By Benjamin Rose, Editor
Should we have expected better? I’m not sure. Over a year ago I wrote an article titled “Amazon’s Lord of the Rings Will Please No One”, and it did not disappoint. From its opening, Lord of the Rings: The Rings of Power confuses grandeur with grandiosity, trading in portentous and wooden dialogue that, despite the occasional poetic flourish, often amounts to a parody of Tolkien’s prose. That said, the issues that plague this outing to Middle Earth run far deeper than a wonky script and should, in context, remind us all, yea, even the insufferable “They cut Tom Bombadil and killed the Mouth of Sauron” purists that Peter Jackson’s Lord of the Rings film trilogy was in fact a magnificent accomplishment and a deeply respectful adaptation in most regards. But that is a separate issue. While I disagree with my P.F.I. Co-host Luis Navarro that Rings of Power deserves a devastating 2 out of 10 (The score above is an average generated by all three contributors), the fact remains that it is an anemic and half-written show in which several genuinely good performances are hamstrung by weak plotting, lack of character development, and anachronistic tropes.
Galadriel’s apparent ability to swim thousands of miles across the Sundering Seas when returning to Valinor grows inconvenient is only the first of many absurd narrative decisions taken in this show. Canonicity is not the chief issue. Changes are always made from print to screen and, if they can be justified by quality, excusable. There was little canonical about Eowyn’s arc in Jackson’s films, but they successfully turned the novel’s tomboyish and irritating nuisance, who existed mostly to endure sexist “Women can’t fight!” lecturing even after killing the Witch-King, into a genuine heroine whose struggle against patriarchy and romantic depth made her eventual Macbeth-inspired triumph all the more powerful. Let that silence, at least in principle, similar complaints about Warrior Galadriel in this show; yet inclusivity is nothing in the service of mediocrity, and that, more often than not, is what Rings of Power gives us. As we discuss in our new podcast episode, Rings of Power is terribly paced. Besides one sort-of compelling battle in Episode 6 that is really just a low-budget reenactment of The Two Towers’s Helm’s Deep, there is almost no action in this show at all after Galadriel summarily kills a troll in the pilot and Arrondir (the blandest Elf to walk Middle Earth) fights a warg while enslaved by orcs in Episode 3. Throughout the show, despite its immense budget, the designs of nemeses such as orcs, wargs, and other such foes eschew the grittiness of Jackson’s monster designs (which, being owned by a different studio, they presumably could not use) for an aesthetic that looks straight out of Skyrim. The warg in particular, in comparison to the hulking bear-wolves of The Two Towers, is particularly pathetic. Without spectacle, The Rings of Power is forced to lean inordinately into dialogue, with all the weak results that typically ensue when TV screenwriters attempt to replicate the cadences of a best-selling fantasy novelist, much less a literal professor of linguistics and Anglo-Saxon literature. After all, were they capable of matching Tolkien, Martin, Sapkowski and so forth, screenwriters would not be adapting other people’s work.
This problem is compounded by the dearth of primary sources available for The Rings of Power to begin with. Jackson and his writers had a 1000 page novel to draw from, prune, and rearrange as they pleased. The Silmarillion, though not a novel, is nonetheless a history text of intentionally biblical proportions full of characters and scenes easily translated into compelling drama. Consider, ye nerds, what a filmed version of the Lay of Leithian would look like, and reflect upon the justice of my cause. The Second Age of Middle Earth, on which this show is based, is by comparison no more than an outline, populated by misty non-entities like Elendil and Isildur whose identities have to be created from scratch. From the outset, any production would be faced with Tolkien’s hyperbolic sense of time when attempting to depict it, given that while only about 80 years of in-universe time passes between the beginning of The Hobbit and the end of the main prose of The Lord of the Rings, arcs of several thousand years are altogether more common the further back one goes into Middle Earth. Faced with this task, Rings was probably doomed to failure from the outset, but that is no excuse. Even fanfiction can have its pleasures, up until the moment when some Numenorean Trump starts inveighing against Elves taking your jobs. The Rube Goldberg Machinification of Mordor into existence is discussed in the podcast. Why bother to speak of it? The Southlands had it coming.
Overall, a bland and forgettable trip to New Zealand.