Rings of Power Redux

I finished season one of Amazon’s The Rings of Power show adapting material from the appendices to J.R.R. Tolkien’s The Lord of the Rings.[1] I also did two other things since my last post on the show that affect how I view it: I rewatched the Peter Jackson LotR movies and I read (reread) academic historian Bret Devereaux’s posts dissecting the battle of Helm’s Deep and the siege of Gondor. The rewatch raised things a bit, with the show holding up well and benefiting from the careful touches of foreshadowing that are including. Revisiting Jackson’s LotR adaptation lowered things a bit.

My final estimation stayed where my initial estimation landed. Rings of Power is good, not great. It didn’t fall off a cliff like The Wheel of Time or Game of Thrones adaptations. It isn’t remotely as atrocious as Jackson’s Hobbit . . . thing (do not attempt to defend those movies or compare them with the show, as I do not suffer fools). But nor does it rise to the heights of Jackson’s LotR movies or, especially, the source material.

Revisiting Jackson’s LotR adaptation did solidify something that had been oozing around the dark corners of my mind. The basic problem with the show is that Jackson’s movies are its urtext.

All images courtesy of Amazon Prime Video

Jackson’s LotR movies are in many ways a monumental feat. Getting LotR filmed at all was a big deal, let alone in an adaptation that was both good and popular. It ended a decade-long live-action fantasy movie drought. But it hasn’t exactly ushered in a golden age of fantasy on the screen (that remains the 80s). And enjoyment and gratitude don’t prevent pointing out its flaws. Which are many.

My point here isn’t that Jackson’s movies have flaws, it is that Rings of Power is doomed to repeat them. It isn’t going to improve on anything that Jackson screwed up in LotR because it is chasing Jackson’s shadow. Jackson’s work looms too large over the fantasy landscape in the popular imagination now, and Amazon has too much money at stake to be even a little daring. Jackson’s sins leaned heavily toward changing the source material to bring it closer to Hollywood convention, and the last thing nervous executives want is a departure from convention, with its illusion of safety.

Telling a prequel is tough enough (nobody is worried about Isildur). Combined with the above, we aren’t going to get anything daring that moves Rings of Power past Jackson’s vision. The show is necessarily a copy of a copy, and copies always degrade in quality a bit with each subsequent copy.

So the presentation of battlefield tactics and war strategy will be dubious. Geography will be ignored. The land will be curiously empty, even next to cities which must be fed . . . .somehow. Much of the subtlety and magic of Tolkien’s words will slip away. The good characters will be the architects of their own trials (and of everyone else’s). Elves will be more Vulcan and less fey.

Hence the excessive reliance on allusions to the movies (has there been a line lifted from the books that wasn’t in the movies?). A fair amount of criticism of the show amounts to panning it for not hewing closely enough to the movies, but the problem is the inverse.

The show is certainly pretty. (It comfortably exceeds The Wheel of Time but falls short of late-season Game of Thrones.) But the look, too, is tied to Jackson’s vision. This may be the biggest problem of all. It will necessarily be visually boring, something most of its viewers have seen dozens of hours after rewatches of the movies (and a single watch of the Hobbit movies). But the time constraints are tighter no matter how much Amazon spends, so the visuals will always be slightly worse. A copy of a copy always degrades in quality.

So I will keep watching and enjoying the show. And I will give thanks that it didn’t get The Wheel of Time mistreatment. But I weep for what could have been and wonder when we will ever break away from Jackson’s vision to get a fresh (and hopefully more faithful) interpretation of Tolkien.

[1] I originally typed that as “The Lord of the Rights”, which, well, yeah.

About H.P.

Blogs on books at Every Day Should Be Tuesday (speculative fiction) and Hillbilly Highways (country noir and nonfiction). https://everydayshouldbetuesday.wordpress.com/ https://hillbillyhighways.wordpress.com/
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9 Responses to Rings of Power Redux

  1. Bookstooge says:

    Maybe some day I will watch this but that is years down the road. To much old stuff that I still need to watch 🙂

    Liked by 1 person

  2. For a number of reasons, I just couldn’t watch this. Shippey leaving or getting fired definitely soured me on the project from early on, but I was willing to give it a shot right up to the trailers. It looked startlingly “generic fantasy” to me, and the “our hearts as big as our feet” line was so risible that I just couldn’t bear to hear any more clinkers.

    Liked by 3 people

    • H.P. says:

      Jackson veered toward generic fantasy where he didn’t he’s close to Tolkien, so we get just a bit more of that here.

      They try hard for Tolkien-esque language, and it is probably for the best they did, but they managed to sprinkle some real clunkers throughout.


  3. J.J. Adamson says:

    I feel like they spent all their money on the rights and the CGI. Like you said, it looked great, but that hardly matters when I feel like what the characters are saying and doing is preposterous. Not compared to anything else. It wasn’t as bad as the Wheel of Time, where they undercut the entire cosmology in the first few seconds, but I just felt like I was watching them move the plot along and say non-sequiturs. I don’t feel like I wasted my time watching it, like I did with Wheel of Time, but it just wasn’t really a story to me.

    Liked by 1 person

  4. Wakizashi33 says:

    In my opinion, this show is Tolkien in name only. I gave it a fair chance but dropped out halfway through episode 5. I thought the writing, dialogue and most of the performances were poor and the pacing was ponderous. They made the main character unlikeable for some reason, which was bizarre. Was it intentional? I don’t know. Apart from Sauron there was nobody to root for or get invested in. It did look nice though. The best thing about it was it sent me back to the source. I’ve reread the three main books and am working my way through The Unfinished Tales for the first time.

    Liked by 1 person

    • H.P. says:

      I’m looking forward to rereading the main series and finally finishing The Silmarillion. The show has a lot to do with that. I never finished The Unfinished Tales (appropriately enough), but that paperback is no longer for to be handled.

      Liked by 1 person

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