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
As we first reported here in December, after J.R.R. Tolkien’s great grandson Mike lost his battle to Motor Neuron Disease (MDS) almost one year ago, his older brother Royd took up the challenge to complete the bucket list of 50 items his younger brother left to him. A related article by the U.K. Independent paints a rich backstory of two brothers who seemed worlds apart, yet who came together in mutual support at the most difficult of times.
We’ve just heard the sad news of the passing of Royd’s brother Mike who has been battling ALS (Motor Neurone Disease).
Royd posted this moving tribute to his brother on his facebook page.
On Wednesday morning, my loving, handsome, devoted brother, Mike, peacefully passed away.
From the moment he was diagnosed with Motor Neurone Disease/ALS he faced it head on, clenched his fists and battled. He took my breath away every single day with his strength and courage.
For 4 years I’ve been strong while silently weeping, now I’ve lost the comfortable feeling that he’ll be around forever and I’m heartbroken.
Every part of me, everything around me, anything I ever did and will ever do is connected to him and I desperately miss him. I’ve lost my friend and my reason and I will never be whole again.
I was privileged to have the honour of being his brother.
From everyone here at theonering.net, our love, prayers and best wishes are with you.
Note: MrCere here. ImladrisRose wrote this immediately after the convention but became very ill after getting home — very ill. So, after delivery, it took me a little bit to get it posted. She is on the mend and this is a major relief. Thanks for all your hard work IR! We do all wish you health and happiness. She also took many more photos and included more to post but technical issues made that impossible but we may upload some later.
BONN — TORn staffers MrCere and ImladrisRose traveled to Bonn, Germany to attend HobbitCon2 over Easter weekend. While the journey was long, the excitement at the final destination made it very much worthwhile.
HobbitCon is convention bred for a single purpose, to destroy every other con that came before. HobbitCon is all things “The Hobbit”, as if the title didn’t give it away. It is a kaleidoscope of Hobbity goodness, a gaggle of dwarves, masters in the film industry, a real life Tolkien and fans who’s boundless enthusiasm is something that has always made this particular fandom so stupendous! As someone who has been to conventions all around the US featuring so many different people involved in the Tolkien universe, HobbitCon was a completely unique, exhilarating experience. Not only was it packed with talks, workshops, lectures and unique experiences, but because everything took place at the Maritim Hotel in Bonn, the nightlife at this con made every other con I’ve been to seem well, lame!
Taking place over the course of three days, HobbitCon is truly an event in which even the most die hard Tolkien fans that think they’ve heard it all will hear stories and take on experiences that will stay with them forever. The atmosphere of the con was very laid back, it felt very much as if Hobbits themselves were in charge because there was a constant feeling of camaraderie and all the good feelings of home amongst the guests and fans alike. This love infused environment allowed for everyone in attendance to truly immerse themselves in their time at the con and to feel fully relaxed, but most importantly, not to feel judged for who they are or where they come from or who has a better Thranduil costume. Everyone in attendance was cut from the same cloth and this feeling of uniqueness combined with similarity made everyone feel like family by the end. As people were saying goodbye to one another, tears were being shed. Beautiful.
The fans at HobbitCon would not have had the incredible experience that they had if it were not for the absolute warmth and sincerity that oozed from each and every featured guest, including all of the actors. Never I have witnessed such an effort put forth from an events featured guests to make the fans feel so important and to take the time to have unique and memorable interactions at every possible turn. I remember seeing a woman dressed as Dwalin walking down the halls and Graham McTavish made a beeline for her and told her what a great job she did on her costume, He didn’t have to do that, but he did it because he wanted to. This again, is such an ode to the marvelous gift that Peter Jackson and co have for bringing the most awesome people on board to work on these films. It really says a lot.
HobbitCon2 had an enormous amount of awesome guests which include but are not limited to: Ken Stott “Balin”, Adam Brown “Ori”, William Kircher “Bifur”, Stephen Hunter “Bombur”, Mark Hadlow “Dori”, Dean O’Gorman “Fili”, Peter Hambleton “Gloin”, Jed Brophy “Nori”, John Callen “Oin” and Graham McTavish “Dwalin”. Also in attendance were: Sir Richard Taylor, Royd Tolkien (great grandson of J.R.R. Tolkien), Mark Atkin (stunt/scale double for Richard Armitage) and our very own Larry D. Curtis.
SAMSTAG 19 April, 2014
Saturday was opening day for HobbitCon. Last year was the first HobbitCon so guests from the previous year had very high expectations, and from what I gathered, no one was disappointed! The Opening Ceremonies took place in the evening, but there were many exciting talks and panels before hand. First up was a talk featuring Mark Hadlow “Dori” and Stephen Hunter “Bombur”. The banter between these two was fabulous as they eagerly answered questions from fans. Mark even had an interesting exchange with some of the set/stage decorations that looked to be either Ringwraiths or cloaked Elves! Up next was none other than Sir Richard Taylor, who walked out to a standing ovation, is the best public speaker I have ever encountered. His steadfast encouragement for people to follow their dreams is a true inspiration. After that was a hilarious talk featuring William Kircher “Bifur”, John Callen “Oin” and Peter Hambleton “Gloin”. They were such a hilarious trio and the fans simply adored them. Adam Brown “Ori” and Dean O’Gorman “Fili” were up next and out of all of the featured guests; those two seemed to always get the biggest reaction from the crowd. Their personalities are contagious and while they both told great stories, my favorite would have to be the one Dean told where he got stuck in a neighbor’s mailbox and the fire department had to rescue him. My favorite fan question was when they were asked how they would eventually propose to their respective girlfriends, to which they both acted it out which eventually led to Adam passionately kissing Dean. Shenanigans. The fans simply adore those two, frankly it is impossible not to.
