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Review: LOTR The Rings of Power: Stuff That Works and Doesn’t

As with yesterday, there will be spoilers in this entry. Whole great big bleeding buckets full of them. Spoilers never bothered me much, but if they bother you, stop reading now and come back after you’ve seen the whole series.

All jokes aside, I’ll give you the bottom line up front: I liked this series. Quite a bit, in fact, in spite of a little too much pointless dialog and a few howlers. Some things were just wrong, like Galadriel stating that her husband Celeborn had already died in some war. Celeborn was in LOTR, and in fact Galadriel bailed from Middle Earth before Celeborn did, if he bailed at all. Tyler’s The Complete Tolkien Companion (highly recommended) says Celeborn lived into the Fourth Age, and there is no indication that he ever went back to Valinor. I’m sure there were a few other counterfactuals that I just missed. If I missed them, they weren’t serious enough to bother with.

So let me move on to things that I thought worked. First and foremost are the sets and the settings. Egad, I thought Peter Jackson’s films had a lock on this, and in some instances he still does, like the Khazad Dum interiors. Amazon’s Khazad Dum is less grand. All the wide-open spaces are the mines. Living and meeting quarters are smaller, almost comfy. But the cityscapes are breathtaking. So are the sailing ships. And you can’t beat New Zealand for rugged landscapes.

Celebrimbor, the master smith of the Elves, was brilliantly cast in Charles Edwards. He has the face of an Elf Lord to begin with, and he acted like a guy who Makes Important Things. His workshop was a very nice piece of architecture. Also, the process of crafting the Three Rings in that workshop was excellently shown.

Lenny Hendry as Sadoc, the top Harfoot, is terrific. Lloyd Owen is a very good Elendil, both in appearance and in action. Sophia Nomvete as Princess Disa is the only Dwarf woman we spend any significant time with. People are bitching that she didn’t have a beard. Sheesh, guys, not everybody likes beards. And she has a warmth that one doesn’t generally expect from the Dwarves.

And then there’s Adar, a brand-new invention of the showrunners. Adar is one of the Elves captured by Morgoth in the First Age and turned to the dark side. The orcs of the southlands call him “Father,” and that is in fact what the name “Adar” means in Elvish. Adar was born an elf, but bears all the marks of living thousands of years torn between two natures: elf and orc. He wants to protect his orc children from war and sunlight. He hates and claims to have killed Sauron (untrue), though that might have been a lie to keep Galadriel off his case.

The actor playing Adar, Joseph Mawle, presents possibly the most skilled performance in the whole series. Adar is sad, but more than that, he is weary, weary of fending off attempts on his life while he tries to care for his orcs. His craggy, scarred face projects that weariness in every scene where he appears. He takes no pleasure in anything. His defiance is quiet, and sometimes seems desperate. He is eventually captured and imprisoned, though I’m guessing he will have a significant role to play in future episodes.

Reviewers have rolled their eyes at the rock-cracking contest between Prince Durin and Elrond. I think they missed the point: This is a grin-inducing joke on the Dwarves, who consider themselves the masters of iron, stone and mountains. Well, Elrond, who one might think couldn’t even lift the hammer, swings it hard and cracks the rocks with alacrity. When he stops, I almost think he was throwing the contest to Durin as not to embarrass him in front of his underlings in the audience. Given Elrond’s character as shown up to that point, it’s precisely the sort of thing that the good-natured (to the point of goofiness) Elrond would do.

One thing that didn’t work well was the guessing game Amazon was playing with viewers, putting several contenders in front of them and daring them to guess which one was Sauron. I guessed Adar, though in truth none of the choices seemed likely to me. And I was wrong. Adar is Adar, which is a good thing, as I’m eager to see how he will relate to the southlands’ new boss next season. The answer to the puzzle, Halbrand, made me groan. The most I would grant him is a sort of bad-boy girl magnet type who looks a little too much like Viggo Mortensen, who played Aragorn in the Peter Jackson films.

