrounding Middle Earth have given us a rich history to delve into. With The Rings of Power – the first TV series in this setting – there’s a few sources used for inspiration, with the emphasis on inspiration. It mostly center’s around the many appendices in The Lord of the Rings, as well as Tolkien’s first posthumous publishing The Silmarillion, but takes many liberties in making the works a TV series (the latter book renowned for its difficulty to read). For die-hard fans, it will either infuriate or excite depending whether you’d prefer lore-accurate adaptations or an arguably more watchable experience.

That being said, the series itself opens on a familiar face of Galadriel (Morfydd Clark). Much like the previous films, she gives us an overview of the story that’s led to now. For us, she covers the First Age – the rise of the Elves, the invasion of Morgoth, and the great battles had once the Elves had ventured from their home in Valinor to Middle Earth. We see her from a young age learning from her brother, who dies in battle against the great evil, leading Galadriel to go to great lengths for revenge and closure. Throughout the first four episodes we travel to many different places, but Galadriel remains our main window into this period of Middle Earth.

She spends much time with Elrond (Robert Aramayo), who is more into the politics of the Elves than the warring side. Though no nobleman, he writes many of the speeches for High King Gil-galad (Benjamin Walker), and tries to warn his close friend Galadriel of the potential backlash to her unrelenting search. In the east, Arondir (Ismael Cruz Cordova) and his Elf regiment on lookout around the Southlands are closing in on their time spent away from home. In the Vales of Anduin out west, Elanor Brandyfoot (Markella Kavenagh) – an ancestor of the hobbits –  battles with her community as she longs for adventure, the elders of her kind strongly advising against such thoughts.

There is a lot of set up for The Ring of Power, which leads to a relatively slow start to the narrative – though it does feel needed. As the episodes continue, we’re introduced to the Numenorians on their isle far away from Middle Earth, as well as other friendly faces and potential foes. There’s a lot of moving parts to the series, all are balanced with a certain elegance. At no point do you feel like you’re spending more time with one character than you should, despite long stretches away from the others. Many of them have to be reintroduced to us as well, those familiar with Tolkien’s previous adaptations will have to relearn the characters they knew before as the series is set thousands of years in the past.

Because of the slow start it does take some time for the main story to get going, and even 4 episodes in it feels like those pieces are only just slotting into place. In the first episode, Galadriel finds the mark of Morgoth, leading her to believe his lieutenant, Sauron, is still alive and in hiding. By the end of the 4th, there is only minor development on this, despite being the driving force of the narrative. It feels like showrunners JD Payne and Patrick McKay have mapped a story longer than the first season, likely being a multiseason arc instead. With Amazon greenlighting at least 2, and in talks for 5 seasons all together, it seems likely that this is the plan.

For some this style of slow burn will be off putting, especially as the show is a condensed version of its source (taking place over 8-10 years rather than hundreds). This strategy makes sense but it may annoy those who prefer their adaptations more accurate, but in terms of this show it makes sense so far, even if it does test your patience.

There’s a lot to unpack in the first half of The Rings of Power, many of the best aspects are worth seeing for yourself, but if there’s something they’ve managed to capture, it is the sense of scale. You’ve never seen Middle Earth like this before, feeling more epic and grand than ever.

In terms of performances, it is odd to see previous characters played by different actors, but for the most part it works well. Morfydd Clark provides a fantastic performance, balancing the impatience and wisdom of this young Galadriel well, though some lines she doesn’t deliver perfectly, it feels more like a clunky section of script rather than her acting. Walker’s Elrond is arguably less successful however, though by no means a bad performance he leans more into overacting than necessary, somewhat difficult though as Tolkien’s dialogue has a very florid prose style to it, something the show is trying to replicate.

Though much of the time with the Elves is darker in tone, talks of war and dealing with great loss, there’s plenty of light hearted fun that makes Tolkien’s work so heartwarming and memorable. The aforementioned Elanor Brandyfoot captures much of the same tender fun that the hobbits had from previous films, with a different twist in their way of sheltering from the outside world.

To get the balance between the light and the dark however, we turn to the Dwarves in Khazad Dhum (where we would later know as Moria). Owain Arthur as Durin, alongside his wife Disa played by Sophie Nomvete, have fantastic chemistry together. There’s always been this clumsiness to the Dwarves, and pair that with their love of their family and their home, we get a soft interior to an otherwise hard exterior. They are always trying to look menacing, not letting others get the upper hand or underestimate them, at the same time they bicker about their first meet and who started flirting with whom first.

That being said, there are aspects that don’t work. Much of where The Hobbit didn’t work where The Lord of the Rings did was around the use of CGI – this is more in line with the former. Though many shots are sweeping and epic in their vision, it’s mostly computer generated, taking away from the authentic feeling of the setting. Many of the sets are beautifully dressed and well thought out – but then there’ll be scenes of complete CGI, one in particular pits two of the characters overlooking the vast lands of Middle Earth atop a watchtower, something that feels too glossy and overly generated that it takes you right out of the show completely – losing that authenticity the show is fighting so hard to have. 

There’s a lot to unpack in the first half of The Rings of Power, many of the best aspects are worth seeing for yourself, but if there’s something they’ve managed to capture, it is the sense of scale. You’ve never seen Middle Earth like this before, feeling more epic and grand than ever. Both later adaptations are set in the wake of greater times, the men are in their darkest age and the Elves have all but left the mortal realms – this is those greater times however. And in that, they still manage to create characters we want to follow, whether it’s for the grander vision of defeating evil or just trying to explore outside your small bubble. It’s far from a perfect series, but certainly one worth exploring.

Rating: 4 out of 5.

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