The modern streaming era churns out more content than any single person would be able to watch. Television has largely moved on from the idea of water cooler shows, collective pop culture consciousness fading away in favor of tribes divided by individual subscription services that families often begrudgingly add to their budgets. The Lord of the Rings: The Rings of Power represents Jeff Bezos’ best effort to reverse that trend, a billion-dollar gamble to produce a television show too massive to ignore.
Spectacle is The Rings of Power’s best asset. For all the money invested in a single television season, the show does succeed in its effort to be one of the most beautiful series ever made. With many of its rivals cutting corners on cheap green screens, The Rings of Power wields its on-location filmmaking and beautiful practical sets to invoke a natural sense of awe and wonder from its audience. Middle Earth feels like a living breathing entity.
Of course, prestige television cannot sustain itself on gorgeous cinematography alone. The original Lord of the Rings trilogy was powered by the true fellowship (pun intended) of its characters. The Rings of Power has a diverse cast that’s fairly spread out over Middle Earth, the show lacking a “Council of Elrond” moment where all the principals were together in the same spot. Elrond (Robert Aramayo) is himself a main character, a wide-eyed diplomat still trying to find his place in the world, but the main elf at the center of the action is the not-yet-Lady Galadriel (Morfydd Clark).
Galadriel, caught in a similar pull between Middle Earth and the comforts of dreamy Valinor as Arwen was in the original trilogy, supplies much of the interesting action in the show’s first two episodes. The Arwen/Aragorn dynamic is on full display with a relationship between Bronwyn (Nazanin Boniadi), a human apothecary, and Arondir (Ismael Cruz Córdova), an elvish archer stationed in the Southlands in a posting that’s much to the resentment of the humans in the region. The show’s frantic pacing doesn’t give much time to the colonialist sentiments introduced, but the material is presented in a far more digestible manner than Tolkien’s The Silmarillion or his similarly dense appendices.
The show is lacking a bit in levity, some supplied by the Harfoots (Hobbits in need of a better deep conditioner) and by King Durin IV (Owain Arthur), an eccentric dwarf and estranged friend of Elrond. The Harfoots are probably the most interesting to watch, young halflings Elanor Brandyfoot (Markella Kavenagh) and Poppy Proudfellow (Megan Richards) sparking the wide-eyed sense of curiosity that high fantasy tends to elicit when done properly. In keeping with the traditions of the genre, there’s far too much going on to keep up with, but it’s also fairly refreshing to see a massive show not intentionally weigh itself down with too much exposition.
The Rings of Power does suffer a bit from an unevenly defined sense of purpose. Sauron is hinted at as the show’s true big bad, but the show doesn’t have anything like the original material’s clearly stated mission to guide its narrative. The first two episodes don’t exactly do the best job of outlining what this show is about, a dynamic that would be a bigger problem if it wasn’t so beautiful to watch.
The lack of true narrative purpose stands in stark contrast to Bezos’ own mission for The Rings of Power, which carries the heavy mandate of needing to be Prime Video’s standard bearer in the streaming wars. Anything less than global popularity on the scale of Game of Thrones or Stranger Things would essentially represent a billion-dollar failure. Global phenomena can’t exactly be willed into existence, but capitalism is banking on a Lord of the Rings-style booster rocket to try and prove otherwise.
The Rings of Power needs more time to flesh itself out, but Bezos delivered on his mandate to produce the most beautiful show on television. TV is once again shooting for the stars instead of hiding behind hideous green screens to fuel the content mill. This show isn’t perfect, but you do get the sense that it is sincerely trying to be a spectacle. That sheer ambition alone is a sight to behold.
The first two episodes of The Lord of the Rings: The Rings of Power were screened for review