Just a week over the drop of the full length ‘teaser’ trailer from Prime Video, today fans were treated to a FULL trailer (3min long) for The Lord of the Rings: The Rings of Power. Timed for release in the midst of San Diego Comic-con – and dropping during Prime Video’s Hall H panel – this trailer certainly sweeps away the coy hinting, and gives us a real look at what the story of Rings of Power may be; at least in the first season. But it may also pose more questions than it answers. Take a look:Continue reading “New FULL Rings of Power trailer: so much revealed, and more questions posed?”
There’s a particular letter in The Letters of J.R.R. Tolkien where Tolkien writes about his experience of dealing with a proposal from Forrest J. Ackerman to make an animated film of The Lord of the Rings.
Within that letter, there’s one revealing sentence.
Stanley U. &: I have agreed on our policy : Art or Cash. Either very profitable terms indeed ; or absolute author’s veto on objectionable [my emphasis] features or alterations.Letter #202, The Letters of J.R.R. Tolkien.
The deal never happened, though Tolkien did subsequently sell film rights in 1969 to United Artists under the looming pressure of inheritance taxes.
These days, I suspect there’s no such pressure. More, the “Middle-earth universe” is seen as a proven starter for the world’s media companies. I think that has given Tolkien Estate leverage: the power to demand not just Cash, but Art as well.
In the context of the recent Vanity Fair feature, this explains not just the starting price for the Tolkien Estate’s rights auction a “gobsmacking” $200 million, but the documented demand for input into the direction of the series. In an early, seemingly unauthorised, interview, Tom Shippey described this “input” as a “veto power”.
It also says something about the power of Middle-earth that even with that eye-watering starting price and the attachment of certain pre-conditions, Netflix, HBO and Amazon all put their hand up and bid.
Still, even if Tolkien Estate was willing to put its foot down to get that capital-A Art, it was always going to take an equally ambitious (and well-resourced) studio to come through with the goods.
Despite Vanity Fair’s assurances (it’s pretty stunning that they’ve seen the first three episodes already), it’s too early for us ordinary punters to declare The Rings of Power a sure bet — in either the commercial sense, or the Art sense.
However, Vanity Fair’s first look under the bonnet shows there’s no lack of promise: the images are intriguing and suggestive, sets and costumes look suitably spectacular, and the production staff are making the right sort of noises about respecting the integrity of the source material.
But a show with the resources of The Rings of Power should (by default) have stunning production values and a real, lived-in feel. That’s just a given.
And it’s politic for showrunners to make the right noises (I would, too). The question is, can we identify instances of real substance to back those noises? Has the objectionable — as Tolkien might have seen it — been excised?
An Atlantis-like Númenor, the full glory of Khazad-dûm —- that vast dwarven metropolis carved out of the bones of the Misty Mountains, the puissance of the elven smith Celebrimbor, whose skills with metals and magic are crucial to the forging of the rings are all lore-friendly inclusions.
They’re also easy wins.
In a way, so too is the centrality of Galadriel.
Galadriel is a key player in the Second Age (fighting the long defeat, as she expresses in The Lord of the Rings). After the publication of that book, Tolkien increasingly came to view her as one of the most remarkable elves to play a role in Middle-earth’s history, and his later essays and notes paint her as an increasingly exceptional individual. She’s also incredibly peripatetic throughout the Second Age — wandering from Lindon, into Eriador and eventually south to Eregion, under the Misty Mountains to Lórien, back across to Imladris (Rivendell) and finally the south coasts of what would later become Gondor.
During all that, she’s a key participant in events. She joins Gil-galad to reject the approaches of Annatar, alternately collaborating and at loggerheads with Celebrimbor (and later advising him to hide Nenya, Vilya and Narya), before strengthening then-Lórinand (later Lórien). Unfinished Tales states that she views the dwarves of Khazad-dûm “with the eye of a commander”.
That bespeaks a driven individual — and this is something that the teasers from Vanity Fair support. I want to see lots of ambition from Galadriel — someone with just as much inner-belief and determination to make things happen as Fëanor, but with (even at the start of the Second Age) a touch more wisdom. I think you should too.
