Long before the hobbits Frodo and Bilbo Baggins, long before the time when Aragorn the ranger walked Middle-earth, this fantasy realm created by the writer JRR Tolkien was plagued by a dark evil. The new series The Lord of the Rings: The Rings of Power, the first two episodes of which can be seen on Amazon Prime Video, invites us to these times. Magnificently capturing the spirit of Tolkien’s books.
When, in the first shots of Rings of Power, an elf crumb launches paper boats along sun-drenched rivers, it only takes a few seconds for the viewer to be overwhelmed by impressions. He suspects that the girl with the boat is the future warrior and elven princess Galadriel, well known from the book and film trilogy of The Lord of the Rings. But above all, he knows how much of the history of the fantasy genre rests on the shoulders of the creators who filmed the epic series.
Rings of Power is a case of a work that many had an opinion on before they could see anything of it. The first published photos, and later the first samples, accompanied the great emotions of the fans. And the reactions were often hostile, even hateful. Why?
Tolkien’s saga is the foundation of the fantasy genre. The genre, which for decades was regarded as inferior reading for teenage boys or immature adults. First, his perception was changed by Peter Jackson’s film adaptations of The Lord of the Rings at the turn of the millennium. Thanks to technology, it was possible to film them in the necessary grandeur, and thanks to the director’s enthusiasm, a trilogy was created, which certainly did not always strictly adhere to the original. But she certainly enjoyed universal respect, which was confirmed by the Oscar for the best film in 2003. That’s when fantasy became part of mainstream and official culture.
About a decade later, thanks to the series Game of Thrones, the previously mocked genre has become even more firmly established in the living rooms of most viewers. Behind-the-scenes intrigues in palaces, over which fire-breathing dragons flew, satisfied not only fantasy fans, but also the audience of historical dramas and television soap operas. Today, fantasy is something like football or the quality of beer: everyone has an opinion on it, everyone needs to comment on it.
The Rings of Power series returns to something canonical. For some, the canon is the original books, for others the film versions of Tolkien’s works, for others successful fantasy hits in general.
At the same time, Tolkien himself is perceived as a founding father, but also as a certain curse of the genre. After the success of the book Lord of the Rings, many imitated the elaborate worlds that the writer created for decades. Where there were no elves, goblins and dwarves, it seemed impossible to succeed there.
The series The Lord of the Rings: The Rings of Power can be seen on Amazon Prime Video. | Video: Amazon Prime Video
Many of the great book fantasy sagas of the new millennium, on the other hand, represent an often critical response to Tolkien. He created an extraordinarily complex empire, invented the languages of elves and dwarves, worked out history down to the smallest detail. But just like in the mythological epics he was inspired by, he created a universe fairly clearly divided into good and evil. Heroes are heroes, dwarves are dwarves, and elves are elves.
The author of Game of Thrones himself, the writer George RR Martin, is based on Tolkien, but critically. His sagas are dirtier, more realistic, without great heroes. As he himself summed it up: it is easy to write that “Aragorn then ruled wisely for another hundred years”. But Martin would like to know what taxes he imposed, what he did when the famine came, and what happened to all the goblins.
The rings of power are thus in a tricky position. It is based not on the Lord of the Rings novel trilogy, but on Tolkien’s texts, which were even closer to the ancient myths than his most famous work. The posthumously published Silmarillion, recounting the deeds of the so-called First or Second Age of Middle-earth, is more a chronicle or an ancient epic than a novel.
The filmmakers try to bring these myths – written in soaring sentences and describing events spanning across centuries – to life in the form of the most magnificent fantasy series ever. With a budget of around 715 million dollars, equivalent to 17.6 billion crowns.
The money is immediately visible as soon as the camera flies over the realm of elven smiths in Eregion or as soon as he and the elf Elrond go into the dark recesses of the dwarven kingdom of Khazad-dûm, where waterfalls tumble between corridors full of burning fires.
It is a sad paradox that the most expensive series in history, full of dazzling scenes, speaks to the audience through the screens of televisions, computers or tablets.
The first two episodes of The Rings of Power slowly draw the audience into the times when the dark lord Sauron is waiting for the opportunity to invade the world again. The highest ranking in the realm of the immortal elves believe that the war is over, but the orcs are literally crawling out of their holes, and according to the blonde warrior Galadriel, it is necessary to intervene before it is too late. He even falls out with his people because of it. Other heroes must settle feuds and overcome age-old tensions between the races that inhabit Middle-earth.
Owain Arthur as Dwarf Prince Durin IV. | Photo: Amazon Studios
For the time being, the series reflects Tolkien’s vision of the world quite accurately. Certainly, he does not tell in the general sentences of chroniclers, he builds tension and small heroes that you can fall in love with. Be it Galadriel, who compared to the film Lord of the Rings is definitely more of a fierce warrior than a noble elf princess, or the girl Nori, the so-called hairy foot, who was dropped from the sky at her feet by a burning giant. The member of a race close to the hobbits must now contend with traps whose dimensions are far they go beyond the petty problems of her people. He wants to be holed up in burrows most of the time, and adventure is a dirty word for him.
For now, the Rings of Power successfully mix the magnificence and grandeur of the elven realms with the earthy world of humans, hairy-footed, and dwarven. And they are certainly closer to Tolkien’s works than Peter Jackson’s embarrassing attempt to film the tiny Hobbit in the form of a giant trilogy, which instead of a fairy-tale pilgrimage of one hobbit or a spectacular wandering offered a rather tiresome trudging through postcard shots of the New Zealand landscape.
It’s a world where politics is not played like in Game of Thrones. And also a world where the creators introduce a little of those necessary “Hollywood” stereotypes, already present in Peter Jackson’s films. So the dwarves are not only fierce and rough warriors, but also good guys who hide a Huron laugh under their massive beards.
Whether the series will be a new milestone of the genre, or just a slightly lifeless, albeit honest and trying tribute to the canon, it is still too early to judge. However, from some of the exaggerated reactions of the audience, it almost seems as if the ultimate heresy is not the imaginary lack of artistry of the creators, but rather the fact that several dwarves or elves are dark-skinned. And that instead of hairy-leggeds, there are hairy-leggeds in the main roles. Or that elves are supposed to be nice, while here they are sometimes played by ugly actors. It’s really unfortunate that the creators had to cast human actors in the roles of elves and not otherworldly beautiful beings.
If we need to debate endlessly about where it is possible or appropriate to cast actors other than “white” skin color, let’s cancel any art at all. Otherwise, we will only see absurd skirmishes about whether creatures living underground for thousands of years can be dark.
In a fantasy world created by some local god, it’s quite an uproar. Why didn’t Tolkien himself avoid similar pitfalls and instead write straight away about blind translucent creatures whose skin doesn’t have even an iota of pigment?
The Lord of the Rings: The Rings of Power
Creators: Patrick McKay and JD Payne
The series can be seen on Amazon Prime Video.