The review embargo for The Lord of the Rings: The Rings of Power was lifted today and reviews are now coming in fast. The reviews have been generally positive, praising the epic feel and production, with a current Rotten Tomatoes score of 93%.
Here’s a growing list of reviews (and spoilers):
Many predicted Amazon’s ‘Lord of the Rings’ prequel would be a disaster. It isn’t.
Prime Video’s Lord of the Rings: The Rings of Power is a unique take, telling something of its own story using a distant time period of the lore that Tolkien mostly laid out in broad strokes. It’s a bold approach, and here fortune has favored it. The two-episode premiere marks a strong start, with breathtaking cinematography, excellent acting, and a story that – after a somewhat labored set-up – shows some serious promise and intrigue.
There are ways to do a prequel, and The Lord of the Rings: The Rings of Power does them all wrong. It takes six or seven things everyone remembers from the famous movie trilogy, adds a water tank, makes nobody fun, teases mysteries that aren’t mysteries, and sends the best character on a pointless detour.
This is TV that is made for big screens, although surely destined to be watched on smaller ones. It is so cinematic and grand that it makes House of the Dragon look as if it has been cobbled together on Minecraft.
It’s technically impressive, reasonably ambitious, packed with Easter eggs that I’m certain I’m not versed enough to get and, with my interest in different plotlines already varying wildly, it could fall off a precarious cliff at any moment.
I came to this series a skeptic, but after watching the first two episodes, I walk away a believer. What showrunners Patrick McKay and J.D. Payne have created is something simply staggering in scope and scale, in raw beauty and magnificence. It is nothing short of a masterpiece—and a welcome return to Tolkien’s legenderium.
Having invested hundreds of millions in mounting a series version of “The Lord of the Rings,” Amazon has gotten its money’s worth in production values but not storytelling, with a handsome prequel that could leave all but the most devoted Hobbits feeling more bored than lord.
Rings of Power is not just good, it’s great: a gorgeously immersive and grandly ambitious spectacle packed with stunning imagery and compelling plot threads. Most importantly, it captures the same sense of awe we felt while watching the Lord of the Rings movies — one we don’t often get to experience on the small screen.
It’s a series that wants dearly to set itself apart as a fresh take on the material, right down to setting itself an entire age before the adventures of Frodo Baggins and his Fellowship. But it also does everything it can to stir our nostalgia for the Jackson films, from costume to music to overall design, which can occasionally make it like a store-brand version of the same.
Though the eight-part debut season portends an imminent war between Elves and orcs — with Dwarves, humans and a precursor to the Hobbit race called the Harfoots in the mix — the copious and choppily edited action in the first two episodes (those screened for critics) is bloodless and computer-effects-driven.
By now you may be wanting to know what The Rings of Power is about. In a way, I feel the same. The first two episodes of the show are full of exposition, unhurried table setting and character introductions but not much else.
On the one hand, The Rings of Power’s unwavering focus on its heroes allows the show to truly spotlight several of its strongest cast members. Clark shines as a version of Galadriel who is more battle-hardened and outwardly headstrong than the older, wiser, and more ethereal iteration Cate Blanchett famously played in Peter Jackson’s movies. Owain Arthur nearly steals the show with his likable, charismatic turn as Durin IV, the dwarven prince of Khazad-dûm.
On the other hand, the lack of a major antagonist in The Rings of Power’s opening installments creates an unfortunate sense of waywardness. At times, the show’s disparate storylines feel like they are only connected by the vague notion that evil may be just around the corner. Consequently, there are moments — especially in The Rings of Power’s second episode — when the series’ continent-spanning structure feels frustratingly unwieldy.
This first quarter of the season is almost entirely setup for what is to follow, so it’s hard to render much of a verdict on the series from relatively unknown showrunners J.D. Payne and Patrick McKay, who have contributed to movies including “Star Trek Beyond” and “Jungle Cruise.” Through two hours — both nicely directed by the talented J.A. Bayona (“The Impossible,” “A Monster Calls”) — “The Rings of Power” is intriguing but not quite engrossing.
The Fellowship of the Ring is a big influence here, and the characters go off on quests to investigate strange occurrences in the land while dark rumors from the previous war start to circulate again. The episodes do a commendable job of not only showing the enormity of the world and its history, but also giving the feeling of dread weighing down as the clues begin to be revealed.
