September 3, 2022

Streamin' Meemies: The Lord of the Rings: The Rings of Power


A while back, Jeff Bezos flew his golden airplane over the Tolkien estate and dropped an atomic money bomb on it. 

This show, in its first season, is the most expensive program ever made, a title I imagine it will hold nigh on to forever (especially since the second season is filming in England instead of New Zealand). Like a great many other people, I watched the first two episodes.....and I have Thoughts.

First of all, I want to say that the outdoor shots were gorgeous. Especially in the first episode, the natural beauty of the New Zealand landscape was in full view, and it stakes a claim as the loveliest place on planet Earth. However, the expense of this show is not in its landscapes but rather in its special effects and CGI, which is unavoidable given the epic scope of the story they're trying to tell. Along that line, as an experiment, I went back and re-watched a couple of the most CGI-heavy episodes of Netflix's The Sandman, which I think stacks right alongside The Rings of Power in terms of creating worlds that never were. Specifically, episode 4, "A Hope in Hell," where the King of Dreams pays a visit to the titular realm, and the finale, "Lost Hearts." Now, the CGI in the first two episodes of The Rings of Power is very good--spectacular in episode 1 with the snow-troll battle, and episode 2 showing the dwarven city inside of Khazad-dum--but it's not half a billion dollars better than The Sandman, or even HBO's Game of Thrones prequel, House of the Dragon. I'm sure The Rings of Power will at some point have a Helms Deep-like battle, and House of the Dragon will join in with its own "Battle of the Bastards" or "Hardhome," which The Sandman won't attempt. So in that instance it's not a fair comparison. Still, the point stands. 

Given that, how about the pacing and the characters? Episode 1 of The Rings of Power had a lot to do in terms of setting up the backstory and characters, and it unfortunately groaned and creaked throughout. To be fair, it's pretty damn hard to reduce the entire history of the elves and their war with Morgoth and Sauron to a few sentences. Nevertheless, it wasn't until episode 2 that the various storylines started taking off. As far as the characters go, even though it seems like the young Galadriel is being set up to be the (sort of) protagonist, she's nowhere near the most compelling character. That honor goes squarely to Nori Brandyfoot, with Elrond a close second. (In fact, Elrond's busting rocks against Durin was my favorite part of episode 2.) Now, with the reappearance of the Orcs and the mystery of who that guy is in the comet that fell to Middle-earth, it feels like we're starting to get somewhere. 

With as huge a cast and as sprawling a storyline as The Rings of Power is supposed to have, they're not going to have an easy time keeping it reined in. House of the Dragon and The Sandman (my two points of comparison) aren't going to have those issues, I don't think. And while Jeff Bezos and Amazon Studios certainly have the billion dollars plus to throw at the show, I for one would much rather have had some of that diverted into making three more seasons of The Expanse, or another season or two of Paper Girls. Sometimes, bigger isn't better. 

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