Spoiler Warning: The Rings of Power Review
The Lord of the Rings franchise received its long-awaited prequel TV installment on Sept. 1 on Amazon Prime Video. The result, however, is a Second Age Middle-earth story with borrowed and original content sure to satisfy some viewers but disappoint others. New fans of the franchise will see that “The Rings of Power” is a directionless conglomerate of high fantasy storytelling, and longtime fans will be enraged by its unfaithfulness to Tolkien’s world and rules.
Raving fans were wary of “The Rings of Power” in large part because it was unable to maintain the copyrights for most of J.R.R. Tolkien’s work. According to Newsweek, they managed to attain the rights of the appendices of “The Fellowship of the Ring” and some others, but most of it is made without a literary foundation.
“The Rings of Power” revives Tolkien’s world by introducing some familiar but much younger names: Galadriel, Elrond and Sauron. While the show attempts to tie together multiple diverse storylines involving the Harfoots, a proto-Hobbit species, the Elves, men and most importantly the history of Númenor, it bites off more than it can chew and ultimately causes an overwhelming story to fall flat.
The Lord of the Rings fans will find most frustration with the Elves who, for some unfounded reason, now face the threat of death and extinction if Mithril is destroyed. This is nothing like the rules Tolkien wrote for Elvish life. They are entirely unbound from Mithril as a source of life and would nevertheless live for thousands of years, yet the major threat in “The Rings of Power” is Elvish extinction and exile.
For all its complicated, disappointing story lines and adjustments, “The Rings of Power” offers something that any fantasy fan will love: Middle-earth in high definition. Peter Jackson’s work for “The Lord of the Rings” and “The Hobbit” films was incredible — an attempt at capturing the mystical world of Middle-earth. If “The Rings of Power” failed in other regards, at least the visuals are incredible. Númenor and Khazad-dûm are stunning, and the cinematography employed to survey the Second Age of Middle-earth is award-worthy.
The series has been highly rated by critics, according to Rotten Tomatoes, but ill-received by audiences, with a disparity of scores recorded at 84% and 38% respectively. This is evidence that good cinematography and visual effects are not enough to convince a devoted fan base that the show is worthy of praise.
One reason audiences are hesitant to enjoy “The Rings of Power” is its odd elements of mystery, which aren’t typical to Tolkien’s works. In his storytelling, Tolkien is straightforward. There was little mystery to the presence of evil in Sauron and its passage from one ring-bearer to the next. But “The Rings of Power” almost completely relies on the idea that The Stranger, The Dweller or other characters could be Sauron, who Tolkien so clearly portrays. Collider writer Michael Petty says that this element of mystery “has kept the series in the cultural zeitgeist for weeks now… any publicity is good publicity.”
As “The Rings of Power” is slated for a five-season tenure, it is left to question what substance will be left when the mystery of Sauron’s character is revealed. Surely the writers can’t rely on a legacy character’s secret prequel identity to carry them for five seasons. However, up to this point, it seems they believe that’s enough to carry them through five episodes of the eight-episode season.
Viewers may enjoy the series for its fantastic landscape, introduction of Númenor and solid portrayal of Galadriel and Durin IV, but its incoherent shortcomings and unfaithfulness to Tolkienesque tales must be amended before it’s too late.
Bower is an opinion writer for the Liberty Champion. Follow him on Twitter