Adjectives like “bold” and “ambitious” are par for the course when it comes to this franchise, and they absolutely apply to what we’ve seen so far of the show.
Two episodes in, the world-building is just as stunning and intricate as you could hope for. It’s the kind of show that deserves to be seen on the big screen instead of your phone, but that’s not going to stop fans from visiting Middle-earth via a six-inch display
…first-time showrunners JD Payne and Patrick McKay are content to take their time establishing the characters and laying the groundwork for what’s to come in a measured and deliberate way instead of giving viewers a taste of something and then jumping ahead years into the future by the next episode.
There are great performances throughout, including Clark as a Galadriel, who dances much closer to the darkness than one might expect from the future Lady of Lorien. There’s strong chemistry between Clark and Robert Aramayo as Galadriel’s friend Elrond, who at this point is but an ambitious young politician. However, the dwarves — Owain Arthur as Durin and Sohpie Nomvete as Disa — make the strongest impression.
From the tempestuous Sundering Seas to the glorious halls of the dwarven kings, each location is richly created. It’s clear how much of the budget went into making these places look as magical as imagined. On top of that, composer Bear McCreary’s soundtrack plays off the familiar tunes of Howard Shore’s iconic soundtrack and instantly tugs at the heartstrings of anyone who would find themselves affected by the music of Middle-earth.
TORn Tuesday’s co-host Justin flew around the world — at his own expense — to experience the first showings of Prime Video’s huge The Lord of the Rings: The Rings Of Power with fellow fans in NYC and London. Now having seen it twice, after years of the most spoileriffic leaks, here is his review of the first two episodes of The Lord of the Rings: The Rings of Power on Prime.
Back in 2002, I sat down in a theater full of fellow Ringers at midnight as an unknown jovial British man with a deep voice walked out to introduce The Two Towers. Andy Serkis had come at the invite of TheOneRing.net to opening night. Nobody knew who he was other than the IMDb credit and 3 seconds of trailer time — and this guy looked & sounded nothing like Gollum. There was also a lot of chatter leading up to the release of The Two Towers that book lovers were terrified of — that the elves had been reassigned from the books to honor the last alliance at Helm’s Deep (ruining Tolkien’s greatest battlefield reunion in The Return of the King). Leaked set pics showed Arwen fighting at Helm’s deep. Jar Jar Binks all-CGI characterization had “ruined” Star Wars, and all-CGI Gollum was ready to ruin Tolkien.
The lights dimmed. The screen showed the familiar landscapes. Then the camera dived INTO the mountain to replay one of the greatest scenes of Fellowship (natch, film history). Oh great, I thought, another film that does “when we last left our heroes” recap. And then the camera follows Gandalf as he falls into battle with Durin’s Bane, as an epic choral music laments their fall into the great chasm. I lept out of my seat! I couldn’t believe a movie had just shown me things I had never seen before, never expected, and a style of storytelling I didn’t think possible. The Two Towers changed my movie going life, and it is still my favorite of the trilogy.
My Rings of Power take after seeing the pilot episodes twice and really diving into the visual details:
Prime Video’s The Rings of Power brings back that feeling of discovery. It changes what television is capable of. It redefines multi-storyline TV. It completely immerses you in Middle-earth from the start, and delivers an incredible storytelling experience that stays true to the tone of Tolkien while necessarily charting a new path.
The Rings of Power finally delivers on Gimli’s promise to the Fellowship that his kin would provide a warm welcome in Moria. We finally see dwarven culture at its pinnacle — a fully realized society that is well-fed, well-worked, and well-machined. These dwarves will feel familiar to Hobbit trilogy fans, with great-looking, practical makeup FX (allegedly supported by Weta Workshop), but it’s the characterizations that really take this culture beyond the comedy of the movies. Fans of deep lore will rewatch the dwarven scenes to spot the many Easter eggs of items lost to time in the books.
All the other lands and races are equally fully realized, even the orc culture. We are all aware of the amount of effort needed to accomplish creative at this level thanks to Peter Jackson’s Appendices. It’s obvious hundreds of top creative talent are collaborating on this show. There is a visible sense of pride in the work from all the details both visual and narratively. This is a billion dollar TV show and it shows. It takes that much support to realize Tolkien’s vast imagination — which is larger in the Second Age than the Third Age seen in the films. The Second Age just has more of everything. More societies. More cities. More arid lands. More areas to explore. More destruction. My biggest fear now is that future seasons of The Rings of Power may not get the same generous budget, knowing what enormous cataclysms are to come.