But maybe that was the point. Like his former boss, Sauron is pure evil, but he’s still a king. He didn’t use the power that a major Maia could conceivably summon. Maybe that’s because he was in hiding. And he rescues Galadriel from drowning. That was a lot harder to figure. Once he establishes himself in the brand-new Mordor, I suspect the facade will fall away, and he’ll look like the nastioso that he is and has always been.

Galadriel? She needs to chill a little, or she’s going to pop an artery. The serene power projected from Cate Blanchett in the LOTR films simply isn’t there. Again, I think this is a fault of the scripting. Morfydd Clark didn’t seem as melted into her role as some others in the series, especially Joseph Mawle. Some of her dialog is too too utterly utter. Her acting wasn’t bad. I think the showrunners’ vision of Galadriel was just lightyears away from mine. That’s fair.

The pace is slow. I would have enjoyed a few more action scenes, and maybe a few more minutes to gape at the fantasy world that Amazon’s billion bux created. It is what it is. My recommendation is positive: Watch it. Enjoy the ride. Don’t pick nits; there are nits allthehell over the place, and if you go off on them too hard it’s you who are likely to pop an artery.

Cautiuously recommended.


  1. Vince says:

    Thanks for this review Jeff.

    We just got Amazon Prime and lining up what to watch as a family. But it’s my child’s exam weeks at uni so we’re holding off the family watching.

    LOTR:TROP for some reason was not in the list. Maybe an unconscious overexposure to LOTR + Hobbitt movies.

    I still remember your review of Firefly (the TV series). Sometimes I believe I would not have paid attention to them had I not come across your review. It and the movie has become one of my LIFETIME favourites.

    So thanks for this review. LOTR:TROP has just been bumped up to first place in our list.

    Have you watched the new Dune movie?

    1. No, not yet. Dune is a hard work of fiction to translate to film. I don’t know if you saw the very first one, from 1984. It left a terrible taste in my mouth. I’ll probably see the 2021 remake. Carol and I don’t see a lot of movies anymore, so it may not be next week, but the novel is important enough that I really ought to see it.

      1. Vince says:

        I saw the 1984 version when it was released. Didn’t understand anything except that a) Sting was there b) The body armor was cool.

        I had not read the book at the time though. When I did come across a copy of the book a few years later, I read maybe the first chapter and remember thinking “this is impossible to make into a film. It’s all just everyone thinking in their heads.”

        I watched the new Dune movie and it has become a ‘comfort movie’ for me. Something I enjoy watching over and over when I’m bored . I am not saying it’s a great one, only that I can watch it over and over. (Silicon Valley is another one, but then also Drew Barrymore / Adam Sandler’s The Wedding Singer)

        But I must say the new movie made me watch the 1984 version again on Youtube (were it not for Virginia Madsen at her prettiest, still totally missable), the 2001 Dune TV Series (not bad at all IMHO, but not worth hunting down). The new film also made me want to read the novel, which I now recognise as a stunning piece of work.

  2. Rich Rostrom says:

    “a few howlers…”

    I compiled a list of continuity errors and impossibilities in LotR itself. Also in The Hobbit.
    For instance, what happened to the musical instruments (including two bass fiddles) the dwarves brought to “the unexpected party”?

    How did emissaries from Dale and Erebor reach Gondor 1,200 km away, for the coronation of Aragorn, only 34 days after the siege of Erebor was defeated?

    Are there one or two Keys of Orthanc?

    And about 67 more.

    So the Amazon team should get some slack.

  3. TRS says:

    >I still remember your review of Firefly (the TV series).

    Was that here on Contra?

    The Goog is runing up “No results found” for “Jeff Duntemann” +firefly.

    1. It was. Today’s a little tight, time-wise, but I’ll look for the entry later. It was a long, long time ago.

    2. Look for my entry for October 25, 2004. It contains links to the entries where I discussed the series in depth. Those were mostly in 2002. I didn’t build in permalinks that early in the Contra game.

    3. Vince says:

      Here’s a link to Jeff’s Firefly review:

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