As showrunner McKay Patrick tells Vanity Fair: “This young hot-headed Galadriel… how did she ever become that elder stateswoman [who we meet in Lórien in The Lord of the Rings]?” The awareness of that difference is present; if the show is able to intelligently show this change, it will have taken a large step toward something that accords with J.R.R. Tolkien’s own musings.
Reassuring also is the gradual emergence of the Second Age threat — one that’s recognised by some, but not by others. After all, up until the forging of the One, Sauron (as Annatar) uses the velvet glove, not the iron fist. Very late writings recently published in The Nature of Middle-earth even suggest that his minions mocked him behind his back for this.
Again, direct statements from the McKay seem to back this: “We didn’t want to do a villain-centric thing. We wanted it [the first season] to be about introducing these worlds and the peoples who dwell in them and the major heroes and characters.”
And what is potentially one of the most contentious decisions — to include Hobbits as “Harfoots” — accords somewhat with both Gandalf’s description of Gollum’s folk (yes, I know those are, more correctly, Stoors): “a clever-handed and quiet-footed little people.”
And a note in the prologue chapter of The Lord of the Rings, “Concerning Hobbits” details that “even in ancient days [Hobbits] were, as a rule, shy of ‘the Big Folk’, as they call us, and now they avoid us with dismay and are becoming hard to find … [and] they possessed from the first the art of disappearing swiftly and silently, when large folk whom they do not wish to meet come blundering by…”
Is this one decision Tolkien Estate has weighed in on? Regardless, much will hinge on the execution of the concept.
Set against the above is the compression of the timeline that the showrunners discuss. First, kudos to the production staff for being clear on this. In fact, it recalls Peter Jackson’s bald statements that his films would include no Scouring of the Shire — a very real cause of fan angst at the time. (I still think that writing decision undersold some of the character development of the four key hobbits, but, weighing in at 201 minutes, PJ’s The Return of the King is already very long.)
I get the fact that it’s probably really difficult for any television series to traverse a 2,500-year history in a way that is not choppy and disjointed, and remains compelling viewing. Being able to see characters such as, say, Isildur and Ar-Pharazôn across a span of 5 seasons allows a great deal more screentime (and thus development and insight) than would be possible in a couple of seasons. A strictly linear structure would introduce them only at near the very conclusion of the entire series.
Still, I would have liked (as many speculated before the Vanity Fair article came out) to have seen Amazon be really daring and attempt to run two split, simultaneous timelines — one leading up to the forging of the One (and Sauron’s defeat by the elves and Númenor’s fleet), and another focused on Akallabêth and, perhaps, the War of the Last Alliance (also culminating in Sauron’s defeat, this time by the elves and the Dúnedain of Arnor and Gondor).
Doubtless, it would be demanding on the audience. But if it worked, it would have been amazing.
It’s worth noting, though, that J.R.R. Tolkien in his appraisal of the Morton Grady Zimmerrnan’s 1958 script made specific reference to his displeasure with time contraction of events.
There he states that:
I fail to see why the time-scheme should be deliberately contracted. It is already rather packed in the original, the main action occurring between Sept. 22 and March 25 of the following year. The many impossibilities and absurdities which further hurrying produces might, I suppose, be unobserved by an uncritical viewer; but I do not see why they should be unnecessarily introduced.Letter #210, The Letters of J.R.R. Tolkien
Does that make this particular contraction objectionable?
In Letter #210, Tolkien points out that he doesn’t want to see “his work treated as it would seem carelessly in general, in places recklessly, and with no evident signs of any appreciation of what it is all about.” He does not want the tone lowered “towards that of a more childish fairy-tale.” Lastly, he does not wish for deliberate alteration of the story, in fact and significance, without any practical or artistic object [my emphasis].”
At least, those are my key takeaways.
Now, one observes that if the time scheme of The Lord of the Rings is packed, the precis account of the Second Age in The Tale of Years is most certainly not.
Tolkien also notes in Letter #210 that he closely observed the passing of seasons in The Lord of the Rings. He suggests that such pictorial representations could be used to non-explicitly indicate the passage of time. Similar effects might be employed for The Rings of Power series. Maybe not the thousands we are familiar with from “The Tale of Years”, but certainly dozens — or even the 100 to 200 that might encompass the lifespan of a Dúnedain of Númenor, or a dwarf of Durin’s line.
