October 23, 2022

Some Thoughts on Rings of Power

Sophia Nomvete as Princess Disa...because
***Needless to say, spoilers***

Story-wise, Amazon's Rings of Power fell horribly flat, and we should be allowed to say that.

Am I Tolkien purist? Gods, no. Tolkien's writing style typically puts me to sleep. Did I watch religiously every week? Of course. I am a fantasy fan, after all, and production-wise, ROP is gorgeous. Granted, some of the elves looked like Reagan supporters, but still...in terms of costumes, set design, special effects, and soundtrack, ROP knocked it out of the park.

Yet once again, as is the case with so many shows right now, fans were screwed over when it came to plot and dialogue.

Funny story: back when the budget for ROP was first released to the public, I told a friend that by having so much money, they no longer had any excuses. With that kind of money, they could make the show as long as they wanted. There was no reason they couldn't hire the best of everything from costumers to composers to writers. Amazon could've literally chosen the most talented human beings on earth, but instead, they chose two writers with barely any experience...and it showed.

Lesson the first: if you like a world that someone creates, but you want to do things differently from what they've written, you have two choices: the fanfiction route, which is fun and has no pressure since it's made free to the public. Or you can go the Orville route, in which you create an entirely new universe with similar elements to the source material.

Amazon could have given us a brand-new fantasy world and we would have happily still tuned in, but instead they insisted on riding on the coattails of JRR Tolkien and Peter Jackson. Or they still could have told this story--whatever the hell it is--if they'd simply hired some good writers.

First Thing, Characters

Using familiar characters was the very first mistake. Middle-Earth is big enough for new people, especially if the story is going to be set a thousand years and some change before The Hobbit and The Lord of the Rings. The writers had a ton of leeway and instead made the amateur mistake of boxing themselves in with characters we know and whose stories are pretty much set in stone. Characters such as these are liabilities, not assets.

Sauron, Elrond, Galadriel, Elendil, Isildur, Maybe-Gandalf, etc.--none of them should've been anywhere near this story, especially not after the epic performances by Hugo Weaving, Cate Blanchett, and Sir Ian McKellen in the trilogies. Sauron in particular should've never been mentioned; this story should've been all about Adar.

Second Thing, Overall Structure

Season one was all over the place and had a lot going on, which is ironic when you consider how thoroughly basic the story turned out.

The very first episode should've featured an orc explaining their history and the cruelty they experienced as they were being experimented upon. Sauron still need not be mentioned directly, especially once Adar is revealed to the audience (shout-out to actor Joseph Mawle for a most enigmatic performance; he did a lot despite being given very little). The season should've then gone on to show his slow, insidious conquest of the Southlands. If Amazon was hellbent on sticking with only eight episodes, then the season should've culminated in the unveiling of Mordor.

Last Thing, Narrative

We didn't need hobbits this season (certainly not this particularly dysfunctional tribe), nor a wizard we still don't know (and let's be honest, don't really care about) after eight episodes. But the dwarves were this season's shining stars, and we didn't get nearly enough of them. What we did get, like the rest of the season, wasn't well done.

Since not everything needs to be about kings, queens, and opulent palaces, the dwarves could've been humble miners and traders plying their wares in the Southlands where a contingent of elves patrolled. We could've witnessed the day-to-day interactions of humans, dwarves, and elves, preferably from the perspective of each to get a well-rounded, fully fleshed out understanding of these people.

We could've learned some of their customs and history, heard their different languages in casual conversations, and experienced events like sacred holidays, weddings, funerals, and births in each culture.

Same for the orcs--with Adar in charge, do the orcs make music now? Write poetry? Sing while they dig or forge their weapons? Since female orcs allegedly exist, why didn't we see them? How do orcs court each other and what are their marriages like?

I would've loved to see at least one human wedding, one dwarvish holiday, one elvish funeral, and the first orcish birth after their escape to freedom. I'd like to see an orcish couple bond and try to heal after years of being tortured. In addition to their languages, I would've loved to hear music from each culture. After all, the whole point of doing a series rather than a film is to allow viewers to immerse themselves in another world. This singularly major opportunity was wasted.

And because it was wasted, a perfectly good story was wasted: human villagers, dwarvish traders, and a small band of elvish soldiers banding together against--and ultimately being driven out by--a bourgeoning civilization of orcs.

Final Thoughts

With a much lower budget, House of the Dragon effortlessly stepped all over Rings of Power mainly because George RR Martin is a vastly superior writer and world-builder. He's given HBO decades of solid material to work with, and having learned from Game of Thrones, HBO knew to send their best people to bring his work to the screen. I sincerely hope the powers that be at Amazon learn from this experience and don't repeat their mistakes come season two.

Of course...if they decide not to go through with season 2, that would work too.

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