Ricky Church reviews the premiere episode of The Lord of the Rings: The Rings of Power…
After years of development and build-up, Amazon Studios’ The Lord of the Rings prequel series The Rings of Power has finally arrived. The series – which already became one of the most expensive productions before filming began and is greenlit for a second season – is ambitious in its scope from showrunners J.D. Payne and Patrick McKay with J.A. Bayona directing the pilot and second episode. Fortunately, the pilot episode ‘A Shadow of the Past’ delivers a fairly solid return to Middle-earth and its ambition with spectacular visuals and a strong cast even if the pacing doesn’t quite keep up at certain scenes.
Taking place thousands of years before Lord of the Rings, The Rings of Power follows an ensemble of characters across Middle-earth, but the central figure is Galadriel, an Elvish warrior on the hunt for Sauron, the lieutenant of the recently defeated dark lord Morgoth, to avenge her brother and make sure Middle-earth is safe once and for all. Even as her concerns are waved aside and the other races try living in peace, evil is once again stirring.
The first thing to be said of the series is how the visuals are grand in their scope. Much like Peter Jackson’s legendary trilogy, The Rings of Power is a visual treat with a stunning use of practical sets and locations. From the Elvin city of Lindon to the Harfoot village, every single shot is beautiful with the blend of special effects and real sets along with gorgeously designed costumes. The painstaking effort Amazon, Payne, McKay and Bayona put into making The Rings of Power have the epic feel J.R.R. Tolkien intended is well on display throughout the pilot.
Much of the cast is equally great with Morfydd Clark stealing the show as a young Galadriel. Clark’s Galadriel is far removed from the wise, compassionate and powerful Elvin leader most viewers will know her as from either Tolkien’s book or Jackson’s trilogy. Here Galadriel’s warrior side is explored as she is obsessed with tracking down Sauron to the point of alienating other Elves.
Describing her as power hungry or bloodthirsty wouldn’t quite be accurate, but the darker side of Galadriel Tolkien often hinted at is there just barely bubbling under the surface in her zealous quest to end Sauron. Clark embodies the turmoil within Galadriel and balances the shifting aspects of her character quite well, delivering a strong presence in any scene she’s in.
Another character who stands out is Robert Aramayo’s Elrond who, like Galadriel, is near polar-opposite of his older self. Where LOTR-era Elrond is more judgmental of outside help and a realist (if not an outright skeptic), his younger self is an idealist and an all round pleasant Elf. He sees the beauty in Middle-earth and has vast ideas on what he wants to build and create, including how to lead the Elves as Galadriel comments on how much of a politician he’s become. Aramayo displays Elrond’s optimism nicely while showing some of the inner conflict within himself as he’s unsure of how to help Galadriel and the Elvin race forward, seeing both objectives as mutually exclusive.
The rest of the cast does well in their performances. Markella Kavenagh is fairly fun as Nori Brandyfoot, an early Hobbit-like people called Harfoots, as she yearns to see more of Middle-earth and the other races instead of hiding out in forests and fields. Kavenagh gives Nori an innocence and charisma that makes the character an easy one to root for while Ismael Cruz Córdova and Nazanin Boniadi’s Elvin Arondir and human Bronwyn respectively don’t share a whole lot of time together in the episode, making it a little harder to buy into their romantic relationship, yet they still give solid performances on their own and show potential in their chemistry.
The writing retains Tolkien’s flair for dramatic dialogue right from the start of Galadriel’s narration to her line a few minutes later that “This place is so evil our torches give off no warmth.” It certainly fits though with the fantastical scope of the series and gives each race a distinct way they sound, from the Elves’ almost Shakespearian way of speaking to the Harfoots’ fast-talking and use of slang.
One area the writing and direction could have been improved, however, is in the pacing as some characters and storylines didn’t move as quickly as others or were not interesting enough by wanting to see someone like Galadriel and Elrond more than any other. The character driven aspect of ‘A Shadow of the Past’ is in keeping with both Tolkien’s style and how the film trilogy focused on the characters and their friendships, but some parts could have flowed better so it all felt seamless.
That said, the way the series transitioned between characters and locations by showing the map of then-Middle-earth and pulling in on their location was a very nice move. It gave audiences a sense of Middle-earth’s scope and was a good indicator a new character was going to be the focus. It also didn’t overdo this technique, trusting the audience would understand and accept it instead of doing it for every single location change.
Bear McCreary’s music is well suited for the show as he composes some great pieces reminiscent of Howard Shore’s classic trilogy scores. Tying it back into the pilot’s visuals, the cinematography is fantastic and adds to the beauty of the show while the editing, particularly during the few action scenes, made a very easy to follow narrative. It is only the speed in which the story moves along that slightly hampers the episode.
The Lord of the Rings: The Rings of Power’s ‘A Shadow of the Past’ is a nice reintroduction to Middle-earth for old and new fans alike. Fans of Tolkien should be happy with how much the show sticks to the lore, even with some changes here and there to appeal to a larger audience. The cast is great and the beginning to this part of Middle-earth’s history is intriguing. If more focus can be placed on the pacing in the rest of the series, The Rings of Power will make a nice addition to Tolkien’s extensive world.
Ricky Church – Follow me on Twitter for more movie news and nerd talk.