– Should this be an elf? my wife asked in amazement as the swarthy, short-haired Arondir, one of the apparently key characters in The Lord of the Rings: The Rings of Power series, appeared on the screen.
– Yes. – I answered through my teeth.
A laugh followed from her side. Not exactly the reaction the creators of the most expensive series in history would have liked to get. But the truth is, they deserve much worse.
Like probably many of you, on Friday night we watched the first two episodes of the new Amazon Studios production costing an unprecedented $465 million for its first season alone.
I admit that my initial attitude towards the series was not good. The lack of experience of the two showrunners, some casting decisions and most of all the fact that I am familiar with the work of the great J.R.R. Tolkien, and I realize how difficult it is to tell a full-blooded story with just the Lord of the Rings apps, I was led to keep my expectations low.
The praise in the first overseas reviews put cracks in this artificially created ceiling of expectations and made me question my own doubts. “What if I’m wrong? What if… it turns out to be good?”, I asked myself. The opening scene, inspired by that of Peter Jackson’s trilogy and presenting in the form of a quick montage the world and what is happening in it, also pleasantly surprised me, only to make the disappointment even stronger later.
Today, having already watched the first two episodes in full, I wonder if our office jokes that Jeff Bezos, the chairman of the board of Amazon and perhaps the main culprit behind The Rings of Power, paid off colleagues in the US will turn out to be true. Britain to put in a good word for the half-billion-dollar mockery of Tolkien.
Because The Rings of Power is just that – not an adaptation of Tolkien’s work, but a mockery of it.
I know that colleague Alexander already gave you an objective review of the first two episodes on Friday, and I recommend that you read it, because it very accurately captures some of the problems of the series. However, I will allow myself a lack of objectivity here. Emotion is the driving force, and I realized that with each passing hour of watching The Rings of Power, I became more and more dissatisfied with what I saw.
The most unpleasant thing is the wasted potential that a budget of 465 million dollars cannot help but give. Do you realize what amazing television production we could see if so much money was handed to proven storytellers?
The Rings of Power demonstrates what so much money does when it gets into the hands of the right production designers, costume designers, composers, visual effects specialists. In these respects, the series has a quality and scale worthy not only of a Tolkien adaptation, but of any other good story.
And that’s exactly the sad thing: the good story is gone. The Rings of Power is beautiful, but what about when it’s a boring, scripted failure of adaptation?
The problems with the series as I – a fan of Middle-earth with the first Peter Jackson film, but a devoted reader of every bit of history Tolkien and his son Christopher have given us since – see them, are mainly threefold. .
Let’s start with the peripheral culprits to get to the core.
Elrond wonders if there weren’t better writers for this series.
First of all, The Lord of the Rings: The Rings of Power has casting problems. This must be the biggest thorn in the side of those who already instinctively shout “Political correctness! Woke nonsense!”. It’s the smallest to me, but still noticeable and irritating in its self-servingness.
Tolkien himself divided his world into races quite different from each other than the purely human in our world, but the desire for “racial and ethnic diversity” in the series leads to situations like that of the Puerto Rican elf Arondir, whose visual presence it takes you out of the fantasy world and sends you back into our strange cultural modernity.
The casting director of The Rings of Power seems to have worked according to a color quota – for the hunters one dark-skinned, for the Harfoot two or three, for the dwarves, for the elves…
Casting retards, however, are on a whole other level – and neither diversity nor political correctness has anything to do with it – when talking about elves in general. Tolkien’s elves are more beautiful than humans. In Peter Jackson’s films, special attention was paid to this by casting more gentle, even feminine-looking actors (and even extras!) for the roles.
Beauty was clearly not a factor in the casting of the elves in The Rings of Power, nor was the fact that we were talking about immortal beings taken into consideration.
Among the actors, there are those who look in their 20s, others in their 60s, some approaching the aesthetic standard of what an elf should be, others looking battered by time, stress and bad genes, average people with sharp ears.
Could the actor playing Celebrimbor be some sort of Bezos uncle? Could the playing Gil-Galad be his party mate?
They are both immortal elves. The only explanation could be that one is drinking too much.
