Amazon’s Rings of Power is flat out good. Are there valid criticisms? Sure, but what piece is free from fault? None, not even your favorite X of all time. Rings of Power is only five episodes into its first season, and judging by the groundwork they have laid, the show runners seem to get what Tolkien’s legendarium was all about.
The folly of the powerful, the treacherousness of oaths, and the strength of those who appear weak are themes that undergird the show as well as Tolkien’s writings and Jackson’s cinematic trilogies. Add to that a wonderful score from composer Bear McCreary that toes the line between a fresh take and the familiarity of Howard Shore’s work, and cinematography that would put most modern blockbuster’s to shame.
Before we get too far, a disclaimer: I love Tolkien. I love Peter Jackson’s The Lord of the Rings Trilogy. I have an elvish tattoo. I have read The Silmarillion. I am fully the target audience. You might not be, and that is totally valid too. I would still suggest you give this Rings of Power a watch.
Y’all, I really need to emphasize how insanely beautiful this show is and how many practical setpieces are used. It’s true we are in an era of high production-value fantasy television ushered in by the success of Game of Thrones, but you can see every penny spent on screen in RoP in a way that can’t be seen (sometimes literally unless you crank your TV’s brightness) in GoT or House of the Dragon. Episode 5’s opening sequence in particular is a feast for the eyes as the harfoots make one of their seasonal migrations across the wilderlands of Middle-Earth.
Likewise the costuming and art department knock it completely out of the park. Everything is much more lush and vibrant than in either the Jackon trilogy or in its contemporary HotD. Getting to see Numenorean culture portrayed on screen is a treasure of its own, and you can clearly see the influence it will have on Gondor in the third age while also having a much grander and more exotic look to it.
There are too many small details to list, but a few, like seeing the massive carved statue of Eärendil the Mariner with the evening star he now carries in the night sky behind, made my nerd heart sing. There are far more easter eggs in this show than was possible in the Jackson trilogies, which makes for high rewatchability.
Some purists have criticized the show for playing it too loosely with established legendarium canon and its compression of time for the purposes of keeping our human characters involved from start to finish, but I find that the changes so far have either been small and necessary for the limitations of a screen adaptation or possibly not lore-breaking at all depending on how the rest of the series plays out. There is also not an insignificant source of criticism from racists and misogynists, but those criticisms need not be heeded.
The benefit of working with mostly appendices and history from The Lord of the Rings is that there are more opportunities to surprise your audience. We all know what ultimately will happen when the show is said and done, but for now I am addicted to combing through clues to figure out who The Stranger aka “Meteor-Man” is, or if we have yet seen Sauron.
I haven’t analyzed show details this closely since LOST, and I had forgotten how much I miss watching television like this. To be fair, Thrones had a similar appeal, but there is just so much more Tolkien out in the world to sift through on analysis, as well as for the writers to hide in the script.
Speaking of the writers, it is here that I will come to their defense. Some of the dialogue might seem stiff or stilted compared to what you might see in HotD or even in Netflix’s The Witcher, but what they are actually trying to do, and in my opinion succeeding at, is to match the cadence and style of Tolkien’s writing. The Lord of the Rings is modern by English standards but it is still dated, and the words flow off of the page in a different rhythm than today’s reader might be used to.
Most of all, the show nails the feel of Middle-Earth in a way that The Hobbit trilogy completely missed the mark but that Jackson’s original trilogy set. As much as I hate the idea of Amazon and their CEO
Sauron Jeff Bezos, they are developing a good track record for original programming especially in the sci-fi/fantasy genre, and Rings of Power might be the best yet. It is certainly my favorite, and I am thrilled to be transported back to Middle-Earth once a week.