Writing on the show is peak television at its pinnacle. Prime has assembled an all-star fellowship of writers from the best shows on TV — Breaking Bad, Better Call Saul, Hannibal, Game of Thrones, and more. Absolutely no characters from the vast collective on this show feel cardboard, short changed, nor one-dimensional. Everyone quickly has motivations created and their place in society established. TV has never seen a character break as bad as Sauron, the lord of all the rings, and the pilot episodes set up the stakes for Middle-earth.
J.A Bayona was absolutely the right director to establish the look and feel of this show. From his water work with The Impossible to the dark tones of Penny Dreadful, Bayona captures the existential dread that Middle-earth may not know is coming. Showrunners J.D. Payne and Patrick McKay are living our collective fan dream overseeing this massive project. Their imaginations are reaching for the same great heights that JRR Tolkien famously attempted, yet still under the guardrails and guidelines he established. Tolkien envisioned filmmakers expanding his Legendarium with his “other minds and hands, wielding paint and music & drama” and these guys are up to the task. Having chatted with them many times over the last six months it’s clear that these other and hands are the right ones to continuing shaping the history of Middle-earth.
Fans may forget that Peter Jackson’s The Lord of the Rings was full of no-name actors. It was Orlando Bloom’s first work, Billy Boyd’s first movie, and the biggest job for the hundreds of longtime kiwi actors. Rings of Power continues that tradition of unveiling top talent on the global stage. These folks are future stars. All the recent discourse of how they look and talk — also things fans also complained about in 2001 — is put to rest the minute the show starts. There is no wink at the camera or in-your-face notice me going on. These performances live in Middle-earth, period. Tolkien’s source text allow for a very expansive visual canon which the filmmakers are developing with the highest of standards. All the fears fans have of this “looking like television” are proven invalid. Better than other space and superhero TV shows, this is Middle-earth looking exactly like it should: the proper continuation of a $6 billion franchise and most-awarded film series of all time.
Even if it’s not a continuation. We have covered the rights situation numerous times over the last 4 years on this site and on YouTube. Testament to loyalty to JRR Tolkien is the involvement of Simon Tolkien (the current elder family stateman) in the production of the show, and no less that 11 living Tolkien relatives showing up to the London premiere. It’s a privilege to have Royd Tolkien a longtime friend of TORn, but to have his family there at The Rings of Power premiere unlocked a feeling I didn’t know this franchise needed: full support of the sub-creator’s legacy, and a proper continuation of his life’s work. There’s a trust in the show there, now, that I didn’t know was missing.
I’m looking forward to the many debates fans will have, and we will have at TheOneRing.net, over the choices made by the filmmakers. I’m reminded of the TORn staff that walked out of The Two Towers theatrical opening, disgusted that Frodo and Sam were at Osgiliath with an unrecognizable Faramir. My favorite film of Peter Jackson’s The Lord of the Rings has its detractors and I respect their perspectives, and The Rings Of Power will undoubtedly generate similar debates that can only strengthen our love of Middle-earth. Maybe we should bring back RINGER REVIEWS so all us fans can share our assessment of each of the 50 episodes to come.
As I walked out of that first screening, and now a second one in London, my one word review of Lord of the Rings: The Rings of Power two-part pilot remains:
PERFECTION. No Notes.
Huge thanks to all the teams at Prime Video that have supported the fans throughout this journey of creation, for inviting hundreds of fans to these free screenings around the world, for all the support at Comic-Con and DragonCon, and for all the friendly (sometimes intense) conversations as we shared the excitement for this show. Fans are happy to be seen, and will be very happy with the finished product.
Tune in every Tuesday at 8pm ET for TORn Tuesday LIVE with Clifford & Justin, and chat anytime on the TORn Discord at https://discord.gg/theonering
Prime Video Hosts J.R.R. Tolkien Homecoming in London’s Leicester Square for theWorld Premiere of The Lord of the Rings: The Rings of Power Ahead of the September 2 Premiere
The highly anticipated Prime Video series The Lord of the Rings: The Rings of Power honoured J.R.R. Tolkien by ending its epic global tour in the United Kingdom with its world premiere in London’s Leicester Square. Prime Video brought nearly 2,000 people—including cast, producers, and fans—into Middle-earth in advance of the series’ September 2 debut.
