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It’s the battle of the epic fantasies. Nearly two weeks following the release of HBO’s Game of Thrones prequel House of the Dragon comes the equally anticipated The Lord of the Rings: The Rings of Power, a prequel from Amazon Prime Video that takes place thousands of years before the events depicted in J.R.R. Tolkien’s book trilogy, previously adapted into films by Peter Jackson.
It’s an ambitious undertaking from Amazon, with the studio allocating at least $1 billion to five seasons of the series (and $465 million alone for the first eight episodes). With no involvement from Jackson, Rings of Power takes a different approach to Tolkien’s Middle-earth, tackling the lore of the Second Age and diving deeper into the history of the elves. Although House of the Dragon has more reviews out so far, The Rings of Power and the HBO show currently have the exact same Rotten Tomatoes score at 84%.
The review embargo was lifted Wednesday morning, and early responses are mostly positive. While most are hailing the project for its promising plotline and impressive cinematography, some reviews are mixed, as skepticism about such a high price tag for the beloved franchise remains.
Read on for key excerpts from some of the most prominent early reviews.
The Hollywood Reporter’s Daniel Fienberg calls the show “a promising start.” He writes, “In the second episode, the story starts to actually move along and there are characters and scenes that I found utterly charming in the way a show like this requires for long-term survival, even if some of the effects and epic scale diminish a tiny bit. It’s technically impressive, reasonably ambitious, packed with Easter eggs that I’m certain I’m not versed enough to get and, with my interest in different plotlines already varying wildly, it could fall off a precarious cliff at any moment.”
The BBC’s Stephen Kelly writes, “What does make [Rings of Power] work so far is what made The Lord of the Rings work: the earnestness of its performances, and the sincerity of its writing. Showrunners JD Payne and Patrick McKay may have come from nowhere to develop The Rings of Power, but they display a deft understanding of Tolkien’s soothing rhythms, his grandeur and musicality. It’s a pleasure to hear the characters talk.”
TV Line’s Dave Nemetz shares a similarly positive sentiment, and writes, “Rings of Power is not just good, it’s great: a gorgeously immersive and grandly ambitious spectacle packed with stunning imagery and compelling plot threads. Most importantly, it captures the same sense of awe we felt while watching the Lord of the Rings movies — one we don’t often get to experience on the small screen.”
IGN’s Alex Stedman likewise states, “It’s not only one of the most gorgeous TV shows I’ve ever seen, it goes toe-to-toe with most big-screen blockbusters. What’s stunning about the cinematography isn’t just how meticulously it captures the diverse geography of Middle-earth, from snowy mountaintops to the bustling Khazad-dûm, but how it so intimately zeroes in on the actors’ faces during important conversations.”
Indiewire’s Ben Travers gives the show a B rating, and writes “The Lord of the Rings: The Rings of Power flutters to life in bursts, offering reason enough to believe, with time to play out its own story and optimize its own strengths, the Prime Video creation could leave its own gleaming mark on J.R.R. Tolkien’s still-expanding universe. Genuine chemistry draws sparks of humor and heartache. Sizable set pieces house indisputably epic battles. And yes, the grandeur on display is almost too much — all those soaring shots of fantastical cities and glistening scenery routine enough to feel, well, routine. Still, the stately show’s main hurdle is the same faced by many of the streaming era’s ambitious sequels, prequels, and spin-offs: over-familiarity absent any real risk. Investing a boatload of cash isn’t the same as investing beliefs, predilections, and sense of humanity. It’s rather simple to satisfy the masses with a nostalgic game of connect the dots; it’s much harder to forge a ring of one’s own worth admiring.”
Entertainment Weekly’s Darren Franich has a more negative take, calling the show “kind of a catastrophe.” He writes, “There are ways to do a prequel, and The Lord of the Rings: The Rings of Power does them all wrong. It takes six or seven things everyone remembers from the famous movie trilogy, adds a water tank, makes nobody fun, teases mysteries that aren’t mysteries, and sends the best character on a pointless detour. The latter is uber-elf Galadriel (Morfydd Clark) who spends the premiere telling people to worry about Sauron. In response, people tell her not to worry about Sauron. That’s one hour down, seven to go this season. Sound like a billion dollars yet?”
The Guardian’s Rebecca Nicholson compares Rings of Power to the Game of Thrones prequel, deeming the Amazon show “so astounding it makes House of the Dragon look amateur.” Nicholson writes, “It takes until the second episode, and the arrival of the dwarves, for the immersive feeling to flourish – that sense that this is a fully realized world worth jumping into wholeheartedly. The dwarves anchor it and temper some of the show’s more pompous instincts. It is not much of a spoiler to say that the initial idyll is soon shattered. The elves’ insistence that “our days of war are over” is more of a dream than cold political analysis. There are hints from the start that decay is in the air and it does not take long for those hints to grow into sirens, bellowing out warnings at great volume. When it gets frightening, it is genuinely scary. Towards the end of episode two, it is breathlessly tense and far more gruesome than I anticipated.”
Variety’s Caroline Framke writes, “For now, it’s safe to say that Amazon throwing the weight of its coffers at this property has resulted in a perfectly winning adaptation that unfolds swashbuckling adventures with clear reverence and affection for the considerable mythos behind it. As the series forges ahead, combining storylines and leaving literal translation from page to screen behind, it will be telling to see just how ably The Rings of Power can stay rooted in its venerable source material while, inevitably, bending it into something new.”
The Los Angeles Times’ Robert Lloyd claims that despite the fact that many thought Rings of Power would be a disaster, “it isn’t.” Lloyd writes, “Although many enjoy digging into the minutiae of Tolkien’s cosmological, historical and anthropological appendices, what matters is whether the series tells a good story — or stories, since there are several, whose intercutting does tend to take a little power out of the narrative. And my verdict on that point is … here and there it does. Now and again. Some storylines work better than others.”
Vulture’s Kathryn VanArendonk writes, “The whole kit and caboodle is simply too big to be a failure. The story is expansive enough to fill up the show’s huge map, and where its fantasy premises promise impressive set pieces, like a battle with an ice troll or ships sailing into the Undying Lands, The Rings of Power lives up to those promises. Its emotional core, though simplistic, is just as big and openhearted. It is a forthrightly sincere show, with no room for cynicism. Everything is about Friendship or Honor or Greed or Strength, and it’d be so easy for it all to read as completely goofy if it were not utterly committed to that sincerity in every single beat.”
Vanity Fair’s Esther Zuckerman says the prequel succeeds in “[capturing] the spirit” of Tolkien’s source material and the previous Jackson films. Zuckerman also praises Clark’s portrayal of Galadriel, and writes, “Clark’s performance is the series’ anchor point: She is both omniscient storyteller and protagonist. The character is portrayed by Cate Blanchett in Jackson’s films as an ethereal force of benevolence that can turn frightening at a single moment. Clark, meanwhile, manages to ground her Galadriel in stubbornness and drive without losing that magic elven touch. Even when she twitches in anger, she seems to hover above the earth.”
The first two episodes of The Lord of the Rings: The Rings of Power premiere on Prime Video on Sept 2. New episodes will follow weekly.
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