Photo: ‘The Rings of Power’
It has been eight long years since the release of Peter Jackson’s ‘The Hobbit: The Battle of the Five Armies’, the last time audiences visited Middle Earth on the big screen. From the moment that Amazon Prime announced they would be developing a series based on J.R.R. Tolkein’s works, a wide spectrum of reactions made their rounds across social media. Some were interested to see what this new journey to Middle Earth would bring. Others, as is now inevitably the case with every fanbase of every pop culture IP, had already decided that they would look for things to nitpick about the show, for a number of reasons.
We then got a batch of trailers for the series and while everything we saw looked absolutely breathtaking, very few details were given about the story and the characters. Now here we are, with the show finally landing on the streaming platform. To get this out of the way, the first fifteen minutes of the pilot episode were just okay. There were some interesting bits and pieces in the prologue, but some of its dialogue, as well as in the first scene that followed, was just bare exposition and lacked some of the mystique and allure of the opening sequence in ‘Lord of the Rings: The Fellowship of the Ring’. This raised the concern that the entire series would be lacking in that same heart and sense of wonder.
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Thankfully, this was definitely not the case. ‘The Rings of Power’ is a gorgeous, breathtaking, and riveting series that stays faithful to the works of Tolkein while also expanding on the material by taking it into more sophisticated directions. Each storyline, which sees us following different characters across Middle Earth, is weaved together seamlessly, with none of the individual arcs taking a backseat to another. Tolkien aficionados, casual fans of the original trilogy, fantasy nerds, and streaming viewers across the board will find a real gem in ‘The Rings of Power’.
Every actor with a role in the series came off as if Middle Earth was no stranger at all. The onscreen talent each understood the respective characters so well and brought them to life in such a believable and engaging way. Morfydd Clark’s portrayal of a young Galadriel initially came off as a bit wooden in her first scene, but in hindsight, that seems largely due to the material she was given, as was mentioned earlier regarding the opening in the pilot. Afterward, however, she quickly became one with Galadriel and had no problem garnering sympathy for this character and getting the viewer behind her. Robert Aramayo gave us a young and dutiful Elrond and brought a whole new side to the character that we did not see in Hugo Weaving’s portrayal. Markella Kavenagh, who plays Nori the Harfoot, not only excels at playing a character but also at introducing us to the community of which she’s a part of. Without going into spoilers, the introduction to Nori and the Harfoots felt akin to the scene of Frodo and Gandalf riding into the Shire. But perhaps the true breakout performance in the series came from Ismael Cruz Cordova who plays an Elvish scout that hides his forbidden love to a human healer. Every time Cordova was on screen, he commanded the screen with the way he carried himself, the manner in which he spoke, and the actions he would carry out.
The common thread among the acting here is that to world-build effectively in a series without being bogged down by exposition dumps, the series needed to show, not tell. Middle Earth is made up of a number of groups ranging from Dwarves, Elves, Men, and Hobbits. The viewer needs to get a glimpse into the customs, traditions, structures, and overall ways of life embedded in these various communities. The behaviors of the individuals residing in these respective communities should at least somewhat reflect their overall environment. This was one of the primary goals each of the actors needed to accomplish, which is exactly what they did.
Middle Earth Is The Star
The real show stealer of ‘The Rings of Power’ is Middle Earth itself. The series misses no opportunity to show off some of the most vibrant and stunning locations of this fictional land. Clearly, no expense was wasted in the visual effects department. Another aspect of visual worldbuilding that the high concept genre shows as this one should remember is to give audiences a vivid and clear-cut image of the environment in which the story takes place. This does not only come in the form of architecture or natural settings, but also in what outfits are worn, what food is eaten, what tools and innovations are used, to name just a few.
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The series did not only shine a spotlight on the various sights of Middle Earth, but the sounds as well. Hearing the crashing of waves, the rustling of trees in the wind, and the splitting of rocks with axes, all remind us of what life in Middle Earth is like. And, of course, the music in this series is just the absolute chef’s kiss. Bear McCreary emulates much of Howard Shore’s spirit from the original trilogy in this series while simultaneously creating a style of music unique for this particular story and time period in Middle Earth.
One Series To Rule Them All
It would take a while to try and recall the last high-profile fantasy series that did not feature relentless gore and sex. In that sense, ‘The Rings of Power’ may be something difficult to peg and compare to another fantasy series or film franchise (the obvious exception being the ‘Lord of the Rings’ trilogy). However, this only further establishes the show’s distinctiveness and allure as a refreshing fantasy series and a worthy adaptation of Tolkein’s work with breathtaking cinematography, beautiful sounds, intricate acting, a clinic in worldbuilding, and an overall engaging story.
Music by: Bear McCreary | Directed by: J.A. Bayona
Cast: Morfydd Clark, Robert Aramayo, Markella Kavenagh, Ismael Cruz Cordova
By Nader Chamas
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Nader Chamas is an aspiring television writer who seeks to fuse thought provoking progressive ideals into the films, shows, and stories that he loves. Having graduated from Loyola Marymount University with a degree in Screenwriting, Nader seeks to use his writing to advance causes that do not get enough attention or input across mainstream media. Like most, Nader has his own share of his favorite franchises and stories across pop culture. However, he seeks to contribute timely and relevant topics into these stories as well as in his own original material. This is why Nader’s analysis of popular films and tv shows matches The Hollywood Insider’s practice of discussing entertainment from a socially cognizant and critical perspective.