The Lord Of The Rings: The Rings Of Power – Season 1, Episode 1: A Shadow Of The Past

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Finally the most expensive TV show of all time is here. 

It’s taken years for a true rival to ‘Game Of Thrones’ to appear and it comes in the form of ‘The Lord Of The Rings’, the story that launched the epic fantasy genre as we known it.  But this isn’t ‘The Lord Of The Rings’ or ‘The Hobbit’ that we saw Peter Jackson adapt for the the big screen, the rights to those stories are still with Warner Bros.  This is a story pulled together from Tolkien’s appendices to his novels, but not material covered in ‘The Silmarillion’, that have been licensed by his estate to Amazon Prime.  So what we are presented with is a mythology to a fantasy that will never truly connect with what casual fans are familiar.

And that’s what I come to this as, a casual fan.  I read ‘The Hobbit’ as a pre-teen, ‘The Lord Of The Rings’ in my early twenties, seen Jackson’s first trilogy and own the director’s cuts but checked out of ‘The Hobbit’ trilogy after the first film.  I don’t need ‘The Rings Of Power’ to be one hundred percent faithful to the source material, I just need it to tell a gripping story.  Unfortunately this show falls at the first hurdle.  In the first hour there is no narrative hook, no likable characters.

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There is an obvious attempt to mirror ‘The Fellowship Of The Ring’s prologue to build the world but this goes on for the whole hour.  We are introduced to numerous characters but don’t get to know any of them.  Galadriel and Elrond seem to be the leads but they only jump out at you through name recognition, not the desire to follow their story.  Sauron is set up as the big villain but then you get the feeling this is also due to familiarity and an easy way to sell the show.

Tolkien’s narratives aren’t flashy, they are like a descriptive history text and lay out the epic but straight forward story.  This show looks like it is going to rely on the modern trope of mystery box storytelling.  A strange sword is discovered that bares the mark of Sauron and will clearly be the McGuffin of this first season.  No one is looking for it, it is just under the floorboards of an old hut, no epic reveal or heroic discovery, it’s a mystery because the show needs it to be.

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But the big J.J. Abrams level messing with the audience comes in the last minute.  A meteor shoots across the sky, witnessed by everyone we have been introduced to, and crashes to the ground.  In the crater is a man.  Tune in next week to find out who.  But most likely it will all be revealed in the final minutes of the season so come back next year.  Sometimes you just want to be told a story, not left hanging.

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As mentioned up top, this is the most expensive show ever so at least everything looks beautiful.  It all looks a billion dollars which is a good thing as that’s how much they are rumoured to have spent.  Interesting though, it appears no money was thrown at casting.  For such a big show there is zero star power attached.  The only familiar face in the first episode is Lenny Henry and he is probably only recognisable to viewers with a knowledge of ’80s and ’90s British television.  ‘Game Of Thrones’ might have been a star making show but they paid out for Sean Bean to anchor the first season.

The finger can’t be pointed at the episode director J.A. Bayone as he is clearly doing his part, although he was also responsible for ‘Jurassic World: Fallen Kingdom’, but you’ve got to look towards the showrunners Patrick McKay and John D. Payne. Their only previous credit before this is, ironically, an uncredited re-write on ‘Star Trek Beyond’, a forgotten film that stalled a massive franchise. Peter Jackson made top level cinema with his ‘LOTR’ trilogy but when he tried to expand on Tolkien’s writings with ‘The Hobbit’ the result was pretty looking, bloated mediocrity. Maybe the showrunners are just lacking the experience to grow Tolkien’s backstory. It’s up to them to prove the audience wrong and not just rely on the brand bring people back each week but I’ve got a nagging feeling this whole first season will revolve around a fellowship forming to fight an unseen evil. Playing an old tune is just not good enough for a decades old mythology that deserves more.

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There are seven hours to go in a season that will have a shorter run time than the films, a strange thing to say about a television series as it’s a format that normally allows storytelling to breathe. There aren’t minutes to waste. Go on guys, just tell me a story.

⭐⭐

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