With a production budget of $462 million [£399m] on top of the $250m [£216m] Jeff Bezos ponied up for the rights to J.R.R. Tolkien’s trilogy and its appendices back in 2017, that’s an eye-watering price tag for eight episodes of television.
Even taking on board the fact that a lot of that money will have been spent putting in place the infrastructure for a planned multi-season run, industry analysts have put the the cost at more than one billion US dollars once marketing is factored in — and that’s for a prequel show with no actual Tolkien novel to draw from.
The good news for fans is the money is largely on screen.
Unlike some of the recent Star Wars and Marvel shows, this does not look cheap in comparison to its cinematic counterparts.
Peter Jackson may not be involved, but a lot of effort has clearly been made to make it feel consistent with the cinematic world he created for The Lord of the Rings trilogy, whether it’s the swooping, vertiginous camera shots, the design of the orcs, or the use of New Zealand as a Middle Earth stand-in.
It even kicks off with a scene-setting prologue narrated by Galadriel, the Elven queen played in the films by Cate Blanchett, but now played by Welsh actress Morfydd Clark, the break-out star of 2020 horror hit Saint Maud.
Galadriel is clearly being set up as the driving force of this new iteration, which takes place thousands of years before the events of The Hobbit and The Lord of the Rings.
Drawing on the histories outlined in Tolkien’s appendices, show-runners Patrick McKay and John D. Payne, along with director J.A. Bayona (Jurassic World: Fallen Kingdom), establish Galadriel as a vengeance-seeking warrior with a personal vendetta against Sauron, the future dark lord and eventual forger of "the one ring to rule them all”.
As you’d expect, there’s a fair amount of world-building in these first two episodes, which can feel like a chore.
But just when it seems like it’s about to get bogged down in establishing, say, the hobbit-like harfoots (one of whom is delightfully played by Lenny Henry), or succumbing to the ripe, portentous, faux-Shakespearean acting style beloved of the fantasy genre, the show will seed an ominous plot turn for a future episode or bring in an acting heavyweight like Peter Mullan, whose casting as the Dwarf King Durin III immediately makes it clear why the Dwarves have broad Scottish accents.
So yes, the show is a risk, especially after Jackson’s critically maligned – albeit financially successful – Hobbit trilogy demonstrated the storytelling folly of padding out a slim volume of source material to such an epic length.
But it’s also easy to forget how much of a risk Jackson’s original trilogy was — and that ended up grossing close to $3bn [£2.6bn] at the box office and winning 17 Oscars.
The Rings of Power has its own challenges (the just-launched Game of Thrones spin-off House of the Dragon, a more fractured pop culture landscape), but it’s off to a solid start.
- Three stars out of five