Review: Slow-paced, self-conscious of its epic scale, and unsatisfying – the prequel to the grand ‘The Lords of the Rings’ trilogy is not quite the high-impact series that its streaming platform has made it out to be. This series, set in the same world as Lord of the Rings, remixes some of the most memorable elements of Peter Jackson’s movies, adds a few mystical details to that, and builds a potential mystery that isn’t so enticing.
Galadriel (Morfydd Clark), played by Cate Blanchett in the films, is now an uber elf, more than an immortal witch set on doing good for living creatures. She has taken up cudgels from her fallen elf warrior hero brother to find Sauron, the super evil sorcerer who is leading giant-sized armies of orcs and nether creatures to take over all the living lands of Earth. A huge chunk of the first episode is spent on Galadriel convincing the Elvin council of lords and others that Sauron is hiding and will come back, and most in power telling her he won’t come back. Between that, she takes a small posse of ace commanders up to the barren icy lands of the North to find Sauron; but beyond a hint, there’s a fight with a snow troll and a rebellion that forces her to return. It’s set up to be dramatic but isn’t effective. Neither is her forced reward to return to the forever living lands of her homeland, which had no word for death before Sauron ravaged this Earth. It aims for heightened anticipation with straight-postured warriors holding noble words, but somehow misses hitting the mark.
The first episode, justifiably the one that sets up proceedings and its lead characters, drags. Going with a female first approach, as is quite the current trend, it introduces a simple living, natural eating habits of the small race with big hearts, hobbits through Nori (Markella Kavenagh), and her world full of children and families. Resembling Frodo Baggins from the LOTR movies, she aspires to explore and see the world, while her kind holds her back. “We must always stick together,” seems to be the philosophy. Here somehow the elves, who have driven the blood thirsty armies of Mordor away, are almost dictatorial. There’s hostility between elf commanders and humans, so much so that an evolving romantic connection between elf patrolman Arondir (Ismael Cruz Cordova) and Bronwyn (Nazanin Boniadi), a human single mom and healer, creates social furore. That once upon a time, humans and elves fought together is forgotten, with ugly tensions left over.
Each world and each race will somehow unite to fight a common evil, as it has in the past. Except there’s little here that is new or compelling. Other than the track of Arondir and Bronwyn and the age-old racial conflict, this episode has little to offer in terms of freshness or dramatic engagement. It is inclusive, with people from different races cast in key roles, unlike the original lily white movies. Beyond that, its attempt at presenting a grand, stunningly imagined epic fantasy tale is not yet apparent. In fact, if one compares this to the knives and daggers, blood and gore core of ‘House of the Dragon’, then this competing fantasy tale feels left behind.
Based on the two episodes made available by the streaming platform, in terms of special effects and visual spectacle, ‘The Rings of Power’ holds up to the eye-popping standards of ‘The Lord of The Rings’. It features a justifiably rich background score and includes gorgeous costumes. One hopes, given the unmatched imagination of JRR Tolkien and his book, future episodes will dial up the thrill, drama, and tension a few notches.