Amazon’s Rings of Power demonstrates the trouble with prequels like no other. When the outcomes and consequences don’t matter, how do you make the audience care?
The outcomes of Rings of Power are pre-determined; Sauron will return and so will the king; rings will be forged and destroyed. Key characters have to survive to the end. The writers have to craft stories within the canon of Tolkien’s lore that engage an audience.
Depart from canon and the fans dedicated to The Lord of the Rings cry foul. Change recurring characters to fit a new narrative, the fans shout louder still. Fail to create a meaningful story arc and the new audience shrugs ‘so what?’
Tell Me Why
Prequels exist for two reasons;
- to explore and explain events or characters from the existing property
- more cynically, give the audience more of the same in an attempt to wring more cash out of that existing property.
While it’s possible to do both, the current crop is struggling.
Writers try to serve up more of what the audiences loved the first time around. There’s nothing wrong with that if the characters and stories are crafted with care. Unfortunately, what we’re getting is a parade of Greatest Hits. Empty, unoriginal Jukebox Musicals serve up poor covers of songs by original artists who were fresh and inventive in their day.
Into the Bear Pit
Rings of Power finds itself in a tight corner. Drawing on Tolkien lore, it has to go back to the Second Age to find the next biggest conflict in Middle Earth featuring Big-bad Sauron. We know Galadriel, Elrond and the wizards were around at the time for the big war. Trouble is, we know how it ends. Everything else is incidental. So it’s down to the characters to draw us in.
Unfortunately we have Galadriel as a grumpy, insufferable, implausible Joan of Arc, and the prat-version of Elrond. Meteor-man, or Catweazel, is either Gandalf or Saruman on an amnesiac identity search. All of the new characters are angsty, whiny, cliches.
‘…but landscapes! Orcs! Trolls! Wargs! White cities! Seeing stones! Elves!’
No. You’re doing Tolkien’s Greatest Hits. Badly.
Good actors are poorly served by scripts that don’t add up to coherent plots that don’t engage enough to make us care. Especially when every character indulges in serially bad, stupid and downright dumb decisions just to engineer the next cliff-hanger.
Holding a Candle
If you don’t know the Peter Jackson movies, you don’t care that the new actors can’t hold a candle to Blanchett, Weaving and McKellen, you’re looking at the quality or the writing and character. The elves are already hundreds of years old, yet they behave like naive adolescents. The dwarves are dour and Scottish. The humans are shifty and deceitful. There’s not an attractive character amongst the lot of them. And the Harfoots are irrelevant.
House of the Dragon, by contrast, isn’t tied to existing characters. Two hundred years prior, it’s playing out a classic merry-go-round Game of Thrones in a medieval-history-stylee. With dragons. The ensemble cast may not have a Tyrion Lannister, but we do have Matt Smith’s blonde Richard III and Millie Alcock’s young Catherine de Medici. Olivia Cook, Rhys Ifans and Paddy Considine have decent material to deliver, unencumbered by expectations. It may not be your thing, but it is its own thing.
Disney and Amazon may be throwing truckloads of money at their prequels, but all we know the reasons why.