The Lord Of The Rings: The Rings Of Power
Amazon Prime Video
Welcome to the age of blockbuster television.
HBO has its expensive Game Of Thrones (2011 to 2019) prequel, House Of The Dragon, while Amazon Prime Video has this epic fantasy series, a big-budget prestige product that rides on the global success of The Lord Of The Rings movies (2001 to 2003).
If you were ever tempted to join the Amazon Prime Video free trial, now is the time to act, or perhaps wait a few weeks so there is more to binge.
Here are three reasons to watch The Rings Of Power:
1. Well-made comfort viewing
Despite the show’s TV-14 rating in the United States – which means it is unsuitable for those under 14 years old – it has so far delivered a tone that leans more to the kid-friendly The Chronicles Of Narnia (2005 to 2010) or The Hobbit films (2012 to 2014), rather than HBO’s fantasy for grown-ups, House Of The Dragon.
If there is a finish line, the leisurely pacing of The Rings Of Power’s first two episodes shows that the producers are in no hurry to get there. The finish line, by the way, has not been specified. The story is only loosely inspired by the places and characters created by author J.R.R. Tolkien, so its writers can draw it out for as many seasons as they like, or for as long as the Tolkien estate will let them.
Two episodes in, and it has been mostly a tease. Those in a hurry to get the show to crystallise around a single quest, adventure or hero will be disappointed.
In tone, it is shaping up to be the gentle, feel-good contrast to the nastier, more violent and faster-paced House Of The Dragon. They make a good pairing. Watch one blood-drenched Dragon, then follow up with one enchantment-cloaked Ring for balance.
2. The scene-setting has been top-notch
The first episode opens with a narration that sets up the world of the Second Age, which occurs 3,000 years before the Third Age events of The Lord Of The Rings trilogy. Here is Valinor, or the Undying Lands, shown briefly as the place where immortal elves lived blissfully until the jealous demigod Morgoth and his aide-de-camp, the sorcerer Sauron, create a catastrophe.
In the war that follows, the elves chase Sauron eastwards across the sea, landing on the continent of Middle-earth. There, the elf Galadriel (Morfydd Clark) rises through the ranks as a warrior. More Middle-earthers enter the picture, including the nomadic hobbits of the Harfoot sub-race, as well as the wealthy, technology-driven dwarves. Humans are poor farmers, haunted by their past as a race who fought on Sauron’s side.
The show’s slow building of Tolkien’s world is good, but not perfect. The comedic bumbling of the Harfoot hobbits gets old fast and the humans had better do more than scowl and mutter darkly.
3. High-quality set design and visual effects
The benchmark to beat for expensive fantasy shows was set by Game Of Thrones. With its massive set-piece battles, creature effects such as human giants and dragons, and locations that ranged from Castle Black in the frozen North to the heaving seas around the Iron Islands, HBO spent millions of dollars an episode and made other fantasy series look like poor cousins.
The Rings Of Power looks ready to match or even surpass the standard set by Thrones. Its visual effects and computer-generated monsters are of cinema quality. In the props and practical effects department, it does not look like it has skimped on the craftsmanship of the armour, swords and shields.
In two episodes, viewers have been taken to the elf homeland of Valinor; the forests and glades of Middle-earth, where the hobbits and humans live; the raging waters of the Sundering Seas; and the underground kingdom of the dwarves and the city of the elves, Lindon. And the elves have fought a troll in an ice cave.
So far, the show is living up to its promise of going where no The Lord Of The Rings movie has gone before.