The London premiere represented the final stop in the series’ five-city world tour that started in Los Angeles and included Mexico City, Mumbai, and New York City before culminating in Tuesday’s historic Leicester Square premiere.
A fully immersive, Ring-shaped carpet took cast, crew, and guests on a narrative journey through five realms of Middle-earth, as they interacted with media and fans on their way into the Odeon Luxe and Cineworld in Leicester Square. The center of the 2,000-foot-long circular carpet was anchored by an exquisitely hand-crafted 40-foot-tall structure representing the five realms depicted in the series: The Elf capital of Lindon; the Dwarven realm of Khazad-dûm; the island kingdom of Númenor; the Southlands, the world of Man; and the Wilderlands, the home of the Harfoots. Five customized lanterns representing the five realms lit the way for cast down the carpet, each with different light sources: Fire and coal for the Dwarves, the Harfoots’ fireflies, Númenor’s oil lamps, the Southlanders’ caged candles, and Elven glow.
A living environment was created with a multitude of plants, grass, moss, vines, and 100 large-scale trees. A multilevel environment, mimicking the mountainous and hilly topography of the world, was created with various levels and vantage points, with greenery that will be repurposed or recycled following the event for future use.
Attending the global premiere were all 22 of the series’ cast regulars: Cynthia Addai-Robinson, Robert Aramayo, Owain Arthur, Maxim Baldry, Nazanin Boniadi, Morfydd Clark, Ismael Cruz Córdova, Charles Edwards, Trystan Gravelle, Sir Lenny Henry, Ema Horvath, Markella Kavenagh, Tyroe Muhafidin, Sophia Nomvete, Lloyd Owen, Megan Richards, Dylan Smith, Charlie Vickers, Leon Wadham, Benjamin Walker, Daniel Weyman, and Sara Zwangobani.
Also attending the premiere were showrunners and executive producers J.D. Payne & Patrick McKay; executive producers Lindsey Weber and Callum Greene; directors Wayne Che Yip and Charlotte Brändström; writer and executive producer Justin Doble; series composer Bear McCreary; production designer Ramsey Avery; concept artist John Howe; supervising dialect coach Leith Mcpherson; and casting director Theo Park.
Amazon executives in attendance included Jeff Bezos, Founder & Executive Chairman; Jeff Blackburn, SVP Media & Entertainment; Mike Hopkins, SVP, Prime Video, MGM and Amazon Studios; Jennifer Salke, Head of Amazon Studios; Vernon Sanders, Head of Global Television, Amazon Studios; Albert Cheng, COO of Amazon Studios, among others.
The first two episodes of the multi-season drama will launch on Prime Video in more than 240 countries and territories worldwide on Friday, September 2, with new episodes available weekly.
Tying in with the upcoming release of The Lord of the Rings: The Rings of Power tv series, Amazon Books has launched a new Lord of the Rings Book Club.
The Book Club will be starting in September with The Fellowship of the Ring, The Two Towers will follow in October and finishing in November with The Return of the King. To take part visit www.amazon.com/lotrbookclub.
On August 25th Amazon Books launched its newest Top Book Club, this one centered around The Lord of the Rings (LOTR) trilogy and hosted by the Amazon Book Review’s Managing Editor, Marcus Mann. The LOTR Book Club will start in September and continue monthly, covering: The Fellowship of the Rings (September), TheTwo Towers, (October), and The Return of the King(November).
A beloved franchise, LOTR has always had a passionate and engaged reading fan base, and with all of the reader excitement for Prime Video’s ‘Rings of Power,’ Marcus will be reacting and discussing the various connections between the books and the show as the series airs. He will host an interactive club where members can celebrate a shared love of the series and live video discussions.
“Reading The Lord of the Rings has been one of my favourite escapes since I was a child, when the series first captured my imagination,” said Marcus. “I’m thrilled to be able to take this journey through Middle-earth again with readers around the world in our new Amazon Book Club. I can’t wait to share the experience and learn from the perspective of old fans and new alike!“
Amazon Book Clubs is a free service where readers join book clubs of all genres or create their own. To join the LOTR Book Club and start discussing with fellow Tolkien fans, visit www.amazon.com/lotrbookclub.
