Thoughts of Rings of Power

17 Oct

I’ll talk just about the show here, I’ll talk about certain specific aspects with other posts. Paragons, moral complexity, etc. I’m also not going to give my opinions on the deviations from the lore (elves being affected by cold, mithril being key to elven survival, etc).

People have been nervous about Amazon’s giant adaptation from the second age of Middle Earth for years and when it came out, there was controversy about the actual numbers and review boming. We’re approaching the 20 year mark of the completion of all the Peter Jackson film trilogy of The Lord of the Rings, which were generally loved by audiences but were not by the Tolkien Estate. The attempt for Peter Jackson to redo the magic with the adaptation of The Hobbit wasn’t well met with critics or critical audiences, but people like me can shut their brain off and enjoy what’s in front of them. I’m not sure about what rights the showrunners have  –  they have the rights to some characters but not all of it if I’m not misunderstanding, which means they have the rights to adapt The Lord of the Rings but not parts of The Simarillion, so certain characters and lore can be alluded to but not outright named.

               Rings of Power essentially followed battle-hardened Galadriel in the second age as she discovers proof that Sauron, Morgoth’s greatest general, is still poses a threat to Middle-Earth. Her proof is discarded and she and her team of warriors are sent to Valinor, their birth-land and paradise, but Galadriel is pulled back to Middle-Earth to try to wrestle her demons and defeat Sauron and the remnant orcs as they seek to take The Southlands. The elves, meanwhile, are being diminished and their immortality is threatened. Meanwhile, a stranger crash-lands from a meteorite and joins a group of secretive harfoots, proto-hobbits who have not yet established a shire.

None of this sounds bad, but the best example of what someone said was, “And now pretend a ten year old wrote it.”

That’s kind of cruel, but I agree that a lot of the writing in Rings of Power was classic examples of things I did as a very young writer in Junior High and High School. There’s contrivances and things that need to happen, or things just sort of happened and they worked out and we focused on things that weren’t important while more important stuff gets glossed over.

The main character of the show is Galadriel. Galadriel isn’t the powerful sorceress ruling Lothlorien, she is a battle-hardened commander looking for the last traces of Sauron and evil in the land. She’s portrayed as greatly competent, but it’s usually at the belittlement of others and it looks cartoony and we need to be reminded of how awesome she is. One could argue that she is a very young elf and hasn’t grown into the character we are familiar with by the third age, but the problem is that she’s inconsistently written. I think she’s meant to come across as a character who is so driven she is blinded by everything around her, so when she’s inconsistent or angry it’s meant to be her hatred of evil getting the better of her. Instead, we have a character who comes across as rude and angry at characters who would have been her allies, and without the grace and wisdom of a thousands-year old being. She’s inconsistent, telling Halbrand she needs Adar alive but then coming across like a genocidal maniac literally a scene later. Ironically, she was also meant to be one of the characters who saw through Sauron’s manipulations and lies, so in this story, her befriending him diminished her power. (I still think they should have gone the Tauriel route and made her an original character, but I digress).

I’ll be honest sometimes one of the main reasons you lose something in adaptation is that depending on the style of the writer, you can be in a character’s head but it doesn’t always translate well on screen. A training montage can take several chapters but you can put some appropriate music and show brief clips, and get the same idea across. Lots of books are written in the first person so you get their perspective, but it doesn’t always show the exact same way the author presented.

A better writer could have shown that Galadriel has PTSD or is on the very edge of falling into darkness or something interesting – but right now Galadriel comes across as Always Right and The Best Rider or Swordfighter or whatever we need. I don’t blame the actress I blame the writing; and like I said you don’t have to explain everything to the reader but there needs to be some payoff in the story and not just her being a simultaneous amazing hero and victim rolled up into a neat package. If Galadriel is damaged like she alludes to with her ‘best friend trying to exile me’ there should be some literary payoff there that shows it.