Yes, I know – Hugo Weaving, the original screen Elrond, is far from a first-time hottie, which is also reflected by his lovably curvy young version in the series (although we are talking about supposedly independent adaptations). But Elrond has human blood, and with him not being perfect is justified.
There is no point in talking about Arondir at all. And no, it’s not about the actor being Puerto Rican again, it’s about the fact that a theoretically gifted elf with excellent eyesight and hearing can’t sense threats 10 centimeters behind him. But this is script laziness.
Yes, the casting woes pale — you’ll forgive the pun — in comparison to the scripted mockery that showrunners JD Payne and Patrick McKay offer us.
At first it must be admitted that they really didn’t have much to work with. The Lord of the Rings apps they had access to were a very rough skeleton for the Second Age of Middle Earth. Payne and McKay had to fill that skeleton with characters and stories to build something watchable. Any reader of Tolkien should understand it.
But what they do – they ignore even the little they have as guidelines.
People like hobbits, let’s give them proto-hobbits! Yay! We are genius screenwriters!
The first sign of impotence is that they condense millennia of history (although not on such a large scale, Home of the Dragon is currently doing a much better job of showing that some time has passed between one event and another) to gather more interesting events in one place.
Even that is not enough for them and they create new storylines that are largely boring. I realized that all I care about is the story surrounding Galadriel (who shouldn’t be a warrior, but Sasho told you that).
The Rings of Power is heavy on the attempt at what we call “fan service”, but it is not aimed at satisfying the high demands of Tolkien’s (re)readers, but at giving viewers of Peter Jackson’s films something to familiar.
Did you like hobbits? We’ll give you protohobbies! Did you like Arwen swinging a sword (instead of Glorfindel)? No problem, we make Galadriel a female warrior too! Did you like the chemistry between Legolas and Gimli? Here’s to a friendship between an elf and a dwarf! Love between a human man and an elf woman? You have it in a poor man’s version, but we’re reversing the genders so it’s supposed to be different!
And to top it all off – the thing that honestly pissed me off – a “shooting star” and a mystery that could potentially be the biggest tease. McKay and Payne may not have the rights to adapt anything other than the “Lord of…” appendices, but at least they had read Unfinished Lore, which says that certain creatures only appeared in Middle-earth in the Third Age.
Everything described so far is a manifestation of creative impotence, copying of successful models from “The Lord…” and its screen adaptation, and in some places frank insults to Tolkien.
Not to mention the presence of scenes that seem to be devoid of direction and seem like money wasted, or the dialogues, where you feel the desire to sound Tolkienian, but at one point they just bore with their length.
Again, it should be noted that unlike Jackson and his co-writers, McKay and Payne did not have a finished novel to work from, but had to come up with it. They just clearly weren’t the right people for the job.
Jeff Bezos at the premiere of The Rings of Power in Los Angeles. He looks like he doesn’t know what his movie company has created.
And here we come to the root of The Rings of Power’s problems, to the core where we must look for the blame – Amazon Studios. The above problems come from the company that produces this series, that has chosen these showrunners, and that has given the green light for all the things we talk about to come to the screen.
We come to the top of Amazon – Jeff Bezos, who as a fan of Tolkien can’t help but realize that what Payne and McKay have created with his company’s money may be a beautiful series, but it is not a successful adaptation.
I’ll close with a quote from Christopher Tolkien, the aforementioned writer’s son, who spent years collecting, editing, and finishing his father’s unfinished lore for all of us. The words of the now deceased Christopher to the French newspaper Le Monde are from 2012 and refer – surprisingly to many – to the Peter Jackson trilogy, which he did not like and considered an “action film for 15 to 25-year-olds”. Here’s what he says:
“Tolkien has become a monster, consumed by his popularity and absorbed by the absurdity of the times. The gap between the beauty and seriousness of the work and what it has become has gone too far in my opinion. Such a degree of commercialization reduces to nothing the aesthetic and philosophical meaning of this creation. I have only one solution left: to turn my head.”
While I can’t share this opinion of Jackson’s The Lord of Power, which opened the doors to Tolkien’s literature for me, these words resonate strongly in my mind after The Rings of Power.
Your money’s worth, Bezos.