Few television shows have gotten a massively bad reputation before it was even released quite like Amazon’s bastardization of J.R.R. Tolkien’s work, known as “The Rings of Power.”
Once fans of Tolkien’s work began getting word of what was going on during the production of the series that Amazon had spent around a billion dollars to create, the lambasting began in earnest. Amazon had decided to introduce insane amounts of modernity into the world of Middle Earth with diversity quotas, mishandling of beloved characters, and total rewrites of established lore.
There was even one article pointing out that Amazon had diversity officers that oversaw whether or not production was diverse enough.
It didn’t help that Amazon was doing all it could to paint its naysayers as racist bigots, and it even attempted to launch a “super-fan” campaign, with different videos for different nations, that focused more on representation and diversity than actual storytelling and respecting Tolkien’s work. It didn’t help that people within these super-fan videos all repeated the same lines from country to country. Some of the backlash to the backlash even attempted to pin hatred of the “Rings of Power” on GamerGate, the boogieman in the social justice warrior’s closet.
But two episodes have now been released to critics and one mainstream outlet has little good to say about it.
Entertainment Weekly’s Darren Franich confirmed a lot of what many Tolkien fans had worried about. The story is bland, Tolkien’s world has been abused, and it feels more like McMiddle Earth than the verdant and deep fantasy world we all know and love:
There are ways to do a prequel, and The Lord of the Rings: The Rings of Power does them all wrong. It takes six or seven things everyone remembers from the famous movie trilogy, adds a water tank, makes nobody fun, teases mysteries that aren’t mysteries, and sends the best character on a pointless detour. The latter is uber-elf Galadriel (Morfydd Clark) who spends the premiere telling people to worry about Sauron. In response, people tell her not to worry about Sauron. That’s one hour down, seven to go this season. Sound like a billion dollars yet?
Franich zeroes in on Galadriel’s change, going from a queen of garden paradise to a soldier bent on revenge for the death of her brother. He describes how she alone believes that Sauron has returned to the lands and no one will believe her. Other characters seem to be knockoffs of Peter Jackson’s versions. Discount Frodo meets up with a bearded outsider in the beginning after Galadriel voices a prologue. There’s a trip to an underground dwarf-made cavern that fails to impress.
And then there are what sound like allusions to modern racism, which concerns a forbidden romance between an elf and a human:
Rings of Power casually diversifies its fictional races, a casting decision that’s thankfully normal in contemporary fantasy. But unlike, say, House of the Dragon, this series also briefly takes fantasy-world racism seriously. The humans don’t like Arondir. The Harfoots fear everyone else. “What have elves ever done to you?” Galadriel asks jerky Halbrand (Charlie Vickers), a human running from a brutal past.
Then there’s the lack of vision clearly displayed by the writers and producers. Franich complains that as deep as Tolkien’s world is, we’d be better whisked off to places we haven’t seen yet…but we hardly get that at all:
You’d think a new tale would want to explore less-traveled corners of Tolkien’s wide unguarded lands. And Rings of Power does conjure the elves’ previously unseen homeland, Valinor, in two embarrassing ways. First, it’s a babbling brook where cute kids frolic. Then, it’s a heavenly light ray pouring out of parting clouds. The latter is almost a Monty Python special effect — and that’s before one person decides, against the furthest stretch of fantasy logic, to swim across an ocean. Otherwise, the first two hours stick to seen-it-before places and boring situations.
Pacing issues, inconsistency, and near comedic uses of tropes plague the show as well according to Franich, who caps his review off with the grade of a C-.
It’s not likely that Amazon is going to get its money’s worth on this venture, and the more we hear about it the less it sounds like it deserves it. If Entertainment Weekly (a site that had actually helped promote the show with a flashy ad campaign) doesn’t have much good to say about it, then it’s highly unlikely that many others will.
There will be a battle fought over it, but in the end, the fans typically win and the fans are just not signing on to support this.