And this poor writing comes across just about everywhere. Things happen because they need to happen, and the audience is treated like we’re stupid for questioning what’s going on. I think because the showrunners wanted to tell a massive story they started with the idea that they needed multiple story threads and they didn’t spent much time developing anything with its own unique edge; you see similar costume designs and ideas running in areas that should have been secluded and have their own aesthetic.

Characters notwithstanding, dealing with Adar is the best part of the show (the good guys are dry to put it mildly) and Adar turns out to be one of the first Uruks, or elves that were twisted in darkness and he could no longer stand by as Sauron used his children. Orcs are a twisted version of elves and their nature is corrupted, but he points out that they are also creations and worthy of life. Their goal is to have a homeland where the sun doesn’t burn them. They’ll kill and destroy to get it, but it’s a very simple motivation and given how the good guys act around the orcs, it’s kind of understandable. The orcs were mistrated by Morgath and Sauron, and elves and humans kill them on sight. The sun burns them, but they want a world they can live in.

Character-wise the most enjoyable part of the show for me was getting to the dwarves. Now, I think I have a soft-spot for dwarves and the plot around them meanders and whether we talk about contrivances or teleporting it doesn’t make sense, but I like the character dynamics of Elrond, Durin and Nissa. Contrivances aside, and I’m not saying I like the part of making the Mithril the key to the elves’ survival, spending time with the dwarves was easily the most enjoyable part of the show.

The part I liked least was the parts with the harfoots. The story with the harfoots was meant to build up another potential Sauron figure and it falls flat. The Harfoots themselves aren’t likeable as characters and a people. It could easily have been infused in the second season with the introduction of more characters. I know that I said I wasn’t going to talk about my issues with the lore, but I’ll throw this out: I really didn’t like that they made Gandalf have fallen-star symbology or that they made the Harfoots eat live snails. These were deliberate choices I think the showrunners were trying to shove down our throats, and No thank-you we don’t want any more caravan-abandoning, off-trail death-mocking, distant hobbitses. I don’t care if we get the introduction of what will be a very old friend.

The show ultimately wants us to be familiar with other material and doesn’t respect the average watcher’s intelligence. Want to hit your characters with a pyroclasmic flow? Let’s argue that Galadriel and Arvondir could survive it because they’re elves. Let’s go a step further and say that it’s magical. You can’t burn the buildings down and have the humanoid characters be okay. Pompeii is famous for what happened and it happened so quickly, that people didn’t stop what they were doing if they didn’t see it coming. This could have been a moment where Halbrand did something to indicate he wasn’t completely evil at this point, or have Galadriel or some other character do something to lessen the blow – like Arwen (really Elrond and Gandalf) making the river sweep away the Ringwraiths in Fellowship. Instead, we get people covered in ash and the world is on fire.

Now, a final bit that’s come out this week was that the showrunners wanted a slow burn and this is all just set up for what’s coming.

I’m a chick who reads really long series without issue and really like that it takes a long time to get out of the Shire in both The Lord of the Rings and Hobbit trilogies. I love me some good backstory and really enjoy reading and writing prequels. I roll my eyes when I’m criticized that it takes a long time for the story to get set up, and I’ll grant I’m not a perfect writer but I don’t mind other authors taking their sweet time with the pacing.

Years ago a friend and I were chatting about the silliness in the second Hobbit movie, and he told me he didn’t mind stretching out a kid’s book into three because he liked spending so much time in Middle-Earth. We’re the demographic where we don’t care so long as the story is good and it seems that the set designs and costumes were done with something resembling love and care.

I did watch the first episode with my dad. He hasn’t been keen to watch more. My nieces and nephew I think have lost interest after watching a few episodes.

I think this is the veneer for Tolkien’s work, because it’s trying to portray moral relativism as opposed to good versus evil. It wants you to know these are elves when they don’t act like elves, and they think that the audience is dumb and that readers aren’t saiting their appetites that were inspired by Tolkien by reading other books that have done it better than Rings of Power.

Fix your writing. Know what you’re writing, and what deeper philosophical themes your author is about before you do adaptation. Listen to Tolkien Scholars and hire people who love the work; they can answer better questions about philosophy and lore than I ever could. But fix your writing.

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