Stanley Kubrick said that JRR Tolkien’s cult trilogy The Lord of the Rings could not possibly be adapted for cinema. It’s hard to imagine what the great director would have thought of Amazon’s new multi-billion dollar event series, based on dry footnotes at the end of the third book.
The Lord of the Rings: The Rings of Power premieres worldwide on Friday on Prime Video, Amazon’s streaming platform. The series aims to capitalize on the continued strong appeal of the books, regularly voted among the best loved novels of all time, and the Oscar-winning films Peter Jackson drew from them.
The series is crucial for Amazon, which wants to survive in the “streaming war” between Netflix, Disney+ and HBO Max – the latter just launched House of the Dragon, the prequel to Game of Thrones.
Amazon’s latest is being funded by billionaire Jeff Bezos, the e-commerce giant’s founder and huge Tolkien fan.
The challenge is daunting: the series features heroes and their enemies who are barely (if at all) sketched in the trilogy and its appendices and appendices, while the cast and creators remain largely unknown.
Install the characters
“It’s quite stressful, we’re building from not much to something that’s never been seen before,” confirmed Sophia Nomvete, who plays Princess Disa, the first black dwarf to be portrayed on screen in Tolkien’s world in the film.
“There is definitely stress. We want it to be done right,” she told AFP last month.
The Rings of Power is set in Tolkien’s Second Age in Middle-earth, thousands of years before the events of The Hobbit and The Lord of the Rings.
Although some characters from Peter Jackson’s films appear in the new series (mainly young versions of elves like Galadriel and Elrond), we won’t see Frodo, Gollum or Aragorn.
Some characters were even created from scratch for the series.
“Season 1 is really about defining the characters and introducing new characters (…), bringing to life a lovely skeletal world that Tolkien just created in the Second Age,” says Maxim Baldry, whose character Isildur briefly fights Sauron was shown in a review of the beginning of Peter Jackson’s trilogy.
In the series, Maxim Baldry plays the young version of this tragic hero who grieves for his mother, struggles with the pressure of his authoritarian father and is driven by a burning desire for adventure.
“What a gift to explore someone’s beginnings, to find out what that person is made of, to understand who they really are,” he gushed.
Series creators Patrick McKay and JD Payne pitched their concept to Amazon in 2017 with just a few projects on their résumé.
“We wanted to find a huge Tolkien saga. And Amazon was crazy enough to say +OK, let’s go+ in the best way possible,” Patrick McKay said during Comic-Con.
At Tuesday’s series premiere in London, Jeff Bezos admitted that “some people have questioned our decision” to bring in “this relatively unknown team.”
“But we saw something special there,” he said, according to Variety magazine.
Reviews so far have been generally positive. Morfydd Clark’s (Galadriel) rich costumes, sets, special effects and acting were widely acclaimed, although Time Magazine criticized her for a show “full of beautiful imagery and hackneyed clichés.”
The series is considered the most expensive in television history.
Amazon paid $250 million to buy the rights, and about $465 million was spent on the first season alone. And after the group has committed to five seasons, the final sum should well exceed a billion.
This breathtaking cost comes with the utmost discretion.
Plot details and reviews were strictly banned until Wednesday, two days before the show’s launch, and even the cast didn’t know the fate of their characters.
“I don’t know! I don’t even know what’s going to happen next season,” says Megan Richards, who plays Poppy Proudfellow, a Hobbit Harfoot ancestor race.
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