The stage is set for a fierce autumn on the streaming front, with Game of Thrones and Lord of the Rings being brought back to life.
On 22 August, you could watch the first epic episode of the Game of Thrones spin-off series, House of the Dragon, on HBO Max – now Prime Video is bringing you the much-anticipated, and very, very expensive, Lord of the Rings series, The Lord of the Rings – The Rings of Power.
Both fantasy series have in common that they are prequels, set in time long before the action we have seen so far, but where we find ourselves in the same universe with (partly) the same characters.
In the case of House of the Dragon, we are transported to Westeros some 200 years before Daenerys & Co ruled, while the action in The Rings of Power takes place a full 2,000 years before Frodo & Co went (and went, and went…) to Mordor to get the ring in the Lord of the Rings trilogy.
The most expensive ever!
Many pages have been written about The Rings of Power before the premiere, which has focused on the series’ gigantic budget.
The series is (by a wide margin) the most expensive ever produced. According to The Verge the first season has cost around $465 million!
The cost per episode is three to four times that of Game of Thrones and about three that of the aforementioned House of the Dragon.
In addition, Amazon has paid about half as much to Tolkien’s descendants, for the TV rights to (parts of) the Lord of the Rings universe. So it is very convenient that the main stockholder is one of the wealthiest men on the planet.
The recording has mainly taken place in New Zealand, in the middle of the Covid-19 pandemic, and thus take more time than expected. But despite the huge costs, Amazon has already promised that there will be more seasons. The series creators are Patrick McKay and John D. Payne.
A visual masterpiece!
There is an apt, expression that says: “You get what you pay for”.
And, let’s at once put all doubts aside, the spectacular special effects showcased in the series are almost unparalleled in series/movie history. Here it is not difficult to see what half a billion per episode has been spent on.
We are drawn into an unusually fascinating fairy-tale world with elves, hobbits, orcs, wizards, dragons (!) and trolls. All set in an adventurous environment with exciting buildings and underworld, presented in incredible colourful detail, varied, authentic and vibrant.
Certainly the huge battle scenes in Jackson’s trilogy were groundbreaking and to be reckoned with. But Prime Video has taken the game up a notch. Among other things, we are treated to an enormous battle between elves and orcs, where the sword blows, blood spatter and soldiers’ sweat are palpable.
At one point we are taken on a shipwrecked raft, the middle of the ocean. The castaways are then attacked by a huge sea monster. It’s all so authentically, and visually delightful presented that we find ourselves sitting on the edge of our sofas. Far more convincing than, for example, the sea monsters from the Pirates of the Caribbean series or our local Kon Tiki. In addition, the camera work is outstanding, and the fear of the persons fleeing almost pops out of the eyes.
Good vs. Evil
The story is based on J.R.R. Tolkien’s (1892-1973) novel The Lord of the Rings, plus six additional stories that expand on the characters, culture and background.
The timeline precedes the Lord of the Rings trilogy, which was excellently adapted by Peter Jackson in 2001-2003. In contrast to a remake of Peter Jackson’s well-known trilogy, The Rings of Power takes us back to the so-called second age of Midgard, which in Tolkien’s universe predates the events of The Hobbit and The Lord of the Rings by several thousand years.
It’s handy then that several of Tolkien’s fantasy characters have almost eternal lives, for here we meet (in younger versions) several of the main characters from the Lord of the Rings films, most notably the elf Galadriel, but also Elrond, Isildur, King Gil-galad, Elendil and, of course, “Satan himself”, personified in the black wizard Sauron. We also suspect that “The Stranger” (Daniel Weyman) is a very prominent character, with whom we have previously (later) made acquaintance…
In classic fantasy style, the story is relatively clean-cut and the characters divided into two camps: the bad guys (represented by Sauron and his army of orcs) and the bad guys (the rest of the world, who oppose the evildoers).
The elves have long fought on the side of Humanity, and, as the series progresses, are in the process of unleashing the last forces of Sauron & Co.
The elves, however, are working on a grand plan to build, with the help of the dwarves (can you even say that today?), a Tower of Babel; founded over a furnace, it must be. A furnace that will be able to melt anything…
In the lead role we find the elf Galadriel, who in the Lord of the Rings films was divinely portrayed by Cate Blanchett. But young (Swedish-born!) Morfydd Clark (Saint Maud and His Dark Materials) is certainly no second-rate stand in.
Clark is intense in the role, and brings out the complex character’s personality in an exemplary way, without it turning into tendentious overacting.
Fiery, determined, clever and with a great sense of duty and family obligation, Galadriel sets out on an intense hunt for the evil sorcerer Sauron.
He killed her heroic brother, but it’s been many decades since anyone has seen anything of him or the orcs – so everyone thinks the danger is over and peace is here to stay. But is the horn of peace sounded prematurely?
Unlike most fantasy tales, which are often dark and gloomy, things are much cheerier in Midgard. The contrasts are often cranked up to the max, the extravagant costumes and nature scream at us in a blaze of colour – and even the cast of characters (to the irritation of many “commentators” on social media) debut of a colourful team. But that’s what Tolkien’s books are like, gloriously detached from the real world and free from interpretation.
Tolkien’s universe is probably also more aimed at a slightly more “child-friendly” audience than Game of Thrones. Unfortunately, the make-up artist has fallen for the temptation to overdo some of the make-up, especially the Harefoot people (a variation of the Hobbits) who look like they are dressed up, made up and wearing the wigs for an outlandish theatre performance. In addition, they are made distinctly cute, personified by the headstrong Nori (Markella Kavenagh). Here, too, we sense the beginnings of a (future) female heroine.
But it tips over. The hobbits are actually more annoying, and theatrically overacting, than cute – think Jar Jar Binks from Star Wars…
Another who should try to take his character a bit more casually is Ismael C. Córdova. His portrayal of the hardened warrior Arondir tips over into parodic introspection, morose and rigid in gaze. Arondir is a character created uniquely for the series, and the mission is obviously dramaturgically fundamental, where we get “illicit” love between an elf and a human. But he is not perceived as real.
Several of the scenes tip over into the slightly theatrical, and most often children are involved.
The dialogue is also, at times, somewhat pompous; but no more so than it is bearable. Reflecting probably so Tolkien’s text and, not least, the high elvishness of the speech.
It’s almost impossible to fully judge a series of over nine hours based on just the first two episodes. Here we presume that Prime Video has not given the press access to more episodes due to fear of leaks, but then unfortunately also the review is somewhat impaired.
The mainstay of the series is definitely Galadriel, and here both the character and the actress deliver in full measure. Her voyage, and character development is something we already long to see further. But, so far, the series lacks a more multifaceted, and fascinating, cast of characters. We miss interesting, and more nuanced, characters like Aragorn.
However, the series definitely carries the seeds of something big and epic, and the first two episodes are basically just an establishment of the characters, the world and the concept. And what’s more, it’s a world that looks absolutely fantastic! 4 strong stars (for the first two episodes).
The review is based on the first two (of eight) episodes. Prime Video has confirmed that the first two episodes will be released on premiere day, 2 September; thereafter, one new episode will follow every Friday.
Note! Recently, Disney’s streaming service passed Netflix as the biggest of them all. In the US, Prime Video is very strong, helped by its premium membership which gives you the streaming service on purchase; while in the Nordic countries they remain a minor player. We are not in the least in doubt that the launch of The Rings of Power will elevate Prime Video to new heights. The only question is whether Jeff Bezos’ huge investment, in the long run, will prove worthwhile, and whether he will actually end up as “The One to Rule them All”.