It’s bad qua Tolkien. It’s bad qua non-Tolkien. So who is supposed to like it?
I tried to get through the second Rings of Power episode, but I just couldn’t.
I really disliked the first episode but told myself that I was merely disappointed because the producers were veering so far from Tolkien. I told myself the show itself might be good. I told myself it might be fun to tease out the Tolkien elements.
This series is just bad. Horrible, in fact.
Yes, yes, yes: New Zealand is beautiful. The special effects are great. The acting is fine.
But wow, the thing just doesn’t “get it.”
It jumps around furtively. Great efforts are expended on action scenes with no context. Meaningful phrases are uttered with no meaning given. The dialogue vacillates from wooden to juvenile and back to wooden. They should’ve called the series “What the F*** is Going On?”
I could forgive Amazon for the black elves, black dwarves, and even black hobbits. They distract from the story, sure, but I could get past it. I might even be able to get past Galadriel as a supernatural warrior princess. I mean, it’s frustrating, but Tolkien mentioned that she was athletic and feisty, plus you can pluck a few instances in the vast Tolkien corpus of her fighting (though probably like Queen Isabella of Spain against the Moors, not Charlemagne against the Saxons).
But those aren’t the problems with this series.
Those are mere symptoms of the real problem.
The real problem is, the story simply isn’t Tolkien.
And because it purports to be Tolkien, it fails at its core purpose, which is a huge deal when you're dealing with Tolkien.
There are two types of people in the world: Tolkien fans and everyone else.
This series appeals to neither.
Let’s face an uncomfortable fact: Tolkien was a decent guy but he wasn’t politically correct. Middle Earth’s die is the Middle Ages in Europe. That era and its people were almost exclusively white. When Tolkien mentions dark people, it’s not good: The Haradrim, Men of Rhun, Bill Ferny. Women were queens and princesses, the objects of chivalry, not warriors.
So the series veers from that fundamental fact, but as I said, I could get past it.
But the series keeps on veering and veering and veering from fundamental Middle Earth facts. In the first 90 minutes, the series, which takes place in the Second Age of Middle Earth, has introduced three elements that never played into the Second Age: Gandalf (apparently, though it’s not clear yet), Hobbits, and Corsairs.
All three probably existed in the Second Age. Gandalf was a minor god back in the Undying Lands. The hobbits were a wandering people known as “harfoots” though no one knew about them. The term “Corsairs” could’ve been an umbrella term for “pirates,” but that’s a stretch. “Corsair” means a specific group of evil pirates in the Third Age.
On top of that, the series takes incredible “artistic license” by creating characters who never existed and concocting scenes that never happened. Might they have existed or happened? Sure. I suppose a whole army of wizards may also have shown up at one point and were killed by Sauron. There were wizards, right? There was a Sauron, right? And they hated one another, right? Well, then . . . let’s put it in there.
It’s a violation.
It’s a violation of Tolkien, who spent his entire life weaving a tight and coherent fantasy world. You can’t make wholesale changes to the story of Middle Earth without destroying it, any more than a woman can have sex with a guy and still claim to be a virgin. She’s a virgin or she’s not. The story is either Tolkien or it isn’t.
Like I said, there are two types of people in the world: Tolkien fans and everyone else.
Tolkien fans want to see Tolkien. This series isn’t Tolkien. It’s obviously inspired by Tolkien, but that’s about it, and that doesn’t satisfy Tolkien nuts anymore than a can of Miller Lite satisfies an alcoholic.
But maybe the non-Tolkien fans might like it and, because there are presumably a lot more non-fans than Tolkien fans, maybe Amazon simply made a good marketing call.
If you’re not a fan that understands the esoterica of the Second Age of Middle Earth, as well as elements from the First Age and Third Age, the show makes no sense.
My wife read The Hobbit and Lord of the Rings. She has a basic understanding, but she never delved into the Silmarillion and appendixes, which are the crack cocaine of Tolkien fanatics.
While watching the second episode with me, she finally threw up her hands and said, “I’m going to bed. I can’t watch this anymore.”
She objected to a lot of things, but the thing that finally caused her to quit: frustration. She simply couldn’t figure out what was going on. After nearly two hours, she was totally baffled. I would pause the stream frequently and explain things to her, but that kinda, you know, interrupts the viewing experience.
So she just quit.
I watched for another five minutes and then I quit.
And I’m afraid I can’t go back.
Opportunity lost. A billion dollars wasted. Tolkien’s corpse spinning faster than a 45 RPM record.
I can’t watch it.