In 1967, Tolkien began writing a letter to his son, Michael, where he shared his perspectives on cultivating faith. Tolkien likened the character of faithfulness (‘loyalty’) to that of a full-grown tree — a living organism that must be tended to by its keepers (Letter 306).
While the reasons for this letter may be forever lost to time, the excerpt reveals a fundamental notion in Tolkien’s mind: The symbolism of great faithfulness with the thriving health of trees.
There is no resemblance between the ‘mustard-seed’ and the full-grown tree. For those living in the days of its branching growth the Tree is the thing, for the history of a living thing is pan of its life, and the history of a divine thing is sacred. The wise may know that it began with a seed, but it is vain to try and dig it up, for it no longer exists, and the virtue and powers that it had now reside in the Tree.
Very good: but in husbandry the authorities, the keepers of the Tree, must look after it, according to such wisdom as they possess, prune it, remove cankers, rid it of parasites, and so forth. […] But they will certainly do harm, if they are obsessed with the desire of going back to the seed or even to the first youth of the plant when it was (as they imagine) pretty and unafflicted by evils.
The other motive […] aggiornamento: bringing up to date: that has its own grave dangers, as has been apparent throughout history.
Letter #306, The Letters of J.R.R. Tolkien
In my previous article, we discussed clues from the trailer and images of Amazon’s The Rings of Power that directly led us to identifying Sauron’s haunting presence on Middle-earth. Here, I will discuss how The Rings of Power might be using trees to illustrate the shrinking faith of the Númenoreans (Men) and the Noldor (Elves).
We begin in the island nation of Númenor. The Númenoreans are Men descended from the line of Elros, brother of Elrond. The line of the Kings of Numenor going back to Lúthien, daughter of the Sindarin King Thingol and Melian the Maiar. Of Lúthien’s descendants, Tolkien writes that ‘her line shall never fail’ (A Knife in the Dark, The Fellowship of the Ring).
In the King’s Court at Armenelos, Númenor’s capital, a white tree blooms: Nimloth thefair (Nimloth is Sindarin for ‘White Blossom’). Descended from a tree made in the likeness of Telperion for the Noldor of Tirion (Galathilion, the’White Tree’ of Yavanna, The Silmarillion), Nimloth was gifted as a seedling by the Eldar of Tol Eressëa in Aman. Her white petals gleam with the setting Sun and her scent fills the air of King’s court. Nimloth is the symbol of friendship between Men and Elves. (Cite.) A sign of the Númenor’s faithfulness to Eru and her Elven heritage.
The Númenoreans retained the dedications and order, but altered the fourth day to Aldëa (Orgaladh) with reference to the White Tree only, of which Nimloth that grew in the King’s Court in Númenóreans [my emphasis] was believed to be a descendant.
Appendix D, The Lord of the Rings
The significance of the blooming white tree is not lost to readers of Tolkien. Soon after arriving in Gondor, Aragorn discovers the sapling borne from the fruit of Nimloth. The discovery astonishes Aragorn, but Gandalf recalls the significance of the sapling:
Verily this is a sapling of the line of Nimloth the fair; and that was a seedling of Galathilion, and that a fruit of Telperion of many names, Eldest of Trees. Who shall say how it comes here in the appointed hour? But this is an ancient hallow, and ere the kings failed or the Tree withered in the court, a fruit must have been set here. For it is said that, though the fruit of the Tree comes seldom to ripeness, yet the life within may then lie sleeping through many long years, and none can foretell the time in which it will awake.
The Steward and the King, The Return of the King
In Gandalf’s words, we see the link between preservation and renewal. The line of Telperion preserved from the days of the Two Trees, and the promise of renewal to its former glory.
But, alas, our first sight of Nimloth in The Rings of Power is a solemn one. Unlike the sapling of Gondor emerging from the snow, we instead witness the opposite, the beginning stages of a fully-grown white tree beginning to wither.
Nimloth is weeping.
Her blossoms scatter onto the royal courts as Queen Regent Míriel and her advisor Pharazôn pause to make note of the moment. Míriel’s face flushes with unmistakable desperation.
