I don’t generally review film and TV here, but I have a problem with Amazon’s Rings of Power: Three Hours of Setup. Three hours in, and I haven’t seen a single Ring of Power. Just four entirely disconnected plot strands going nowhere. Slowly.
Two episodes in to Amazon’s lavish (that is, Developing World Nation budget) Tolkien adaptation, I’m still waiting for some plot. It’s all promises, little progress and no payoff.
It’s the issue of a massive intellectual property in the hands of writers who don’t quite know what to do with it. But the rights are so expensive it has to last seven or eight seasons, which could be as many as 72 episodes.
Set in the Second Age of Tolkien’s Middle Earth, Amazon bought the broad outlines of a bunch of events and character names culled from the Appendices of Lord of the Rings. Unlike LotR itself, there’s no text to adapt.
Not There or Back Again
The first problem is starting the story in the right place. The first eight minutes contain slabs of voice-over, exposition, flashback and captioning of locations. Did this not set off alarm bells at the Amazon offices?
There’s a gritty battle sequence, a glimpse of Big Bad Sauron, Galadriel’s childhood, some Elf politics and then we’re off touring Middle Earth courtesy of the classic map with some dotted-line routes drawn on it. Beside’s Galadriel, nobody but hardcore fans will know who anyone is. Despite the exposition.
The show-runners have alighted on Galadriel (Morfydd Clark) as the main protagonist and Clark is very good as an Elven Joan of Arc action heroine. But we’re also flitting between the posh Elves with some elaborate 80’s hair-do’s, Half-foots (Oirish Traveller Hobbits, so it is), Men (scruffy Northern Medieval peasants in distress) and robustly Scottish Dwarves with huge noses and a lot of hair.
Did I mention the huge slabs of Basil Exposition in the Voiceover?
There’s way too much telling, not enough showing. I’m not sure why its showing me what it’s showing me. It’s a random collection of Stuff Happening. For three hours.
Wheel of Time took it’s, er, time, but at least it showed me instead of telling me and got into some story early on.
To Be or Not To Be
The second problem is the dialogue is terrible. None of it sounds like ‘real’ people. All the posh elves come from public school or drama school. Specifically, the school play, written by the pretentious drama teacher trying to do ‘worthy’ timeless mythology. Much of it ends up as over-blown twaddle. Edited down it’s more Middle Grade than Middle Earth. Tolkien’s prose may be wordy, but his dialogue is sharp. And there’s far too much Maid-and-Butler exposition.
Epic with a capital E
The third problem is tone. We’re reminded this is high-concept, epic fantasy (EPIC, I tell you, in CAPITAL LETTERS!) in every scene. This is serious stuff and don’t you forget it. Fate of the World and all that.
And I don’t care.
Tolkien’s Greatest Hits
Elsewhere, Rings of Power has the same issue as the Star Wars prequels/sequels. The show is an expensive tribute act following Peter Jackson’s film trilogy. They’ve borrowed some elements of the look and design (Alan Lee’s architecture, for example). There’s not enough Jackson for the fans but not enough reimagining to make the Amazon show distinctive and unique. Like the Star Wars’ Greatest Hits of Force Awakens, Last Jedi, Han Solo and Rogue One, Rings of Power is Tolkien’s Greatest Hits cobbled together from some Appendices and a few good bits from New Zealand, 2001-2003.
It’s not giving us coherent characters or storytelling, bouncing us around Middle Earth doing sub-par politics and domestic drama. Galadriel’s pointless adventures up mountains and swimming with sea monsters notwithstanding.
Let’s hope it gets better as the series progresses.