Reputedly the most expensive TV show in history, with the rights alone costing $250 million, The Lord of the Rings: The Rings of Power features a talented cast, breathtaking production values, sweeping cinematography, a stirring score… and not much else. The show’s main flaw, at least based on its pilot episode “A Shadow of the Past,” is that it assumes we, as an audience, already give a damn about this stuff.

The Rings of Power
A view of the city of Valinor

To be fair, that’s a pretty reasonable assumption. After all, fantasy— particularly high fantasy— is immensely popular all over the world, and J.R.R. Tolkien practically invented the genre with his literary trilogy “The Lord of the Rings”— I myself have been a fan of those books since I was 12 years old! And it’s not just book-lovers, either, who care about this genre. Who knows how many new fans all over the world were converted by Peter Jackson’s immensely popular films based on the Tolkien trilogy? (Yes, I am pretending that Jackson’s three execrable and completely unnecessary HOBBIT movies don’t exist— and you should, too.)

But the creators of The Lord of the Rings: The Rings of Power seem to have forgotten that for every Tolkien fan that exists, there must be thousands, perhaps millions of non-fans; regular people who have never heard of hobbits or Sauron or Middle Earth. Why not write a story for them?

Regrettably, even diehard Tolkien enthusiasts, myself included, would be hard-pressed to find this small-screen fantasy adaptation engaging on any level. The fact that the series is based not on Tolkien’s novels but on the appendices of his novels— yes, footnotes and such— is not necessarily a bad thing; after all, he was such a genius he created not just stories but whole universes; sprawling worlds with their own races and cultures and even fully-formed languages. Why wouldn’t his appendices be a treasure trove of storytelling?

If they are, it’s sadly not in evidence here. The Lord of the Rings: The Rings of Power begins with a promising prologue featuring a young elf Galadriel (SAINT MAUD’s Morfydd Clark playing Cate Blanchett’s role from the films) learning some life lessons from her brother… and just gets less and less interesting as it goes on. There is a time jump to an extended battle scene (featuring that laziest of cinematic devices, the voiceover narration) followed by a tedious sequence that begins on a snowy CGI cliff face and ends in an action scene so poorly lit that you wonder why they bothered to film it at all. Two other storylines are subsequently introduced: one about a bunch of hobbits (of the Harfoot variety, apparently) and another about an elf and the human he is apparently in love with. (I say, “apparently,” because nothing in the script shows them having any kind of chemistry.)

Sadly, each of these stories is more boring than the last. And although the CG looks great, although the costumes look amazing; although the cinematography is epic, the show is really nothing spectacular. The music, for its part, tries its damnedest to convince you that what you’re watching is exciting or terrifying, or romantic, but there just isn’t enough on offer here for me to care. Why? Because the writers didn’t spend enough time developing the characters; and if they don’t care about them, why the hell should I? By the end of the episode, which features a WTF moment that frankly belongs in another show, I had checked out completely.

Let’s hope that there is enough money in the $1 billion budget for them to hire better writers for successive episodes… none of which, it pains me to say, I will be watching.

(2 out of 5 stars)

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