How much time is being contracted? Vanity Fair is not precise: the writers say that events are compressed “into a single point in time.” That might mean a span of a generation.
Here is where it would have been fascinating to be a fly on the wall in the discussions between Amazon Studios and Tolkien Estate.
Finally, keep in mind J.R.R. Tolkien’s letter to Milton Waldman outlining his artistic vision:
I would draw some of the great tales in fullness, and leave many only placed in the scheme, and sketched. The cycles should be linked to a majestic whole, and yet leave scope for other minds and hands, wielding paint and music and drama. Absurd.Letter #131. The Letters of J.R.R. Tolkien
Absurd. Yet, here we are.
With this in mind, I think there are promising signs that Tolkien Estate (and indeed, Amazon Studios) is seeking Art, not just Cash. Early shoots with the promise of beautiful spring, you might say.
But there’s still an awfully long way to go.
As Galadriel says in The Lord of the Rings: “hope remains while all the Company is true.” We’ll see in September how true this particular company has been.
About the author: Staffer Demosthenes has been involved with TheOneRing.net since 2001, serving first as an Associate News Editor, then as Chief News Editor during the making of the Hobbit films. Now he focuses on features and analysis. The opinions in this article are his own and do not necessarily represent those of TheOnering.net and other staff.
This is Owain Arthur as Prince Durin IV, ‘prince of the bustling subterranean realm of Khazad-dûm’. As we noted, his hammer hilt reads ‘Awake Sleeping Stone’.
Dwarf princess Disa, played by Sophia Nomvete. Durin’s wife?
Galadriel, played by Morfydd Clark, and described in Vanity Fair as ‘Commander of the Northern Armies’. There had been rumours of short hair for Galadriel – the Vanity Fair images show us otherwise! We also see an eight pointed, Feanorian star on her chest. Significant…?
Elrond, played by Robert Aramayo. Vanity Fair describes him as, ‘a politically ambitious young elven leader’ – and he does have short(ish) hair.
This is silvan elf Arondir, a newly created character, who is played by Ismael Cruz Cordova. His closely cropped hair is the shortest of the lot; his earthy, rugged attire sets him apart from the other elves we have seen. Clearly silvan elves are not quite like their high elven kin…
This is Bronwyn, a created human character, and Arondir’s ‘forbidden love’. She is described as a ‘single mother and healer’ – we see her apothecary’s sickle in this image. She’s played by Nazanin Boniadi.
The Rings of Power includes ‘Two lovable, curious harfoots, played by Megan Richards and Markella Kavenagh’. The two character posters above seem most likely to be them.
As we already knew, ‘Brit of Jamaican descent, Sir Lenny Henry, plays a harfoot elder’. Could this image show him? Perhaps the clutched scroll is an indication of his elder wisdom?
From VF: ‘Another story line will follow a sailor named Isildur (Maxim Baldry) years before he becomes a warrior and cuts the soul-corrupting ring off Sauron’s hand, then falls victim to its powers himself.’ Could the rope here suggest a sailor?
The Rings of Power will feature ‘the elven smith Celebrimbor ([played by] Charles Edwards)’. Could either of these seemingly elvish characters be Celebrimbor? Most likely not the one all in gold; this is rumoured to be Gil-galad, and certainly he seems kingly. So do we see Celebrimbor in red?
(My original thinking was this – but see below for an update!)
This one is total guesswork… VF says we encounter, in the ‘Sundering Seas … a mortal castaway named Halbrand (Charlie Vickers), who is a new character introduced in the show. Galadriel is fighting for the future; Halbrand is running from the past. ‘ There aren’t many of the character posters which look like they might be from the world of men. Could THIS be Halbrand? Could the evil looking, broken blade be part of the past from which he is running? (We do see a wooden chest on the raft, when he and Galadriel meet at sea – so it’s possible he bears with him artefacts from his past…)
UPDATE – VF reached out to let us know that this image in fact shows Bronwyn’s (seen above with sickle) son, and the hilt he is holding is hers. But WHY would she have such a sinister looking object…? Some interesting backstory to come there, methinks, about this ‘broken heirloom’…
Finally, VF tells us that our two Harfoots ‘encounter a mysterious lost man whose origin promises to be one of the show’s most enticing enigmas’. Of all the character posters, this to me is the most enigmatic. So I’m putting my money on this dishevelled, grubby character being our mysterious being…
Don’t forget to join us to watch and discuss the trailer this Sunday!
