When Peter Jackson’s Lord of the Rings trilogy released in theaters in the early 2000s, it accomplished something that was previously considered impossible. It faithfully adapted J.R.R. Tolkien’s incredible trilogy of novels, bringing the world of Middle Earth to the big screen in such a beautiful and epic way that it changed the face of Hollywood forever. It was an unfathomable recipe in which every ingredient worked; from the fantastic character acting to the beautiful score, ground-breaking special effects, and breathtaking cinematography.
Well, I’m happy to report that they’ve done it again.
This will be a SPOILER-FREE REVIEW of the first two episodes of Amazon’s Lord of the Rings: The Rings of Power…a cinematic spectacle that has just redefined what can be done on the “small screen.”
A BREATHTAKING RETURN TO MIDDLE EARTH
From the very beginning, it needs to be stated that has a nearly impossible task. When Amazon first purchased the film rights to The Lord of the Rings several years ago, many fans wondered what their ultimate plan would be. The acquisition from the Tolkien estate came with the stipulation that the studio could not produce a sequel to Tolkien’s trilogy of novels, nor could they directly adapt The Silmarillion, a collection of poetic stories put together and released by Tolkien’s son Christopher after his death.
This meant that the studio would have to focus their story on the prehistory of Middle Earth which was spelled out in the Appendices of the The Lord of the Rings novels. These appendices were more of a collection of world-building details than an actual narrative, which ironically gave Amazon a great deal of freedom in how they chose to adapt them.
The Rings of Power series takes place in the Second Age of Middle Earth, thousands of years before the events of the Hobbit and The Lord of the Rings trilogies. This is the era in which Sauron first came into power, creating the rings after which the series is named, and of course, the One Ring that would rule them all. And while the forging of those rings hasn’t happened yet in the first two episodes, there is no doubt that this is where the show is heading.
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But here’s the task…How do you create a prequel series that forges its own path, yet stays true to Tolkien’s world? How do you recapture the spectacle of Peter Jackson’s films on the small screen?
The answer? A billion dollars.
This unthinkable price tag is what it took to bring The Rings of Power to life, and every bit of that record-breaking budget is on display to the fullest extent.
The Rings of Power is beautiful. And I mean BEAUTIFUL. The prologue alone shatters any pre-conceived notions that you might have about what can be accomplished on a TV budget, transporting us back into the world of Middle Earth with all the glory and care that was given to us by Peter Jackson’s movies. The visuals in these first two episodes are absolutely stunning, the costumes and set pieces are unfathomably grand, and the blend of special and practical effects look better than 90% of the movies that came out this year.
This was a standard that Peter Jackson himself arguably failed to recapture in his The Hobbit trilogy, which polarized audiences with its heavy use of digital effects. The Rings of Power, however, takes us back to the standards of the original trilogy and boasts a perfect mix of practical and special effects that left me stunned. Whether its the jaw-dropping elven landscapes of the Undying Lands or the mighty Dwarven kingdom of Kahzad-dum, everything in this show looks tangible and REAL.
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Many of the orcs are done using makeup and practical effects, while other creatures are done using computer-generated technology, and all of it looks flawless. There was not a single frame where I felt that the CGI was weak or the set-pieces were cheap, and after only two episodes, I can honestly say that this is the most epic that television has ever looked.
These first two episodes of The Rings of Power were directed by J.A. Bayona (The Impossible, A Monster Calls), who gives an absolute masterclass in his trade. Having been a big fan of his work for some time, I was hotly anticipating what he would do in this series, and he did not disappoint. He nails it with his cinematography and directing here, and I was just as much impressed by the close-up and emotional shots of actor’s faces as I was by the spectacle and action of the larger scenes.
The second episode in particular had me glued to the screen for every eye-melting second.
BEAR MCCREARY COMPOSES AN OUT-OF-THIS-WORLD SCORE
If my eyes were popping for joy during the entire runtime of both episodes of The Rings of Power, the same could be said for my ears.
The original Lord of the Rings trilogy has, in my humble opinion, the greatest score ever made, so measuring up to that bar was never going to be an easy task. However, I’m pleased to announced that The Rings of Power DELIVERS in a big way.
The main title theme of the series is composed by the great Howard Shore (who returns to the world of Tolkien after scoring all six Peter Jackson films), but the rest of the soundtrack is brought to us by composer Bear McCreary (God of War, Outlander, The Walking Dead), who completely blew me away. Whether it’s the angelic elf voices of “Galadriel” or the booming dwarf baritones of “Khazad-dum”, the soundtrack is beautiful and epic and fantastic in a way that few television series ever reach. It 100% recaptures the epicness of Shore’s original work.
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The tracks are reminiscent without being derivative, and there are some fantastic leitmotifs centered around specific characters that act as a wonderful icing on this delicious cake. McCreary knocked it out of the park, and even though The Lord of the Rings soundtrack remains at the absolute peak of cinema for me, I would still rate The Rings of Power‘s original score a 10/10.
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