Is this then the first of many signs and warnings of Númenor’s descent to her watery grave?As steward-keeper of Nimloth (Faith), is Míriel’s faith in Eru and Númenor’s alliance with the Elves starting to crumble?
From what we are seeing, Nimloth is shedding her crown; Númenor is dying.
Mortality is, of course, a theme central to Tolkien’s works. Endings are inscribed to the life and stories of every creature on Middle-earth. It is this ill-fate that Tolkien has termed “fading” that the immortal Elves seek to halt. As Tolkien writes of the Second Age in a letter to Milton Waldman:
All through the twilight of the Second Age the Shadow is growing in the East of Middle-earth, spreading its sway more and more over Men — who multiply as the Elves begin to fade.
Letter #131, The Letters of J.R.R. Tolkien
Following the destruction of the Two Trees, their great Elf-king Finwë’s death at the hands of Morgoth, the theft of the Silmarils, and in defiance of Eru and the Valar, the arrival and lingering presence of the Noldor (tribe of Elves descended from Finwë) on Middle-earth resulted in their inevitable decline as a people. Yet, the hubris, ingenuity, and might of the Noldor also meant they were a great force to be reckoned with.
They are the chief artificers of devices (“rings”) that halt fading in the Second and Third Age.
In The Rings of Power, the fading of the Noldor is discreetly translated through the Tolkienian metaphor of suffering trees. Given their presence on Middle-earth is consequential to their continued defiance to the Valar, the Noldor’s faltering faith is represented in their inability to keep their beloved Mallorn trees (plural Mellyrn) from fading.
We are quite familiar with the description of the Mallorn Tree from several Tolkien texts (Letter to Minchin (1956), The Fellowship of The Ring, Unfinished Tales). It is prominently described as having a single smooth bark (“pillar”) of grey silver whose leaves turn to pale gold in the autumn, which carpeted the forest floor through spring and summer.
Its bark was silver and smooth, and its boughs somewhat upswept after the manner of the beech; but it never grew save with a single trunk. Its leaves, like those of the beech but greater, were pale green above and beneath were silver, glistering in the sun; in the autumn they did not fall, but turned to pale gold.
In the spring it bore golden blossom in clusters like a cherry, which bloomed on during the summer; and as soon as the flowers opened the leaves fell, so that through spring and summer a grove of malinorni was carpeted and roofed with gold, but its pillars were of grey silver. Its fruit was a nut with a silver shale.
A Description of the Island of Númenor, Unfinished Tales of Númenor and Middle-earth
Unlike the description of the Mallorn given by Tolkien, we instead witness a dark, crudely shaped, and twisted bark of a large, and what we presume is an ancientMallorn Tree.
From stills and footage, we can construct a working hypothesis that the Noldor are experimenting with planting a Mellyrn forest in Lindon. As Gil-galad and Elrond commune among the trees at night, our eyes are drawn to the sharp contrast of the younger Mellyrn (right) and the dark, brooding, and ancient Mallorn (left). It appears that the ancient Mallorn is fading, albeit gradually. What may have begun as a silver pillar for a bark has gradually twisted unto itself; stopping the Mallorn from growing to its magnitudinous heights. Her golden leaves also appear to be much darker compared to the younger ones.
Further evidence for this hypothesis is the telltale presence of a Mallorn saplinginKhazad-dûm. While we cannot confirm why a sapling might be growing in the deep underground caverns of Moria, it is curious that the Elves as keepers of the Mallorn sought the Moria Dwarves as collaborators in testing the possible thriving conditions for Mellyrn.
A simpler explanation might be that the Mallorn sapling was grown from a seed gifted to the Moria Dwarves in lieu of friendship. A possible callback to Galadriel gifting Samwise Gamgee a single Mallorn nut that was consequently planted in the Shire.
Even so, the fading of the Mallorn will be an ongoing leitmotif that will marshal the Noldor into seeking and creating the Rings of Power as a means to halt the Fading of the Elves and their realms.
The Mallorn of Lothlórien.
About the author: DrNosy is a scientist (physical science), scholar, and Tolkien enthusiast. Her primary interests lie in review and analysis of The Lord of the Rings: The Rings of Power. She is an active contributor and Reading Room Moderator on TheOneRing.net Discord where she also hosts live open-forum panel discussions on The Rings of Power, The Silmarillion, and a variety of Tolkien-related topics. You can reach her on Twitter.
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