Elves are Boring
The Lord of the Rings: The Rings of Power: Season 1 Premiere
There is no doubt that Peter Jackson pulled off something special with his Lord of the Rings trilogy. Hollywood had tried, and struggled to find ways to adapt Tolkien's Middle-earthCreated by J.R.R Tolkein, Middle-earth is the setting for the author's big sagas, featuring the characters of hobbits, dwarves, elves, and men. works, and while there was one halfway decent The Hobbit, you could tell the studios struggled to really get a grasp of the material. It make sense why considering those books are tomes, massive volumes with a ton of material that all feels essential to the story (the occasional Tom Bombadil notwithstanding). The books might not have been unfilmable but it would have required the right studio with faith in the right creator to get it done.
Jackson, of course, pulled it off, crafting three great films -- The Fellowship of the Ring, The Two Towers, The Return of the King -- from Tolkien's works. Since that time, though, it does feel like the studio system has struggled to crack that formula again. Guillermo Del Toro might have done it, but he was ejected from his adaptation of The Hobbit, with Jackson begrudgingly stepping back in to deliver three mediocre films instead: An Unexpected Journey, The Desolation of Smaug, The Battle of the Five Armies. EA didn't fare much better with their line of bland games. It's been hard to care about Middle-earth in a long time.
There has been a glimmer of hope with Amazon PrimeWhile Netflix might be the largest streaming seervice right now, other major contenders have come into the game. One of the biggest, and best funded, is Amazon Prime, the streaming-service add-on packing with free delivery and all kinds of other perks Amazon gives its members. And, with the backing of its corporate parent, this streaming service very well could become the market leader. making moves to try and give us something to match the grandeur of Jackson's original three films. They certainly spent enough money to do it, with $250 Mil spent to get the TV rights from the Tolkien estate, with a promise of a five season deal, followed by a reported $450 Mil spent on just the first season alone. This series is going to cost Amazon at least $1 Bil making it (right now, at least) the most expensive television series ever made. Fans, understandably, have been stoked, and Amazon has kept them primed, releasing teasing trailer after trailer to show off the world. Everything looks beautiful but the question is, has Amazon put together a show that's actually worth all the money and hype.
After watching the two-episode premiere that just came out, I'm still wondering if Amazon has a good answer for that question. There is no doubt that the series looks every bit as beautiful as the trailed depicted. This series has cost close to $500 Mil to film and produce so far and it does feel like every dollar of that money is on screen. There aren't really any stars in this production; all of the money is in the sets and the costumes, props and effects. It looks fantastic. The story at the core, though, feels a little thin for a big, five season plan.
The series focuses on a few different storylines, but the lead at the center of it all is Galadriel (Morfydd Clark). Set thousands of years before The Lord of the Rings, The Rings of Power picks up with Galadriel after the first great war against the darkness. The elves, having won the war, think that peace has finally settled on Middle-earth, but Galadriel has her doubts. She follows the trail left by the orcs, finding marks of the Dark One, suspecting they might be amassing their power for another run. However, her superiors (and even those under her command) disagree, and Galadriel is dragged back home to be put on a ship and sent across the ocean to the afterlife. Needless to say she is none to happy about this.
While Galadriel sails off to the sunset, others follow their own path. Elrond makes connections with the dwarves, specifically his old friend Durin (Owain Arthur), to talk about a treaty with the elves. The humans, meanwhile, having issues with orcs slowly invading their towns, digging into their villages from below. And then there's the hobbits... I mean "harfoots", living in the woods in idyllic peace. Except one harfoot, Nori Brandyfoot (Markella Kavenagh), follows the path of a fallen star and discovers a mysterious man in the burning ground. He has no memory and doesn't speak the language, but his arrival send Nori's searching for answers.
There are things the series gets right, and things that it gets wrong, but at least when it comes to the scope of matching Jackson's films the TV series gets pretty close. Unlike Jackson's Hobbit films there's a real sense of place and, well, reality to this episodes. Jackson went too hard on CGI and fakery for his prequel trilogy and it left those films feeling like half-baked cartoons. They couldn't match the presence of his earlier works (in part because his heart just wasn't in it). Not so for this series which has cost Amazon almost a Billion bucks and looks it. This world feel real, not something created on a computer. Their reality feels magical and it just works.
Unfortunately, aside from nailing the look of Middle-earth there really isn't a lot here to really grab onto from the series. In part that's because the show is centered, for large swaths so far, on Galadriel, and there are issues with that. To start, Galadriel is a character we know. She shows up, as a background character, in both of Jackson's trilogies so, whatever else happens to her here we know she's going to survive every danger she encounters. It hards to worry about her fate when, for instance, she's in the ocean and attached by a leviathan when we know she'll survive it. So far the series hasn't really come up with a way to add spice to her character's arc.
Beyond that, though, let's be honest: elves are boring. They're very pretty, yes, but also very stodgy. They live for thousands of years, in their forests, aging as slowly as the trees they protect, and their storylines move just as slowly. It's hard to get excited for any of their storylines or machinations when everything they do happens at a snail's pace. The best elven storylines in Jackson's works happened when the elves had to mix with other people. We don't see Elrond meet up with Durin until mid-way into the second episode and there's a lot of setup before we can get there. His story does pick up once he has to hang with the dwarves, and there's hope that will continue. Anytime the elves are on their own, though, damn is it boring.
The dwarves are great, though. Lively and energetic and we need more of them. We also need more of Nori and the harfoots. Whoever Nori finds in the crater (it's Sauron, more than likely) isn't really all that interesting yet, but she's a spicy lass with a lot of energy on her own. Her people are interesting, too, and I like having this new perspective on the hobbits to give us something fresh and interesting to watch. It's thousands of years before the Shire and the journeys that start from Bag End. At least one culture here seems to actually be different in the distant past and that means we'll get interesting new tales with them. If only the rest of the world felt that different.
Amazon has a five year plan for this show with a grand, epic tale plotted for it. I hope that epic story shows up soon because, so far, we have two episodes without a lot of big action or story moves to show for it. The series looks great, and that's a drum everyone is going to beat time and again. I just worry that by setting up a five season arc Amazon hasn't taken a threadbare story and stretched far beyond what it can handle. Jackson did that with The Hobbit so it wouldn't be unexpected for it to happen here, too. Studios know fans will eat up Middle-earth tales time and again; the fan base is there. For anyone looking for a fun and lively story, though, you might wanna wait until a few more episodes are out before diving in. Right now there just isn't enough going on in Middle-earth to make the journey worth taking.