By Wendy Knowleton
12 September 2022
Peter Jackson’s Lord of the Rings trilogy was a towering achievement, but Amazon Prime’s The Rings of Power is perhaps more ambitious still. Drawing on Tolkien’s appendices for inspiration, the creators of Season 1 of this series take the audience back 3000 years from the destruction of the One Ring and journey through and beyond Middle Earth to the Sundering Seas, the island city of Numenor and the threshold of the Undying Lands. The scope is extraordinary, and the detail and mythology almost exhausting. But for devotees of such a world, the prospect of delving into the conflicts and corruptions that allowed Sauron’s rise to power and the forging of the Ring will be irresistible.
The experience is immersive and visually stunning. The design and cinematography, the New Zealand locations and the special effects combine to produce the nature-inspired beauty of the High Elves’ city of Lindon, the Somme-like desolation of territory ravaged by orcs and the glittering glory of the Dwarves’ realm of Khazad-Dum. Arrogant Numenorians, twisted and grotesque orcs and nomadic twig-crowned Harfoots (so quaint one expects them to burst into Morris dancing at any moment!) are part of a rich world brought to life through casting choices that offer racial and gender diversity.
Despite the time that separate this series and Frodo’s quest, familiar characters bind the two. We meet Elrond (Robert Aramayo), ambitious and political, and Isildur (Maxim Baldry), fated to fail to destroy the Ring when he has the chance. Most memorable is the young Galadriel. Morfydd Clark is superb as this tempestuous warrior who refuses to believe Sauron was obliterated in the War of the First Age and seeks to find and destroy lurking evil. In this Second Age of Middle Earth, Galadriel possesses little of the celestial calm of Cate Blanchett in the films. When gifted passage to the Undying lands after years of travail, she turns her back on the heaven-like realm of Valinor, and chooses to fight on, a driven figure of salvation and sacrifice.
And perhaps there are more familiar characters, not yet recognised. What link might the mysterious Stranger who falls from the stars and is discovered in a circle of flames have to Gandalf and the Ring of Fire that he will wield? Could Sauron, known to be a seducer through deceptions and language, already have appeared? Who is Halbrand, who tells Galadriel that “looks can be deceiving” but fails to provide more information about his origins?
The wealth of detail provided in this epic battle between good and evil, might put off those who lack sufficient familiarity with Tolkien’s world. Purists may object to the many inventions and additions. However, it’s the sort of series where the more you watch, the more you are likely to be absorbed. The audience might know how the story ends, but the journey still has much to reveal.
New episodes of The Rings of Power are released on Amazon Prime each Friday