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Review: LOTR The Rings of Power: Overview

Carol was gone for a week, so after I burned out on updating my assembly language book during the days, I had empty evenings. My path was obvious: Pour myself a drink or two, and binge on the first season (now complete) of Amazon’s Tolkien pastiche, The Rings of Power. I’ve seen various estimates of how much money Amazon is spending on the project, which is projected to release eight episodes a year for five years. Whether it’s 750 million or a billion, that is very serious money.

As best I can tell, Amazon bought rights to The Lord of the Rings…appendices. They pointedly did not license The Silmarillion, which I’ve heard was a rule laid down by the great man himself and respected by his estate. My guess? He really didn’t want The Silmarillion turned into a story.

The Silmarillion is not a story. In a way, it’s the Cliff Notes to a bunch of stories that JRR never wrote. But in truth, it’s a history. It’s like viewing a story on satellite video from Middle Earth orbit: We get to see all the people and the monsters running around killing each other, a continent and a half sunk to the ocean bottom, and much else. But we get inside no one’s head to experience their insights or their sufferings. It’s all Who Did What To Whom (Or What) But Not Why, which set the stage for the extremely rich cultural background behind The Lord of the Rings saga itself. (I consider The Hobbit part of that saga.)

We have Amazon Prime. The series is part of Prime, and thus without marginal cost. Why not? I’d already paid my money. I took my choice.

So what did I get? Here’s quick list:

  • Some of the most beautiful scenery and backdrops I’ve ever seen in cinema, greater than what Peter Jackson managed twenty-odd years ago, and his weren’t shabby.
  • A great deal of interpolation and (mostly) studied invention of a lot of original characters and conflicts. Some of this was very good; I much enjoyed the Harfoots (basically wandering Iron Age proto-hobbits), particularly Nori and Poppy.
  • A certain amount (probably less than you might have read elsewhere) of silliness, none of which we can lay directly at the feet of JRR. I’ll come back to this.
  • Mostly excellent acting, and (huzzah!) no celebrities.
  • A slow, often clumsy, dialog-heavy screenplay, which at times bore more than a whiff of an Iron Age Days of Our Lives. When you have 560 minutes to fill, well, dialog is cheap. Alas, as dialog goes, it wasn’t thin gruel, but gruel so thick it was occasionally impossible to swallow.
  • Wholesale butchery of the Tolkien timeline. This may have been necessary, given the scraps Amazon was able to license versus what true Tolkien fans were sure to expect. The Dwarves didn’t strike balrog until Third Age 1980, but Durin the Somethingeth almost got the booby prize thousands of years earlier, in the Second Age. Everybody loves balrogs, right? They break the Days of Our Lives boredom, fersure. I’m guessing we’ll be seeing more balroggery in forthcoming seasons, if Amazon doesn’t run out of money first.
  • A puzzle: Which character is actually Sauron? I guessed wrong, but as with a lot else, I’ll come back to that.

This will have to do for today. I have to leave for the airport pretty soon to pick up Carol.


  1. Bill Meyer says:

    OK, since you have not wholesale condemned Amazon’s production, I may risk a sample. I have read such extensive condemnations of the series elsewhere that I harbor grave reservations. Any sampling will wait till I have completed the series of The Hobbit, which seems likely to be a better investment of time.

    The context of LOTR is of course bound up with Tolkien’s study of languages, and with his deep faith. I have read that the series seeks to impose currently fashionable social notions, to which I would need to respond: anathema sit. (Which reminds me: Can I use any formatting in posts on your blog?)

    At present, I have watched only the first of the Hobbit films, and though it was slower than LOTR, I did thoroughly enjoy it. Given that The Hobbit is really the prequel to LOTR, and an introduction to that whole world of creatures, the slower pace seems appropriate. LOTR, good as it is, seems to presume that all viewers have read the books. In our time, I find that doubtful. They work well as action films, but I am inclined to believe that the average viewer got little more from them than that.

    On, it appears that I would need to subscribe to Pro to access box office figures for Rings of Power, which I will not do. But it would be interesting to see figures for audience size, revenues, and whatnot. Clearly that would indicate future series….

  2. Jim Dodd says:

    The Rings of Power series has me almost prepared to sign up for another streaming service and your review helps that along. I look forward to more reviews in the future. Thank you, Jeff. I really respect your opinions of movies and books.

    As an aside, I didn’t really consider myself a programmer until I learned assembly languages. Thank you for your part in keeping that going for other programmers.

    To Bill Meyer, I saw the first two Hobbit movies in the theater and enjoyed them but not as much as The Lord of the Rings. But I did like Martin Freeman as Bilbo better than I did Elijah Wood as Frodo. But I wasn’t as excited by the Hobbit trilogy and missed the final film in the theater and only saw it on video.

    1. Bill Meyer says:

      In fairness to The Hobbit films, logically they should have come first, but could not have been funded. So we got LOTR first, and The Hobbit — no matter how well done — would be likely to disappoint. That said, creating three films from the single volume of The Hobbit also forced a slow pace.

      As to Martin Freeman, I agree he was excellent as Bilbo.

  3. Bill Meyer says:

    We watched the first two episodes. What I saw was a lot of effort on CGI and action, and not much toward presenting any sort of coherent story. I have not read the Tolkien appendices on which TROP is supposed to have been based, but have a very hard time imagining it to be as free of plot as this.

    Not much impressed with the writing, nor with much of the casting. To give credit where due, the young Galadriel seems more thoughtful and mature than the fully grown version. And I am not condemning Morfydd Clark, but once again the writing, and the direction.

    Tolkien’s creations deserve much better treatment.

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