The Lord Of The Rings: The Rings Of Power


Reviewed by: Jennie Kermode

The Lord Of The Rings: The Rings Of Power
"There is an absence of passion in the production which undermines everything else." | Photo: Prime Studios

There are a host of great stories in Tolkien’s Silmarillion, even if it takes a seriously dedicated fan to work their way all the way through it. Some of them have already been turned into impressive independent shorts, fan contributions which stand alongside Peter Jackson’s iconic Lord Of The Rings trilogy (and his rather less successful Hobbit trilogy) to represent the author’s work onscreen. It’s fair to say that there was a good deal of excitement when Amazon first announced their plans to tell the story of how the rings at the centre of the stories were forged. A substantial budget was provided and everybody expected something epic. Yet latterly, as a film journalist, I have found myself approached by a number of people saying sadly “I don’t understand – why am I not enjoying it?”

There are two possible answers to this. Firstly, you could be a bigot obsessed with the skin colour of fantasy creatures (Tolkien was not, and the Norse legends on which he drew for his work were explicit about it being varied). If that’s the case, Eye For Film is probably not for you. Secondly, you could just be picking up – consciously or unconsciously – on a multitude of poor choices which might be understandable in a low budget short but which, at this level, are nothing short of shameful.

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At its most basic, the plot provides a decent amount of material to work with. It’s stretched a little thin – Bilbo’s words about butter on too much bread come to mind – but there’s a reasonable balance of action and drama, doom-laden prophecy and gentle comedy – or at least there would be, if it were decently paced and competently directed. Why Amazon hired pedestrian television directors to take on something so inherently cinematic is a mystery (one does rather wonder if some producer is sitting on a pile of cash to rival Smaug’s). Some are better than others – there’s distinctly more energy present when Charlotte Brändström takes the helm, with her experience in drama coming to the fore even if she can’t handle action, whilst Wayne Yip’s efforts recall the fact that many people’s first encounter with Tolkien is when The Hobbit is read to them in an attempt to induce sleep.

Is there a shortage of actors willing to take on fantasy? Did the Game Of Thrones add-ons and The Golden Compass take up all the talent, leaving The Rings Of Power with the dregs? That’s not altogether true. Whilst many of those in minor roles are little more than window dressing – or wallpaper – others definitely have the capacity to impress. Sophia Nomvete is a pleasure to watch, stealing every scene she’s in and reminding us just what the series could have been. Joseph Mawle is cast in a cheesy role but brings unexpected life to it, shining in the penultimate episode. Mostly, though, even those with talent appear to be sleepwalking. Morfydd Clark has her moments as Galadriel but comes nowhere close to exercising the acting muscles she showed us in Saint Maud. It’s as if everybody has been encouraged to damp it down and to keep any trace of charisma under wraps.

That’s before we get to the twee Irish traveller pastiche that is the Harfoot hobbit clan. True, hobbits can be twee in the books too, but any half decent director would take that as a challenge, not an instruction manual. Whereas Jackson made his hobbits alternately obnoxious and endearing, these are a maze of clichés and dubious stereotypes, not to mention the fact that the majority of them seem to have been allotted but a single personality which they are expected to share. Whole episodes are spent in their presence – episodes which the mystery surrounding a strange giant whom one of them found after he fell from the sky is inadequate to save. Even those least acquainted with Tolkien will know, after all, that there are very few people he can be, and as soon as you’ve got into the rhythm of the series, with its heavily signposted twists and turns, it will be obvious to you which of those he is. There’s really nothing more to this storyline at all, unless you count the delivery of cutesy little morals at the end of some episodes which will leave you wondering if this is sincerely targeted at people who want to watch bloody orc battles – which it does try to deliver – or at the under fives.

To go into everything that is wrong with this series would waste far too many perfectly good pixels, but it is worth saying something about those battles. It’s fair to say that the history of war is 90% the study of stupid mistakes, so one has to grant the series a little leeway in that regard, but stupid characters are one thing – stupid direction is another. Again and again, sequences with real potential are set up only to be rushed through clumsily and squandered. A team happy to waste ten minutes on yet another tedious conversation between smug PR executive Elrond and hairspray addict Celebrimbor then seems only too anxious to get warg attacks and volcanic eruptions out of the way. Hand to hand mêlées are painfully badly choreographed and the augmentation used in a high profile cavalry charge could be done better with free software on a phone.

Why was this allowed to happen? The problem clearly goes beyond the directors themselves. There is an absence of passion in the production which undermines everything else. The sets are pretty but don’t look lived in, possessing a notable lack of functionality. The various plots and schemes exhibit a similarly impractical approach to construction. Nobody has any idea how the sea works, and don’t get me started on the thatch roofed cottages. Did Amazon simply go out of their way to please internet fanboys in every area but character presentation, cutting out factors which have attracted complaints in other series and, in the process, gutting their own? As they are planning four more seasons one can only hope that they get their act together. There is no power in this mess, and nothing rings true.

Reviewed on: 17 Oct 2022
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The Lord Of The Rings: The Rings Of Power packshot
A group of elves, dwarfs, humans and hobbits contend with events which could bring mass destruction to Middle Earth.

Director: JA Bayona, Wayne Yip, Charlotte Brändström

Writer: John D Payne and Patrick McKay, based on the books by JRR Tolkien

Starring: Morfydd Clark, Charlie Vickers, Joseph Mawle, Sophia Nomvete, Daniel Weyman, Robert Aramayo, Markella Kavenagh, Owain Arthur, Ismael Cruz Cordova, Lloyd Owen, Maxim Baldry, Nazanin Boniadi, Cynthia Addai-Robinson, Lenny Henry

Year: 2022

Runtime: 551 minutes

Country: New Zealand


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