Rings of Power Season One, 2022, Amazon Prime
Well, a few more episodes on now since my last post about this series having now seen episodes 3 – 6. Can’t say my opinion has changed very much because the strengths and weaknesses of it hasn’t altered. The strengths are definitely the music score by Bear McCreary and the visuals, which are largely spectacular. Whether its really half a billion dollars spectacular I don’t know- sometimes I wonder if Amazon needs to do an audit on where all the money has gone, but then again, I think the same about many Netflix shows and so many films too. The money spent on these productions is staggering and sometimes… maybe its just me, but sets look surprisingly flaky sometimes in these shows (fake rocks/brickwork looking, well pretty fake) but perhaps that’s the impact of shooting/streaming in 4K, things show up now that wouldn’t in the old days. That all said, some of the imagery is so gorgeously pretty I have to fight the urge to press the pause button and just soak it all in (actually maybe that’d be a better way of watching this show). I think this is one of the more negative influences of the Peter Jackson films- those films were full of wonderful visuals, and Rings of Power seems hellbent on mimicking or even bettering them, its producers perhaps wrongly thinking those visuals were the main appeal of the films and where all the attention needed to go.
The music is excellent and 100% everything it needed to be, and absolutely the best element of the entire show. It really carries some of the weak narrative and character moments, with some lovely transitions between scenes, particularly those where we see a map indicating a change of location. McCreary is to be applauded and I hope we get a disc release that the work deserves- a lengthy album compilation is available on digital and also episodic streams that expand it even further, but I’m holding out for a disc release or (even better) a series of disc releases to match all that digital content. I think its clearly McCreary’s finest work since his BSG reboot work, thematically diverse and very cinematic.
But regards those moments where we see a map indicating where we are/where the next scene is occurring (its a welcome storytelling device on Rings of Power considering its reliance on several seperate storylines/characters), it brings me to one of my gripes with the series: for all its epic pretensions, why does the world seem so small? Its something that bugged me in Game of Thrones in its later seasons; the time characters spent travelling didn’t match the distances involved, deliberately and artificially done in order to keep up the narrative pace as that series neared it end, and this occurs a lot in Rings of Power. For instance, in episode six, we see the Númenorian fleet depart for Middle Earth and then after a day and night of the Southlanders defending themselves against Adar’s Orc army, the Númenorians suddenly arrive to save the day. An earlier examination of a map showed that the fleet had to cross a sea, sail up river and then the army march across land to get to where the Southlanders were fighting- something that looks like it would take a week or even several weeks, but certainly not a day. Maybe that’s me nit-picking, but the typical and predictable plot contrivance of the Númenorians saving the day is only exasperated by how small Tolkien’s world suddenly seemed when they turned up.
What is not me nit-picking though is the writing, which remains very poor indeed, depressingly so sometimes. Characters are one-dimensional, giving actors little to work with, and coincidences and contrivances seem to crowd every episode. Its definitely a show that seems… well, as I’ve noted before, it seems to me that Rings of Power is what the producers evidently THINK a fantasy show should be like. Written by a writing staff more suited to police procedurals or soap operas, its ticking boxes not understanding what those boxes mean. Lots of personal quests, quotes of prophecies, and horrible portentous dialogue that is written thinking its the stuff of epics. That dialogue really is terrible; something particularly highlighted by everything looking so gorgeous- the visuals really deserve more. You can get caught by a particularly arresting shot that looks like an exquisite painting brought to life and then the moment is shattered by a brutally inane piece of dialogue. Pacing is all over the place; just when the narrative pushes forward and something’s happening, suddenly characters just stop everything for a chat.
If this was ‘just’ a fantasy show, like maybe that Willow tv series Disney is apparently working on, then this would be fine and hardly a surprise/disappointment, I’d just ignore it and move on. But this is Tolkien’s Lord of the Rings I’m discussing here. It deserves more, it deserves better. It deserves, I suspect, a better show running team, really. All the woke nonsense warned about before the show aired was pretty much just a marketing distraction, diversity being used as a diversion mechanism to side-track critique from the real issue of bad writing (‘Diversity as Diversion’, heh I should coin that one). I doubt that the last two episodes can really save it, but we’ll see; at the moment Rings of Power, while not really the utter disaster the YouTube bunch are screaming about, is pretty average at best and definitely not at all worthy of the Tolkien license Amazon spent a fortune acquiring.
Maybe a course correction behind the scenes, between this and season two will find Rings of Power fulfilling its potential, because its some way off just yet.