tThe Lord of the Rings: The Rings of Power (Prime Video) is likely to be divisive, not least depending on whether you watch it on a big screen TV or watch its splendor on a phone or laptop. It’s so rich and beautiful that it’s easy to spend the first episode simply staring at the landscapes, as it dives and swooshes between the land of elves and dwarves, humans and harfoots. This is a TV made for large screens, although it is certainly meant to be viewed on smaller screens. It’s so cinematic and grand that House of the Dragon looks like it was cobbled together in Minecraft.
This makes it difficult to rate The Rings of Power as a regular series because there is so much to it that is special. It’s Tolkien, which means this world is already revered and loved by so many, be it the books, Peter Jackson’s movies, or both. There is an extraordinary weight of expectation before a viewer presses play. Add to that the fact that this is reportedly the most expensive TV series ever made – $465 million for eight episodes – and it’s hard to think of this as just another show. It’s an event, a spectacle, but if it’s not quite perfect, is it a failure?
The opening 10 minutes of the opening episode set a fantastically busy, robust pace and tone. It begins calmly and beautifully, with a very young Galadriel sailing on a paper ship in “the immortal lands” of Valinor. Then it puts its foot down firmly, racing through centuries of history and war and, crucially, the overthrow of the dark lord Morgoth. I’m usually wary of having to read introductions before starting a new series – it should stand on its own – but here it’s probably helpful to do a little homework.
By the time it settles into the twilight of the Second Age, Galadriel (Morfydd Clark) is the commander of the northern armies, the Warrior of the Wastelands, who is still on the hunt for Morgoth’s Lieutenant Sauron, centuries after most elves believe he is defeated.
I like Galadriel the fighter. She is brave, flawed and haughty, as bloody as it is brilliant, scarred by the horrors of war. If that doesn’t sound fun, wait until you see what she does to a snow troll.
When the elves bring the intensity, there is plenty of earthly light and joy in the harfoots, Tolkien’s predecessors to the hobbits, as they prepare for their seasonal migration. The young harfoots forage for berries and frolic in the mud, their elders (including Lenny Henry) on hand to explain how everything fits together, through a not unwelcome exposé about who lives where and what land they protect. The opening episode also introduces us to the Southlands, where elves and humans coexist uncomfortably amid decades of resentment in the aftermath of the war.