The Rings of Power has a visual distinction and vibe entirely of its own, observes Sukanya Verma.
If there's one thing that Peter Jackson's exhaustive adaptation of The Lord of Rings and The Hobbit trilogy in all its extended-version glory has taught us, there's not a speck in J R R Tolkien's voluminous, vivid writing that cannot be stretched into a saga.
And it could not be reiterated any more so than in the author's meticulously prepared appendices inspiring the costliest production in television history.
Showrunners Patrick McKay and JD Payne have likened the experience of drawing on Tolkien's literature like walking in a cave, 'everywhere we tap our chisel, there's gold.'
As precious these postscripts are, Amazon's challenge to recreate Middle Earth for streaming wasn't ever going to stop at shelling out millions in acquiring rights.
The beloved canon's legion of fans -- purists and loyalists, sticklers for the written word and adapted -- are a tough lot to please.
Given the ground-breaking impact of Jackson's movies on cinema and CGI, expectations loomed high. Not to mention filming in the middle of a raging pandemic came with its own set of problems.
Yet with gilded confidence and lofty ambitions, Amazon Prime Video's The Lord of the Rings: The Rings of Power kicks off a first season on a spectacularly eager note.
Based on the two episodes (of a total eight) I saw, the sheer scale and grandeur of the series on display, almost a trilogy-sized season, makes everything else on streaming look like cutesy dioramas.
But I tread with caution.
Many biggies have fizzled after a promising start.
Can The Rings of Power maintain the momentum or complete its course of a five seasons arc as originally planned? We'll just have to wait and find out.
'Nothing is evil in the beginning,' reminds Galadriel in a voice-over, offering a summary of events until where our story begins, much like Cate Blanchett's Lady of Light. Except this Galadriel, portrayed by Morfydd Clark, is a young, feisty warrior elf yet to grow into the calm, clever, gossamer dream etched in our memory.
She can withstand tempestuous weathers, combat snow trolls and sea worms single handedly and crinkles her nose indignantly every time she's doubted or expected to go against her will -- a scenario that occurs frequently in her feverish pursuit of Sauron and avenge her brother's death (it's the Second Age and Dark Lord Morgoth is defeated, but his servant and sorcerer Sauron schemes to unleash greater evil on Middle Earth).
Friend and half-elf Elrond (Robert Aramayon) is sympathetic to her cause as well as their friendship, a courtesy he hasn't extended to old pal and Prince Durin IV of Khazad-dum (Owain Arthur) leaving him grumbling in disdain.
Ironically, the only time The Rings of Power perks up and snaps out of its austere and ominous mood is when the boisterous dwarfs show up and the game of one-upmanship against an elf shows up.
There's a forbidden elf-human romance brewing in the Southlands between Arondir, the woodland elf (Ismael Cruz Cordova) and Bronwyn (Nazanin Boniadi), a healer whose teenage son Theo hides a deadly weapon in his possession.
Meanwhile, Nori Brandyfoot's (Markella Kavenagh) life takes a turn after she rescues a mysterious being (Daniel Weyman) that's fallen from the sky quite like Claire Danes in Stardust.
Nori's a Harfoot, a pre-Hobbit species of Halflings, is raring to discover the mysteries and wonders of a world beyond her cozy subterranean existence.
Where The Lord of the Rings trilogy was largely a quest, The Rings of Power hinges on vendetta so far. We are still in the bdark about the enemy's motive and machinations but something wicked is coming and brings about the creation of the rings of power and Sauron's 'one ring to rule them all'.
The first few episodes focus on the extensive world building, the various regions and their politics and characters on the verge of life changing decisions. Though the interpersonal equations feel familiar, the pace is more relaxed than meditative.
Things should get more exciting once we feast our eyes on the opulent island of Numenor, home to Isuldur -- ancestor of Aragorn and slayer of Sauron's mortal form.
Speaking of imagery, the expense and effort gone in making The Rings of Power a thing of beauty is undeniable, unprecedented.
It's impossible for anyone to watch the show without thinking about Peter Jackson's version.
His influences run deep in the dramatic designs, the lyrical performances, the rhythm of their speech, the splendorous production design, the emotional beats and pairings, the grace, the grotesqueness and how we all subconsciously perceive Middle Earth after The Fellowship of the Ring came out two decades ago. And yet, The Rings of Power has a visual distinction and vibe entirely of its own, propelled by a strong sense of racial representation and female characterisation.
One can't help but appreciate its zeal to craft an epic out of notes, like the visual of young Galadriel's paper boat developing wings as gorgeous as a swan's and the steadfast belief -- it's not going to float, it's going to sail.
May it be.
The Lord of the Rings: The Rings of Power streams on Amazon Prime Video.