Review: the Rings of Power Premiere Episodes
Updated: Feb 7
After the shocking disappointment of The Hobbit trilogy, I kept my expectations for The Lord of the Rings: the Rings of Power from Amazon Prime Video as low as possible. Yet after watching both episodes of the premiere multiple times, I am pleased with how the production team tried to learn from criticisms of the previously-mentioned installment and its beloved predecessor. Unlike the chortling goblins of The Hobbit, these orcs terrify me in all the right ways. While the first glimpses at Rings of Power show a need for improvement, much of the backlash that forced Amazon to remove its own customer reviews from the site appears to have a basis in anxieties about race and gender—especially among fans of Tolkien. Despite the oliphaunt in the room named Jeffrey Bezos, Rings of Power now holds a place within an expansive cannon.
One Corporation to Rule Them All
Throughout the works of J. R. R. Tolkien and his vision of Middle Earth, we encounter themes of environmental destruction and ethnic conflict driven by dark industrial forces, as well as a nostalgic—if not problematic—longing for an antemodern world. Tolkien imbued his books with regret about the World Wars and their sinister relationship to imperialism and capitalist society. Much more needs to be written about these subjects, and perhaps I will expand more with research on these points in another entry. Bezos himself fits into this imaginary universe like a shiny white dragon sitting on a stolen hoard of wealth. Rings of Power owes its characters and gorgeous cinematography to the artists and many other workers who made it happen, but the corporate influence of Amazon and its deep pockets remains apparent in the high quality of the production. Whether a monopolistic corporation has the ability to produce an artful representation of a cherished body of literature remains to be seen.
Girls to the front
Galadriel the Elf is without question the main character so far, portrayed by Morfydd Clark; however, the series also features Harfoots (ancestral Hobbits) like Nori Brandyfoot (Marcella Kavenagh) and Malva (Thusitha Jayasundera), as well as the dwarf Princess Disa (Sophia Nomvete). Furthermore, the producers hired a diverse cast into prominent roles. The Lord of the Rings films deserve more criticism for their homogeneity, as well as the scarce and one-dimensional portrayal of female characters like Arwen, Éowyn, and Galadriel. Considering the presence of Harvey Weinstein behind that production, perhaps we should not be surprised. Writing this story around a fierce and cunning female lead seems like a proper choice to help make up for past mistakes, but the strong backlash it has received reveals that misogyny and prejudice run deep in many of those attracted to the works of Tolkien. As a Pagan, I see a connection to the many white supremacists who attempt to rewrite ancient history and mythology to fit their own fictional conception of past societies. Amazon deserves credit for tearing open this conservation.
Areas for growth
With only two hours of content and five seasons to work through, I expect Rings of Power to bring many more surprises and sparks of controversy. Although in some ways it manages to improve on the trilogies, it does show a few concerning signs. In comparison to the numerous memorable lines from The Lord of the Rings, this dialogue lacks the same inspiration. Of all the characters, the animatronic performance of Benjamin Walker as High King Gil-galad brings down the scenes he appears in. Also, the series begs viewers to connect it back with the films by making references to them throughout. Some of the scenes feel a bit hasty at times, but I remember having similar thoughts about the trilogies on the first several viewings.
By the end of this season, we all should have a more complete view to excoriate. Until then, I’m satisfied but skeptical. Feel free to share your own thoughts in the comment section! If you want to receive more updates like this in the future, sign up for my email list below.