“Don’t the great tales never end?” asks hobbit Samwise Gamgee during a slower moment in The Lord Of The Rings. He’s talking about his own journey through J. R. R. Tolkien’s epic fantasy world – but he might as well be referring to the franchise itself. Since Peter Jackson kicked everything off in 2001, Hollywood’s spent more than 20 hours telling Middle-earth’s story on-screen (three films, then a Hobbit trilogy, plus extended edition DVDs) – and we’re about to get a whole lot more.
Set several thousand years before Sam and Frodo didn’t fly the eagles to Mordor, Amazon’s The Rings Of Power TV series aims to usher in a new era of nerdery. There’s quite a lot more competition this time – adult-oriented programmes like Game Of Thrones now dominate the genre – but with a reported multi-billion dollar budget, showrunners Patrick McKay and John D. Payne are hoping to reclaim the Iron Throne by Christmas (and turn it into a diamond-encrusted one to boot). The first episode picks up with a young Galadriel (if you can call a 4000-year-old elf young), and introduces Morfydd Clark’s take on the character. Less wise and more headstrong than Cate Blanchett’s older queen, Clark’s is a fierce update for Galadriel. Convinced that evil has crept back into the forests of the world, she wants to continue hunting it down, even if her boss, High King Gil-galad, commands the opposite.
Meanwhile, a hobbit-like folk called Harfoots are quietly minding their own business one night when a naked giant falls from the sky and crashes into a wood near their camp. He can’t remember what he’s doing there, or even his own name, but the old guy has a sinister air that adds to the show’s doomy vibe. A surprise orc attack, poisoned cattle and some creepy tunnels fill out the opening two episodes.
And yet there’s still time for some classic Shire-style shenanigans. Lenny Henry brings the quirk as wizened old tribe elder Sadoc – and when Elrond (Robert Aramayo) visits his old pal Durin (Owain Arthur) in Khazad-dûm, the scene descends into Dwarvish silliness. The Rings Of Power, for all its grand elf lords, biblical storytelling and cinematic scope, retains the wholesome heart that made the films feel so warm and cosy.
Amazon’s Middle-earth isn’t entirely Tolkien’s Middle-earth though, and any pedants who go in looking for things to get annoyed about will find them quite easily. For example, Sophia Nomvete’s Dwarvish princess Disa doesn’t have a beard, which J. R. R. explicitly wrote all female dwarves do. Elsewhere, McKay and Payne have strayed from the author’s writings and invented new characters such as the mysterious Halbrand (Charlie Vickers), who aids Galadriel when she gets into trouble at sea; and Arondir (Ismael Cruz Cordova), an elf warrior trapped by his forbidden love for mortal woman (and single mum) Bronwyn (Nazanin Boniadi). Recently, Tolkien-trolls (not the fun, cave kind) have spilled a Mount Doom-sized pile of vitriol online, stirred up about a perceived intrusion by ‘woke’ culture on their sacred texts. But if that small minority stopped hating on the talented, diverse cast for five minutes, they might realise that The Rings Of Power’s fresh faces do some of the most interesting work on the show. As a start, this is an excellent one. Tell Sam Gamgee the tale’s not done yet.
‘The Lord Of The Rings: The Rings Of Power’ releases its first two episodes on Prime Video this Friday, September 2
Episodes watched: two