‘The Lord of the Rings: The Rings of Power’ is beautiful, banal boredom

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Can you spend your way to the next “Game of Thrones”? Jeff Bezos, the second richest man in the world and, incidentally, the owner of The Washington Post, certainly seems to have tried.

According to press reports, the Amazon founder and JRR Tolkien fan had his company invest roughly $250 million just for the rights to make a TV show based on “The Lord of the Rings.” The resulting series, set to debut Thursday, will be the most expensive ever made.

But you know what I do: If money was all it took to make the next fantasy monoculture phenomenon, it would have happened by now.

Amazon Prime Video’s “The Lord of the Rings: Rings of Power” arrives 21 years after the first film in Peter Jackson’s theatrical trilogy, and less than two weeks after HBO’s attempt to tap into the goodwill that “Game of Thrones” has left through its prequel series, “House of the Dragon”. While the Westeros drama plays into its parent show’s penchant for shock, pulp, and blood, Middle-earth The saga, in line with the Jackson adaptations, is much more familiar. Though the eight-part debut season foreshadows an impending war between elves and orcs, with dwarves, humans, and a forerunner of the Hobbit race called the Harfoots in the mix, the copious, choppyly edited action in the first two episodes (those screened for the critical) is bloodless and controlled by computer effects. Its defining influence is not the epic scale of “Game of Thrones” but the neutrality of Marvel. If the production design wasn’t so spectacular (and the characters and settings bought by Amazon), “The Rings of Power” wouldn’t be so out of place on Disney Plus.

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To be fair, the Lord of the Rings franchise was meant for all ages. But it’s not clear who “The Rings of Power” is for. Based largely on the appendices: the appendages! — to the novel “The Lord of the Rings”, takes place about 3,000 years before the events of that book. Already greenlit for five seasons (with a potential spin-off in the works), inexperienced showrunners JD Payne and Patrick McKay, who only have uncredited writing jobs on “Star Trek Beyond” to their name on IMDb, have said that his goal is to make “a 50-hour show” from material covered in a few minutes in the Jackson movies. In total, the budget for the series is expected to top $1 billion. That should be pretty easy to beat: The first season alone cost $465 million, according to the Hollywood Reporter, and that’s not factoring in the initial money to secure the intellectual property.

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I’ve spent this review so far focusing more on the development of “The Rings of Power” than its content because there is so little of substance in the actual show. The characters, including Elves Galadriel and Elrond, played by Cate Blanchett and Hugo Weaving in the movies, are thin as phyllo and the plots aren’t much more substantial. Exiled from Valinor, her childhood home, by a centuries-long war that claimed her older brother, this young Galadriel (Morfydd Clark) will not give up the fight despite the lack of orc sightings in years. (Outside of combat, Elves tend to live forever.)

There’s also a boisterous, adventure-seeking young Harfoot named Nori (Markella Kavenagh), an anomaly among her island and nomadic community, so her archetypal refrain might well be “I want to be where the people are, there must be more to this provincial life.” “. !” She soon gets her wish when a sick stranger (Daniel Weyman), tall and angular-faced, stands nearby, exhausted, amnesiac and heavily implicated as the story’s antagonist.

Many miles apart, a human healer, Bronwyn (Nazanin Boniadi), and an elven sentinel, Arondir (Ismael Cruz Córdova), have a possibly doomed interspecies flirtation. Elrond (Robert Aramayo), a member of the elven king’s court, has his own challenges maintaining a friendship with the dwarf prince Durin (Owain Arthur), who could be a crucial ally in battle. against the orcs. Despite Jackson’s claim that he was misled by the “Rings of Power” creative team, they borrow from and build upon the character designs, fairyland aesthetics, and musical landscape he created for the films. (Expect to sing, a lot.)

“The Rings of Power” seems set to dazzle Tolkien fans with soaring views of exotic lands they may not have seen before: Middle-earth, of course, but also Valinor, a sacred land where the immortals reside, and the island kingdom. of Númenor, whose fall is written in the books. (Like the Jackson films, the series was filmed in New Zealand.) But for audiences not yet interested in the comings and goings of pointy-eared people, the series doesn’t offer much reason to worry.

The performances are helpful but unremarkable, while the dialogue is particularly cheesy and artless, with too many intoned monologues about searching for “the light” or the ever-vague nature of evil. The fate of many worlds hangs in the balance, but the uninspired opulence on screen stirs only visions in the imagination. of banknotes that go up in smoke. Rarely has danger felt so dull.

The Lord of the Rings: The Rings of Power debuts with two episodes Thursday at 9 p.m. ET on Amazon Prime Video. New episodes air weekly on Fridays.

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