SAN DIEGO (AFP) - Nomadic hobbits, bearded female dwarves and enslaved elves - Amazon finally lifted the lid on its highly anticipated Lord Of The Rings: The Rings Of Power TV series at Comic-Con on Friday (July 22).
The enormously ambitious small-screen saga set in the world of JRR Tolkien's books has been in the works since Amazon Prime bought the rights for US$250 million almost five years ago.
Fans, many of whom camped in line overnight at the world's most famous pop culture gathering, were treated to a first look at footage, plus interviews with the creators and 21-strong cast of hobbits, elves and dwarves in a 90-minute presentation hosted by Stephen Colbert.
"As fans and as viewers and lovers of Middle Earth and Tolkien, we didn't want to do a side thing, or a spin off, or the origin story of something else," said co-creator Patrick McKay.
"We wanted to find a huge Tolkienian mega epic. And Amazon were, wonderfully, crazy enough to say 'yes, let's do that'."
Amazon is reportedly spending more than US$1 billion (S41.4 billion) to make five seasons - each running for 10 hours - the first of which launches on its streaming platform Sept 2, and which "reintroduces" Tolkien's world of Middle Earth, said McKay.
A younger version of elves Galadriel and Elrond - characters familiar to fans of Peter Jackson's Oscar-winning Lord Of The Rings trilogy - will be played by Morfydd Clark and Robert Aramayo.
But with the new TV show set 4,000 years before Jackson's trilogy, in a fictional "Second Age" - a historical period sketched out in less detail by Tolkien's writings - the creators had licence to create many new characters.
"The field was wide open," said co-creator JD Payne.
"Amazon bought the rights to basically 10,000 years of Middle Earth history and said, 'Alright guys, let's take all comers and see what you have to say.'
"We felt that the Second Age is freaking awesome. It's Tolkien's amazing, untold story, that is so iconic with the forging of the Rings of Power."
The series is said to be a personal obsession of Amazon founder Jeff Bezos, and represents the company's biggest play yet in the so-called "streaming wars" with rivals including Netflix and Disney+.
Much of that cost went into lavish production values, evident to fans packed into the San Diego convention center's 6,000-capacity Hall H, where they were treated to five clips from the show, plus a new trailer.
Though plot details remain under wraps, sprawling and intricately detailed settings from the books, including the island kingdom of Numenor - projected onto a giant screen wrapping around-three quarters of the arena - drew audible gasps.
"We built as much as any group of humans could," said executive producer Lindsey Weber.
"We built an entire city with several blocks and an entire wharf - it's crazy and enormous," said McKay.
One clip introduced a group of Harfoots, nomadic ancestors to the hobbits of Lord Of The Rings, who live in travelling carts rather than holes.
Another showed a wealthy dwarf kingdom - complete with the saga's first bearded female dwarves - and a third clip found a group of elves in chains, forced to work for a gang of evil orcs.
The series is set to go head-to-head with HBO's Game Of Thrones spin-off House Of The Dragon, which will be unveiled to the same packed venue Saturday at Comic-Con.
The pop culture gathering is taking place in-person and at full capacity again for the first time in three years, after going online due to the pandemic .
Disney will wrap up the event's major presentations Saturday evening with a presentation expected to feature its Marvel superheroes, including eagerly awaited sequel Black Panther: Wakanda Forever.