Amazon Studios has announced the casting of ‘Young Gollum,’ voiced by renowned character actor and comedian Patton Oswalt. (YES – This was an April Fool’s Day Prank – 2021!)
With a celebrated ensemble cast already gathered for Amazon’s show, this latest release implies that Oswalt will voice a child-like Smeagol character. It goes without saying that a ‘Young Gollum’ did not exist in the initial intended scope of the show, nor in the scope of the rights purchased from the Tolkien Estate. The addition of a – dare we say it – ‘Baby Gollum’ appears to be a clear attempt to attract a broader and younger audience. The vast majority of us at TheOneRing.net are big fans of Oswalt – so we look forward to seeing where this goes!
AMAZON STUDIOS ANNOUNCES VOICE TALENT PATTON OSWALT FOR THE LORD OF THE RINGS TELEVISION SERIES
The Grammy(R), Emmy(R) and Vangard Award(R) Winner joins the Ensemble Cast to Lend His Vocal Talents to Young Gollum.
(CULVER CITY, Calif. – April 1st 2021) – Amazon Studios today announces Patton Oswalt will lend his voice talent as Gollum in the Amazon Original series based on the iconic ‘The Lord of the Rings’ novels by J.R.R. Tolkien. Patton will join the previously announced global cast and crew, currently filming in New Zealand.
“We are so excited to breathe new life to the early history of this immensely popular character,” said executive producer and showrunner [retracted name]. “When you delve into the struggle of Gollum, and his alter-ego Smeagol, a plethora of possibilities leaps out. It’s a tale which is crying out to be told.”
The character of Gollum first appears in J.R.R. Tolkien’s ‘The Hobbit’, with subsequent appearances in the War of the Ring saga of the Third Age of Middle-earth. Made popular by the Rankin/Bass production in the late 1970s, and then expertly brought to screen in Peter Jackson’s epic trilogies of ‘The Lord of the Rings’ and ‘The Hobbit’, amazing adventures lie in store for the halfling-like creature, as his prequel stories unfold.
The character will originally be fully realized as a small child through the talents of WETA Digital, and given voice, (initially coos and caws), by the talented Oswalt.
“Its been a lifelong dream to work in the realm of J.R.R. Tolkien. I can’t wait to get started!” said Patton.
Set in Middle-earth, the Amazon television adaptation will explore new storylines preceding J.R.R. Tolkien’s ‘The Fellowship of the Ring’. A world-renowned literary work, and winner of the International Fantasy Award and Prometheus Hall of Fame Award, ‘The Lord of the Rings’ was named Amazon customers’ favorite book of the millennium in 1999, and Britain’s best-loved novel of all time in BBC’s ‘The Big Read’ in 2003. ‘The Lord of the Rings’ has been translated into around 40 languages, and has sold more than 150 million copies. Its theatrical adaptations from New Line Cinema and director Peter Jackson earned a combined gross of nearly $6 billion worldwide, and garnered 17 Academy Awards®, including Best Picture (‘The Return of the King’).
Staffer Demosthenes returns from the wilderness, to consider what the plot of Amazon’s Middle-earth TV series might be…
Hello! It’s been a while!
However, the fine folk of TORn have defrosted me from cryogenic stasis just in time to offer a few thoughts on the recently announced synopsis for the forthcoming Amazomg(tm) Middle-earth series.
I’m going to cut straight to chase and simply start dissecting what I consider to be the guts of their statement. The implicit assumption is that the series is focusing on events of the Second Age. Given the content of the maps revealed by the production crew, I think we’re long past the time where that’s a controversial conclusion.
But what does the rest mean? Given that the Second Age covers more than 3000 years, can we narrow down what time period the series may address?Continue reading “Analysis: what can we deduce from the Amazon synopsis about the plot of the new Middle-earth series?”
Since the final film was released during this festive season, learn how to turn that Middle-earth nostalgia into holiday fun!
Join us in Los Angeles in February at The One Last Party
We’re hosting a Party of Special Magnificence next February — a toast to all SIX movies, both LOTR trilogy and The Hobbit.