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Ray Reviews 'The Rings of Power' (Ep 1 - 2)

I resolved to watch at least some of Amazon's take on The Lord of the Rings, to set aside both the misgivings and the effusive praise, both of which seemed much too premature.

I watched because I needed to know: will it do justice to Tolkien's work? (and because Flappr asked someone to review the show/provide them with free content).

Full disclosure: I don't watch many movies, I care less for most TV shows, so I am hardly the most impartial of reviewers. I do read, though and The Silmarillion is currently my favorite of Tolkien's work, so I was cautiously excited about some of it being adapted to TV.

I enjoyed Peter Jackson's version of The Lord of the Rings but could not bring myself to watch the third Hobbit movie because the second one was appalling.

So: Amazon's The Rings of Power.

What to say . . .

It is for good reason that Professor Jimbo insists that people "do the reading," and though this is fiction, it still stands to reason.

“Fly you fools. And also read."

RoP focuses primarily on the rise and fall of Numenor based on the appendices at the end of The Return of the King, though--and this gave people heartburn--they added an enormous amount of content that is either implied or nonexistent in the original story.

Now is a good time to mention that Amazon spent a billion dollars on this, not for the rights to The Silmarillion, not for the rights to the Hobbit or the Lord of the Rings series. No, Amazon spent $250 million dollars for the right to make television series longer than eight episodes and chose to make a billion dollar show based on the The Return of the King.

They do not have the rights to The Silmarillion, Unfinished Tales, The History of Middle-earth, or any other books. This means there is a whole lot of weird choices that had to be made for this story to comply with their license rights - for example, they cannot use Hobbits, so they've substituted them for Harfoots.

Part of the difficulty of telling a story like this is that we pick up in the middle, and we know how it's going to end. The result is that we are presented with some very quirky renditions of characters we know before and after the Second Age, namely Galadriel and Elrond. Galadriel spends most of the First Age chilling out in a forest and dispensing clear-sighted wisdom and timely gifts; she does so again in the Third Age. (More on this 'wisdom' below.)

Thus Warlord Galadriel is a bit jarring. Politician Elrond is also a bit jarring, but Scheming King Gil-Galad is baffling.

This sets up tension in the story that will need to be resolved, and there might be a good reason to ask if these characters will change over time to be more like Tolkien's creations or into something completely different.

Pictured: Elrond in 'Rings of Power.' (IYKYK.)

The acting was...mostly ok? None of the performances seemed particularly bad, though a lot of the dialogue was middling. Many of the new characters were actually kind of endearing.

The Harfoots could be an interesting addition to the story, setting up the usual conflict with all but one of them acting like Normal Hobbits and one of them Going On An Adventure that will affect the world. This is confirmed when a somewhat aged man arrives by meteor but apparently hit his head pretty good while landing.

Pictured: Old man arriving with memory loss by meteorite, found by Harfoot

Before discussing the rest of the plot, I guess I should address the elephants (oliphanst?) in the room: Is it woke? Was it marred by slavish devotion to 21st Century progressivism?

And the answer seems to be: yeah, subtly, but yeah.

This is evident in the first two minutes of the first episode, during the prelude, where Galadriel, providing narration, utters the phrase: "we resisted".

Moreover, Galadriel's surprisingly relativist 'wisdom' gained from her brother, Finrod, that isn't terribly wise and is in fact pretty dangerous if anyone thinks about it for more than two minutes (I won't spoil it yet). Findrod's advice about knowing light from darkness could well have come from Sauron himself, and would cause untold problems if applied in the real world. I find myself hoping that this 'wisdom' gets rejected along the way in the story as part of the plot.

The problem is that Galadriel is being used as a Mary Sue and I have no idea how this isn't going to cause narrative problems down the road.


The real question of how woke the show turns out to be will revolve around how it deals with the Valar, the Powers who govern the world from Valinor.

Where is God in The Rings of Power? How will the show treat them? They got almost no mention in the first two episodes except from the Dwarves, and considering the identity of the reigning king in Numenor, this will become a very important question moving forward, especially if the show ends how I think it might.

There will be some interesting questions about fate, freedom, and sacrificing the innocent that will need to be addressed. And based on the above, the answers could well look very different than what we might expect from a Tolkien work.

The show makes the truly baffling decision to have Galadriel get mere inches from returning to Valinor and she...jumps off the boat and starts swimming. She starts to swim all the freaking way back to Middle Earth. Instead of reminding people of the LOTR movies, which this show does quite a lot, it may remind people of Monty Python and the Holy Grail.

There is one more Monty Python-esque moment in the second episode, when one character is grousing about "not all of the people in the village" seeing things his way and the camera immediately turns to One Suspiciously Dignified Dude who looks an awful lot like store-brand Aragorn.

"If by my life or death I can protect you, I will. You have my sword... "

The moment felt hamfisted and unintentionally comedic.

The music: The music is decent; it is grand to fit a grand story, and it largely fits. Every now and then it becomes obtrusive to the point of affecting the viewer's reaction to certain events, but that is thankfully rare.

They clearly got a billion dollars' worth out of the set design, because the locations and visuals are mostly pretty cool. The downside is that when fights happen, it feels more like a JRPG than a TV show, which is why I can't resist comparisons to certain other JRPGs, but since the show is rated TV-14 the violence is not terribly graphic.

I am not entirely sure they got their money's worth out of the costume department. I do not care about the race of the actors, but I do care if they are saddled with a terrible story.

In Conclusion: The show might well be pretty good, pending on the resolution of some of the worldview expressly stated in the first episode that is a bit of a red flag, as is Mary Sue Galadriel. I'll give the next few episodes a fair chance, and probably the entire first season, unless they insist on shoehorning the story into merely 21st-Century progressive themes.

Did I like it? Well, it might well turn into woke LotR fan fiction, but for now, here is my rating: 6/10 with room for improvement or failure.


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