The Lord of the Rings: An Epic Return to Middle-Earth

The Lord of the Rings for 2022
The Lord of the Rings for 2022

The new Lord of the Rings TV show The Rings of Power takes you somewhere you’ve been before.

The dwarf stronghold of Khazad-dûm is one of the many well-known components in the Prime Video series that will debut on September 2. Khazad-dûm is described in Peter Jackson’s legendary Lord of the Rings film trilogy as a frightening tomb filled with skeletons, draped in cobwebs, and guarded by a particularly ferocious fire demon.

Khazad-dûm is a bustling kingdom where numerous dwarves move about, colorful flora thrives, and gigantic mirrors reflect light into its depths. This is long before Gandalf fell off the edge of a broken stone bridge. 20 years after Jackson originally transported us to Middle-earth, The Rings of Power offers a familiar experience that has been sufficiently modernised to make both seasoned and inexperienced Tolkien fans enjoy their stay.

The difficulty The Rings of Power must overcome is this. The Lord of the Rings trilogy has become engrained in popular culture over the past 20 years, from Gollum impressions to memes about not just strolling into Mordor. Some people have never left Middle-earth, but for others, it depends on whether a return is desirable or necessary.

The Rings TV show The Rings of Power

The Rings of Power appears to recognise that its journey is on a knife-edge, to paraphrase Galadriel from The Fellowship of the Ring. According to screeners of the first two episodes that Prime Video has made available, The Rings of Power makes a steady return to Middle-earth and features all the elements that made the originals so beloved by so many of us all those years ago, including the breath-taking scenery, latex prosthetics, and even the sporadic episodes of ponderous dialogue directed toward some distant point.

The Lord of the Rings

Thousands of years before Frodo and his companions ever considered leaving the Shire, The Rings of Power takes place in the Second Age of Middle-earth. The series centres on the creation of the iconic nine rings and the early, havoc-causing reign of the terrible Sauron. Due to the long lifespan of elves, characters like Galadriel (Morfydd Clark), Elrond (Robert Aramayo), and a host of new elves, dwarves, men, and Harfoots (short-statured ancestors of Hobbits) return. They are all affected by the sinking feeling that something evil is afoot and the accompanying denial.

Rings of Power expertly strikes a mix between how it is approachable to newbies, movie aficionados, and more fanatical mythology fiends. (How much the liberties it does take with Tolkien’s work offend the more adamant group is still to be seen, though.) It’s entirely possible to survive if Aul and his beard or Fanor and his hammer have no meaning to you.

The television show adopts the film’s visual aesthetic. A feast of sweeping panoramas of snowy mountains, wide-open plains, and excruciatingly beautiful elven architecture can be found in only the first two episodes. The same type of colour grading is used in Rings of Power to make Rivendell and the recently introduced Lindon gleam golden, but the realms of men feel more grey.

The score, which was written this time by Bear McCreary rather than Howard Shore, also follows well-worn patterns. Depending on the situation, the soaring choral pieces might be ominous or serene.

Ringing in Rings of Power

Rings of Power refrains from engaging in the kind of grating fan service that would only serve to cheapen it. There are certainly some callbacks, like as the prologue that is read by Galadriel at the beginning and a tense sequence with some bubbles in a lake. Instead, these components put in a lot of work to draw the viewer into this intricate tale.

Although Cate Blanchett is difficult to surpass, Clark makes for a believable earlier incarnation, clear-eyed and battle-ready regardless of who begs her to calm down. She only needs one encounter with a snow troll to become an established action heroine. Similar to Gimli in the trilogy, dwarven Durin and his wife Disa offer some warmth and humorous relief, which is a nice change of tone.

But how Rings of Power paces itself while juggling at least four or five plot strands will be a major test. The romance between human Bronwyn (Nazanin Boniadi) and expressionless elf Arondir, played by Arondir, and a brash young Harfoot named Nori, with questionable chemistry, must somehow be more exciting than Nori’s discovery of a mystery giant in a flaming crater (Ismael Cruz Cordova). The risk is creating a piece that rivals any big-screen masterpiece in terms of how it seems, sounds, and feels, but lacks the tightly focused narrative to back it up.

Naturally, the series will also have to deal with a common problem with prequels: the conflict between good and evil won’t finish in the kind of triumph that has helped make LOTR a comforting cultural staple during tumultuous times. Sauron will return regardless of how the following five seasons of the show turn out.

The Fellowship of the Rings

When The Fellowship of the Rings was released in 2001, it marked the beginning of a time when fantasy films could be excellent. It was a visually stunning feat when viewers saw an army of 10,000 orcs gather outside Helm’s Deep.

Twenty years later, fans of television shows like Game of Thrones and its recently released prequel series, House of the Dragon, as well as blockbuster films like Avengers: Infinity War and Endgame are accustomed to seeing epic fantasy worlds and large-scale battles.

It’s debatable if spending around $1 billion on an adaptation of a book’s appendices over a minimum of five seasons will be sufficient to delve into the core of LOTR fandom given the abundance of other universes available.

However, for the time being, The Rings of Power is a movie that will transport you back to Middle-earth and make you want to offer your axe with a hearty “why not?”

READ MORE: 7 Best Prime Video Fantasy Movies You Need to Watch