LOS ANGELES: Stanley Kubrick once said that JRR Tolkien’s cult trilogy ‘The Lord of the Rings’ was impossible to make into a movie. It’s hard to imagine what the great director would have thought of Amazon’s new 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 Friday worldwide on Prime Video, Amazon’s streaming platform. The series intends to capitalize on the still very strong appeal of the books, regularly voted among the most popular novels of all time, and the Oscar-winning films that Peter Jackson drew from them.
The series is crucial for Amazon, which wants to exist in the “streaming wars” between Netflix, Disney + and HBO Max – the latter has just launched “House of the Dragon”, the prequel to “Game of Thrones”.
Amazon’s latest is funded by billionaire Jeff Bezos, founder of the e-commerce giant and big fan of Tolkien.
The challenge is daunting: the series features heroes and their foes who are barely (if at all) sketched in the trilogy and its appendices and appendices, while the cast and creators are largely unknown.
Install the characters
“It’s quite stressful, we’re coming up from not much, something that’s never been seen before,” acknowledged Sophia Nomvete, who plays Princess Disa, the first black dwarf depicted in the movie. screen in Tolkien’s world.
“There is clearly stress. We want it to be done well,” she told AFP last month.
‘The Rings of Power’ is set during Tolkien’s ‘Second Age’ in Middle-earth, thousands of years before the events of ‘The Hobbit’ and ‘Lord of the Rings’.
Although a few 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 settling the characters and introducing new characters (…), bringing to life a pretty skeletal world that Tolkien just created in the Second Age,” says Maxim Baldry, whose character, Isildur, was briefly shown fighting Sauron in a flashback to the beginning of Peter Jackson’s trilogy.
In the series, Maxim Baldry plays the young version of this tragic hero, grieving for his mother, struggling to manage the pressure exerted by his authoritarian father and driven by a burning desire for adventure.
“What a gift to explore someone’s beginnings, find out what that person is made of, understand who they really are,” he enthused.
Series creators Patrick McKay and JD Payne pitched their concept to Amazon in 2017, with only a few projects on their resumes.
“We wanted to find a huge Tolkien saga. And Amazon was crazy enough, in the best way possible, to say + OK, here we go +”, said Patrick McKay during Comic-Con.
At the series premiere in London on Tuesday, Jeff Bezos admitted that “some people have questioned our choice” to bring in “this relatively unknown team.”
“But we saw something special there,” he said, according to Variety magazine.
Reviews so far are generally positive. Morfydd Clark’s (Galadriel) rich costumes, sets, special effects and acting garnered plenty of praise, though Time magazine slammed it for a show “full of beautiful imagery and hackneyed cliches”.
The series is considered the most expensive in television history.
Amazon paid $250 million to buy the rights, and some $465 million was spent on the first season alone. And the group having committed to five seasons, the final sum should far exceed one billion.
These staggering costs go hand in hand with extreme discretion.
Plot details and reviews were strictly embargoed until Wednesday, two days before the show’s launch, and even the cast didn’t know their characters’ fates.
“Not the slightest idea! I don’t even know what happens the next season”, assures Megan Richards, who plays Poppy Proudfellow, a Harfoot, ancestor race of the Hobbits.