Ears, Pointy, Two

by wjw on September 14, 2022

I’ve watched three episodes (all there is, so far) of Amazon’s billion-dollar Tolkien fanfic, Rings of Power, and I find my reactions mixed.

Public reaction so far has featured complaints that the series isn’t faithful enough to the source, but that complaint doesn’t have any weight with me. The filmmakers didn’t have the rights to the AkallabĂȘth, and had to settle for the appendices to LOTR as a source. Drama is different than written narrative, and will inevitably take shortcuts, combine minor characters into a single figure, and shift the emphasis from contemplation towards action. Nothing wrong with any of that. Wake up and smell the greasepaint! If you want to make a more faithful adaptation, raise a billion dollars and do it yourself.

More complaints concern the skin tones of some of the actors. My, aren’t the racists a bunch of whiny snowflakes! The sight of a black face amid the elves sends them to their fainting couches. I hope they fucking stay there.

Nor do I care that Galadriel is a young, driven warrior rather than a sage queen. Everyone’s gotta start somewhere, and so does a teleplay. Galadriel is the most interesting character in the series so far, so let’s start with her.

My first reaction was how incredibly beautiful this series is. A lot of fantasy series— not naming names, here— are set in murky, ill-lit places partly to set a mood, but also to hide substandard CGI. Rings of Power sets its story in brilliant sunlight that picks out bright detail in the fantasy landscape. The CGI was stunning. It’s a seductive realm, and I found myself ready to be seduced by it.

Except I wasn’t. The second episode featured mainly pointless action, including a rock-breaking contest between Durin and Elrond that was merely silly. I couldn’t be brought to care about a conflict so artificial and so imposed on the characters— you’d think elven and dwarven royalty would have other things to think about than maintaining a twenty-year snit. In the same episode Galadriel found herself in peril on the sea, but to anyone who knows anything about small boats or the behavior of oceans the action was ridiculous.

Episode three picked up the story again, with Galadriel arriving in Numenor, and Sauron’s plot beginning to reveal itself in Middle-Earth.

The problem is that I was not really engaged by any of this. I was unable to care about any of the characters (with the possible exception of some of the hobbits), I think because their concerns were both remote and so common in fantasy as to be hackneyed. We’ve seen it all before: forbidden love between humans and elves, an obsessive desire for revenge on the part of a heroine, royalty conspiring and murdering, orcs being nasty, hobbits playing pranks and breaking the rules. The series’ incredible beauty frames action that is banal. The actors are all accomplished and do their best with dialog at once pompous and cliche, but they can’t quite save it.

The series may pick up once the major characters start encountering one another and maybe build a Fellowship, but since the series is intended to run five seasons that may not be for some time.

I’ll stick with it, for now.

Clyde September 14, 2022 at 6:01 am

There seem to be lots of mixed feelings about RoP. I haven’t started it yet.
I think I will avoid the early episode blues by waiting until the full season has dropped and then binging it.

mearsk September 14, 2022 at 9:54 am

I’ve been enjoying it. Good production values, some generic fantasy action, some generic fantasy adventuring. I never read anything beyond LotR so I’m not really invested in the written story, such as it is.

John Appel September 14, 2022 at 10:21 pm

I’ve also been enjoying it with similar caveats. I do hope they give Morfydd Clark (Galadriel) some meatier writing; she seems a fine actor and hopefully they can give her some range.

The thing that struck me about the depiction of Numenor is how much it evoked an ancient Mediterranean feel, like Crete or Tyre at the height of their glory. I also appreciate that the set designers make excellent use of color there, rather than the austere white-on-white of neoclassicism in favor of what we now know to be the reality, that ancient peoples love color as we do. (Interior designers of the 2010s and their abhorrent love of gray excepted.)

Privateiron September 15, 2022 at 4:39 am

The spent 1 BILLION DOLLARS to produce “some generic fantasy action” from one of the most beloved works of fiction in modern times.

And if you don’t have the rights to make a proper adaptation of a story, maybe that’s an argument to not make the adaptation. And if you have, may I mention it again, 1 Billion Dollars to throw around, I think you are honor bound to get a real script that is good from the start, regardless of how faithful it is to the source.

Galadriel is hundreds of years old at the start of the Second Age, her growing pains should be well in the rear mirror by now.

mearsk September 15, 2022 at 11:14 am

I’m not sure they could do an adaptation that would make the hard-core Tolkien fans happy. It’s a common problem when running up against how people imagined it themselves and them not being able to handle someone else’s interpretation. I mean, I have my own mental images of Martinez and Sula and they probably don’t match what a production company would come up with if they decided to make a Praxis TV show.

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