Amazon Studios' most-expensive TV series ever certainly looks the part - but does it live up to the dramatically high expectations its set itself?
Based on 'The Lord of the Rings' and Appendices by J.R.R. Tolkien, 'The Lord of the Rings: The Rings of Power' brings to screens for the very first time the heroic legends of the fabled Second Age of Middle-earth's history. Set thousands of years before the events of 'The Hobbit' and 'The Lord of the Rings', the series introduces us to a Middle-earth that sure, has suffered greatly already, but doesn't know that the worst is yet to come. We meet the expansive cast of characters during a time of relative peace, years before darkness truly engulfed the land.
Initially, there are three main storylines kicking off the series, which eventually branch off into their own sub-plots, and each of which bears a strikingly different tone and matter of urgency. The first is Galadriel (Morfydd Clark), essentially the central character of the series, who embarks on a perilous journey following the death of her brother at the hands of Sauron. A powerful combatant clouded by her own determination, it gives viewers a vastly different look at the character, once played by Cate Blanchett in Peter Jackson's trilogy. This younger version of the character is fearless and goes against the Elven grain, unlike all of her fellow brothers and sisters. It's a meatier version and one that will shut up those naysayers that have no time for female leads in 'LOTR' lore.
Once the main storyline has been taken care of, it's time to whisk us off to a more innocent, fun and all-around heartwarming meeting with the series' little people (who we just know are going to steal our icy hearts). The pint-sized Harfoots, led by elder Sadoc Burrows (Lenny Henry) and two young trouble-makers Nori (Markella Kavenagh) and Poppy (Megan Richards), are the Hobbits of this generation, an instantly captivating race with their happy-go-lucky attitude and will for adventure (plus, the replacement of Merry and Pippin is undeniable in our two young characters). The Irish accents, generally speaking, add a dimension to the characters that'll make audiences fall for their innocence, blissfully unaware that there are twigs in their hair or that the outside world might not be as perilous as they're told - or is it?
The third story, which could prove to be the most pressing of all of the plots, follows Silvan Elf (Ismael Cruz Córdova) who becomes invested in the strange happenings in a small town where a single mother Bronwyn (Nazanin Boniadi) and her young boy Theo (Tyroe Muhafidin) reside. There's a mysterious artefact at play here, as well as the introduction of the very first Orc of the series - a scene that is alien or body horror-like in its execution. Separately, all three plots could carry their own 'LOTR' series, but woven together, they made for fantastical viewing - and watch out for plenty of easter eggs and nostalgia along the way.
As you might ask, being one of the most expensive TV series ever made, does the big-budget VFX and costuming translate onto the screen? The character design and feel of the fantastical creatures that crossed our path during the first two episodes (especially the snow troll in episode one) were so detailed that you'd be forgiven for thinking it was a theatrical release you were watching. Similarly, the backdrops and moving environments are luscious and vibrant, putting any other rival TV series to shame. All of the stops have been pulled out, and it's a blessing to see.
Weirdly enough, the only part of the VFX that isn't all that believable are the moments when two characters of different statures share the screen together - something that the original 'Lord of the Rings' series managed to work around by using clever camera trickery.
We've only just caught a glimpse of what's to come next in the world inspired by Tolkien, and yes, we're excited to see how this five-season plan of Amazon Studios turns out.
Set in a world bursting with lore, all about putting our differences aside and working together against one true evil, it's clear that a lot of love and care has been taken with 'The Lord of the Rings: The Rings of Power' in order to deliver this first series - hey ho, (hopefully) we've got many miles to go.