On 2 September, when Prime Video ushers in a Second Age of Middle Earth, with its budget busting fantasy fable Lord of the Rings: The Rings of Power, a new generation will gaze in wonder at this timeless saga.
Originally penned by J R R Tolkien, professor of Anglo-Saxon at Oxford University, then published between 1954 and 1955 in three volumes, The Lord of the Rings told of a battle against immense evil, waged and won across the five realms of Middle Earth, by a multitude of races.
One that would go on to make billions of dollars in book sales, box office and official merchandise. Raising the question: Will The Rings of Power needlessly exploit a beloved intellectual property, or be lauded as Amazon’s crowning glory in long form fantasy. Happily, audiences can lean towards the latter right away.
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After Peter Jackson’s blockbusting adaptation which stretched from 2001 to 2003, garnering 30 Academy award nominations and racking up 17 wins, there had to be a moment of pause in the Amazon offices when it greenlit this series.
With a rumoured billion-dollar budget for five seasons, it kept forum tongues wagging for months. So much so, that co-creators Patrick McKay and John D. Payne will either revel in glory or retreat into shadow based on the end result.
What becomes abundantly clear even in the opening minutes, is that The Rings of Power is a glorious culmination of creative endeavour given free rein to build something of beauty. Set thousands of years before The Hobbit or its sizeable sequels, it possesses everything that great art should have and then some.
As audiences are introduced to Galadriel (Morfydd Clark in a star making turn) during a chunky seventeen-minute introduction, Middle Earth gets to go full blockbuster once again. With throwbacks to Fellowship in ambience, tone and attention to detail this deserves to be on the biggest screen possible. Ice walls, snow trolls and branded flesh set up Galadriel’s vendetta, while director J A Bayona (Jurassic World: Fallen Kingdom) is savvy with his world building approach.
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Over the course of an hour the rustic Harfoot race are also introduced, featuring Sadoc (Sir Lenny Henry) and Nori Brandyfoot (Markella Kavenagh) amongst their number. With an ingenuity of production design, their dwellings are revealed as being built into the landscape, giving them homes as well as camouflage from potential intruders.
It is this level of thought which sets The Rings of Power apart from anything in recent memory, including The Hobbit adaptation with Martin Freeman.
With a series of clever narrative choices, McKay and Payne have also chosen to use that Middle Earth map to segue between locations. Meaning audiences move seamlessly from elf capital Lindon and Master Elrond (a majestic Robert Aramayo), to Eregion where Lord Celebrimbor (Charles Edwards) master elven smith resides, with no loss of momentum. However, it is amongst men in The Southlands where Arondir (Ismael Cruz Cordova) and Bronwyn (Nazanin Boniadi) dwell that this story really starts to develop.
In the staggering second hour of this awe-inspiring series fates take another turn, while audiences get to experience Khazad-Dum, where the fabled King Durin III (Peter Mullen) resides deep in his mountain. However, it is with Prince Durin IV (Owain Arthur) and his wife Princess Disa (Sophia Nomvete) that this story has real business, as Elrond comes calling to renew a friendship which has lain dormant for two decades.
As challenges are laid down, grudges settled and some delicate comedy dropped in amongst the drama, fans will be reminded of everything which made Peter Jackson’s original trilogy so good. Weta gave audiences a world worthy of Tolkien’s vision and here, that magic trick has been repeated. This beloved piece of landmark literature has been treated with all the care and reverence, rarely reserved for works of fiction — where every penny of that budget is up on screen.
Another essential element which hits home is the return of composer Howard Shore, who famously won an Oscar for his score on Fellowship, then repeated it again with an original song for Return of the King.
The mastery with which he returns to the form, melding emotions through music can never be ignored through these opening two episodes. Not only adding an additional sheen to the visuals in the process, but aiding storytelling through pivotal musical moments.
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In terms of performance, stand outs above and beyond Morfydd Clark, Robert Aramayo, Owain Arthur and Nazanin Boniadi are countless. As a linchpin to the narrative Markella Kavenagh deserves a mention, as does Tyroe Muhafidin’s Theo.
That being said, The Rings of Power as a whole will soon pass beyond praise and into legend, as Amazon has not only delivered on its promise, but done so by honouring the legacy of Tolkien in all is linguistic glory.
The first two episodes of Lord of the Rings: The Rings of Power will stream on Prime Video from 2 September, with new episodes released weekly. Watch a trailer below.