Fans of Peter Jackson’s cinematic adaptation of J.R.R. Tolkien’s “Lord of the Rings” should be pleased with Amazon’s prequel series “The Lord of the Rings: Rings of Power.” Based on the appendices of the original trilogy, the series expands upon the original text to answer some of the crucial queries proposed by Tolkein. Questions like: what cost does war have on the young lives supplied to fight it? At what point is the individual greater than the community? How does one preserve their legacy? These eternal haunting questions search for answers amongst the resplendent beauty of New Zealand’s vast terrain, charming new characters and frightening paths to a country divided and at war.
The series begins with a black screen and the words, “Nothing is evil in the beginning. And there was a time when the world was so young there had not yet been a sunrise. And even then, there was light.” Here is the show’s thesis, a simple and familiar yet powerful thought – hope lives in the darkest spaces. The dialogue is deliciously poetic and descriptive, yet accessible when performed with such conviction; a nearly Shakespearean experience (showrunners J.D. Payne and Patrick McKay wrote the first episode).
It’s Galadriel (Morfydd Clark) who whispers these words. Through her keen eyes, the audience is guided through a prologue that recounts the rise of Sauron, who stole the elves’ light, waged war across Middle Earth, and nearly wiped out the elven army. The elves reacted with strength, beating him back to the edges of known society and taking a stronghold over human lands. Some humans had sided with Sauron. A tentative political landscape has all sides sniping at one another. With the threat of Sauron not wholly banished, a distrust permeates every new meeting or strange occurrence.
The original text begins with a mission to destroy the one ring that corrupts absolutely. So, too, does the “Rings of Power” start with a mission. Galadriel lost her brother in the war. As a child, she received advice from her brother to keep her eyes on the light instead of the darkness of the water should she find herself drowning. She questions him, knowing the light on the water can sometimes be as bright as the light in the sky. Which should she follow? He responds, “Sometimes you don’t know until the darkness has passed.” She’s lost in the dark after he dies. So she picks up his cause to find and destroy Sauron (who many believe is gone for good). Galadriel marches to the highest mountain, stops listening to her soldiers and becomes a woman obsessed with revenge.
It’s difficult to overstate how much of a badass Galadriel is. She climbs frozen waterfalls and fends off trolls singlehandedly. Juxtaposed against the other elves, the stately and hopelessly romantic Arondir (Ismael Cruz Cordova) or the steadfast Elrond (Robert Aramayo), she’s a complete outsider. Morfydd Clark (“Saint Maud”) plays the young general with barely subdued ferocity, ready to rage at a moment’s notice. Some may think the show’s lack of star power might hurt viewership, even with the franchise nostalgia boom still in full effect, but a lack of name recognition makes suspending belief much easier. And “Rings of Power” could be a star-making vehicle for Clark and Cruz Cordova, whose love-sick soldier speaks in poems. He may be the next Regé-Jean Page heartthrob.
Each setting that’s revealed stuns more than the last. A mountain cavern so evil fire gives off no warmth, the thriving mining cave system of the dwarves, the elvish kingdom cast in sterling white, and a forest with trees carved in the shape of fallen soldiers like saints on a mausoleum. Every dollar, all $715 million of them, shows up on the screen. Viewers should try to watch the series on the largest screen possible (the first two episodes are even playing in theaters tonight). The costumes’ detailed beading and iron work, carvings on the hilt of a blade, and mossy blankets in the harfoot’s camp site dazzle throughout the production. The Harfoot reveal charms particularly, with the delightful creatures popping out of the woodwork. As the adults worry about bad omens, the children busy themselves with pushing the boundaries of their defined spacial limits. Of course, danger is never too far away in a “Lord of the Rings” tale. Soon members from every community will need to unite to fight off the coming evil.
“Ring of Power” is dense with lore and characters. Multiple viewings may be required, but it won’t be wasted time. It’s rare to feel that one is stepping into another world; the seams of our reality are frequently present. Get lost in the beauty of this series. While it may feel heavy, there is an attempt to bring in comedy and heart with the dwarves, and the writers and directors (J.A. Bayona directs the first two installments) have tapped beautifully into fantasy-romance and horror to bring layers of texture to the script. Overall, “Lord of the Rings: Rings of Power” makes for an engaging and awe-inspiring watch.
The first two episodes of “The Lord of the Rings: The Rings of Power” premiere on Amazon Prime Video this Friday, September 2nd, with new episodes dropping weekly.