Amazon Prime’s new ‘Lord of the Rings’ has failed to become a Stranger Things-style pop cultural phenomenon for the streaming platform.
On one side we have our pitchfork-wielding Tolkien fans. On the other, mainstream critics claiming it as a smash hit. The general public reaction? Lacklustre.
The story is set 2,000 years before The Hobbit and The Lord of the Rings – although Amazon only have the rights to those particular books and their appendices. It has already wrought a great many changes to the lore, adding original characters and compressing and reshuffling the timeline.
Add to that the early rumours of nudity and an ‘intimacy coordinator’, it appears the creators and devoted fans got off on the wrong (har)foot from the get-go. After all, Peter Jackson’s Hobbit trilogy received backlash when he introduced a non-canon character – Evangeline Lilly’s elf Tauriel – in an inter-species romance with a dwarf.
Viewers are rewarded with fab performances from a cast of largely unknown actors. A lot of the original characters work well, such as twisted elf Adar (Joseph Mawle), and dwarven princess Disa (Sophia Nomvete), who is wife to Prince Durin (Owain Arthur).
Some of the best scenes are between Durin and Elrond (Robert Aramayo), which are reminiscent of the Gimli and Legolas bromance. And then there’s the biggie – canon-breaking drifter Halbrand, AKA Sexy Sauron (Charlie Vickers) – who forges an interesting bond with Galadriel (Morfyyd Clark).
Despite the sexual chemistry between them (and the gossip on Númenor), the two actors have insisted that their characters share a cosmic, not romantic tension. It’s a sinister cosmic connection though – one where Galadriel drags a reluctant Sauron back to his evil ways. Joking aside, but it’s as if writers flirted with the possibility of a Galadriel/Sauron romance, then let it fade into incoherence instead.
The breakout star and clear lead is Clark, best known for the A24’s acclaimed psychological horror Saint Maud, and as Mina in the BBC’s Dracula. Her armour-clad yet diminutive Galadriel is unrecognisable from Cate Blanchett’s regal, ethereal sorceress. She’s forever hectoring, and she’s always right. Whatever happened to you, far worse has happened to her. (We’ve all had a friend like that.) No wonder Celeborn has done a runner. It’s a credit to Clark that she remains luminous throughout.
Sadly Clark – and the rest of the cast – are let down by the dialogue. In a potentially great scene, Halbrand growls: “Why do you keep fighting?” Galadriel’s answer? “Because I cannot stop!”
Cringe at the platitudes, at the fight choreography, and at the dainty Númenorean ships sailing to war. The ineptitude and contrivances are of volcanic proportions and beyond the scope of this blog post. However, a mention must go to the ancient Celebrimbor, the greatest of elven-smiths, agog with wonder as he discovers metallurgy 101 from a seemingly random human man.
The argument will likely rumble on like Mount Doom as to whether the Amazon showrunners’ decisions are supported by Tolkien’s text. If you’re looking for a family-appropriate, gentle trip to a Middle-earth theme park – this is your show. It’s possible to be invested in the actors, and impatient for an (improved) second season. However it needs to be eerier, faster-paced, and possess more heart and attention to detail.
Because rather like the Harry Potter spinoff Fantastic Beasts, so far it has failed to capture the magic.