‘The Rings of Power’: So far, not so precious


Shavonne Chin

Illustration by

Jack Muscatello, Associate Multimedia Editor

Amazon’s venture into “The Lord of the Rings” broke ground on Sept. 1, with the two-episode premiere of the spin-off “The Rings of Power.” It’s been a slow start for the most expensive television production to date, with a lacking plot and subpar characters failing the flurry of colorful effects  and wizardry on display. But with the release of the third episode on Sept. 9, the show’s future is starting to look almost as epic as its price tag.

The series stands as a prequel to the classic “The Lord of the Rings” film trilogy of the early 2000s, taking place thousands of years before author J.R.R. Tolkien’s most prominent works. The new story, streaming on Amazon Prime Video, weaves its way across different sections of the fictional world of Middle Earth, following various elves, hobbits and soldiers as they navigate an increasingly dire landscape. An ominous threat from the legendary villain Sauron looms over the first season, hinting at larger conflicts ahead.

Though the best is likely yet to arrive for the series, it feels like “The Rings of Power” has been stuck in a paradoxical enigma. While showrunners J.D. Payne and Patrick McKay have stuffed the opening episodes with multiple concurring storylines and a litany of unique characters, the story is still missing a few key ingredients.

To start, the characters are rather uninteresting. Galadriel, who has emerged as the centerpiece “action hero” for the series, is given little outside of larger-than-life lines of epic dialogue and frustratingly simple motivations. Actress Morfydd Clark is doing all she can, but this basic approach to a rather famous character leaves her feeling hollow, one-dimensional and somewhat unrelatable.

Elrond, an elf and friend to Galadriel, is realized in a stronger fashion, taking on a properly youthful optimism that makes his segments of the story much more engaging. But most of the characters follow in the footsteps of Galadriel, with the writing routinely failing their promising costume design and the consistent performances from the ensemble cast.

In addition, the pacing of the narrative makes it a challenge to care for the characters. The abundance of plotlines introduced in the pilot has caused the succeeding episodes to feel almost aimless and messy. Though the direction has been solid and efficient, with a keen effort to display as much of the budget on screen as possible, each segment of the story comes across as half-baked and clumsy.

No amount of visual expertise can completely save a weak story, but “The Rings of Power” may get pretty close to accomplishing this feat. So far, the show is absolutely stunning. Establishing shots of the many locations showcases unrivaled attention to detail. The scale of the action set pieces supersedes even the majority of blockbusters out in theaters this year. The lighting evokes a familiar aesthetic to the original trilogy, the visual effects stand out in the best way possible and the set design combines a proper amount of practical elements to make it all feel real.

Amazon has previously hinted at a five-season plan for the series, banking on the popularity of the source material to carry the project as a tentpole for the studio. The budget would be ridiculous even for a new series of films, but for a television production, it seems almost asinine.

However, this is just the beginning for “The Rings of Power.” One plotline established in the pilot’s final scene promises a sizable mystery for fans to uncover, and teasers from the studio showcase a greater expanse of characters, locations and conflicts ahead. Though the series feels unfocused and a bit all over the place at the moment, it’s best to take heed of famed wizard Gandalf’s most poignant advice: “The journey doesn’t end here.”