TORn’s first panel of the con “A Not So Official View at the Hobbit” began right after Adam and Dean’s panel. The room was filled with curious fans, many of which follow TORn but quite a few who were just learning about us! That was great to see, as I am sure that those who were just hearing about TORn would be following us in no time at all. Larry did a great job and many fans were engaged in asking questions. Great job MrCere! My sole purpose for going to HobbitCon was to do what I do best, take pictures so that I can have a more enticing article for TORn, I did not talk for any of our presentations, I work best behind a camera. ☺
After a very short recess, the Opening Ceremonies began. HobbitCon is hosted by none other than Mr. Mark Ferguson (who you may know as “Gil-Galad” from LOTR). Mark is such a joy and his charisma made the event that much more charming. The sheer spectacle of the opening ceremonies has no rival in the convention world; it is its own animal and is something to truly be marveled at. The stage is filled with ever changing lights, cloaked figures, a large screen for better viewing of the speakers, and even a to scale Hobbit hole! After Mark did his introduction he introduced each speaker and panelist, the people who ran the various workshops and ended with introducing the events cast of characters who were met with boisterous applause from the audience who was on their feet cheering in excitement. Ken Stott received the loudest cheers from the fans, it was his first ever convention!
Once the opening ceremonies were complete all the fans were ready to mix and mingle, as were all of the featured guests. The entire first floor of the Maritim is filled with lounge spaces, bars and dance floors. This is where the party was every single night of the con. On this particular night, the music was to the tune of oldies until about 10pm then the modern dance music came on. The films stars did not stay segregated in their own space, no, quite the opposite! They were interacting with fans at the bar, dancing on the dance floor, having real conversations about real life things (not just the books or films). These conversations were filled with a mutual respect and a sense of humanity that is rare in the world of conventions, but again that is a testament to the people in attendance, both guests and fans. It was such a welcoming atmosphere and such a joy to see such pure of heart interactions taking place. For me, the highlight of the night was seeing Dean O’Gorman and Stephen Hunter rip up the dance floor doing the moves to Beyoncé’s “Single Ladies” dance. One of the highlights of my life, really. Most of our dwarven company took a spin on the dance floor, and that was what was so wonderful. How many times in your life do you get to dance with dwarves in Germany? If you go to HobbitCon, it is very likely to happen since it did every single night this time around.
SONTAGG 20 April, 2014
Sunday kicked off with our second TORn panel “New Zealand is Middle Earth” done once again by MrCere. This panel seemed to be the best received by the fans, probably due to the beautiful imagery associated with the talk showcasing New Zealand in all its glory. The afternoon brought talks from many of the films stars in a variety of combinations. Each panel brought many laughs and a great deal of insight to both the on set experiences and the lives of our beloved dwarven company.
There were two standout panels on Sunday. One of which was given by Royd Tolkien (great grandson of J.R.R. Tolkien). The audience was fully engaged and hanging on to every word he said, his charm captivated the audience and it was an honor to have had him there. He is so respected within the community and it was great to see that in person. The second stand out for me would be the talk given by Mark Atkin (Richard Armitage’s scale/stunt double). His raw enthusiasm, not just for what he does, but also for it being his first convention, was wonderful and it was fascinating hearing his stories throughout the weekend. His perspective of working on these films is a welcome addition to any con as most of the featured guests at conventions are the more well known players, however Mark’s role in the films is a vital part in the creation of that universe, so hearing a unique perspective was both refreshing and fascinating.
One of the huge draws to attending an event like this is the chance to meet and greet with your favorite star/filmmaker. Part of that opportunity means that you also have the chance to have your photo taken with one of the stars or get their autograph. The photo ops and autographs are an additional fee besides your ticket to the event, but it is always worth the experience, especially if your favorite character is there! These photo and autograph opportunities were taking place throughout the entire event at specific designated times. I witnessed fans shrieking in delight upon receiving their photo. Again, the constant enthusiasm of Tolkien fans is something I am so happy to be a part of and one of the many reasons I love this community so much.
Early evening brought the conventions costume competition! Of all of the events I have been to, this convention had some of the most incredibly detailed costumes I have ever seen. The expert craftsmanship and the time that went into these stupendous creations is something to be marveled at. The costume contest had a panel of expert judges making all of the decisions! This panel included: Royd Tolkien, William Kircher, Jed Brophy, Sadwyn Brophy, and Sir Richard Taylor! The panel’s kindness and enthusiasm towards all of the contestants was so sweet and endearing. While there were many fabulous entries into the contest, my favorite was a Bilbo and Smaug duo. The Smaug costume was both unique and intricate, such a lovely interpretation. The winners of the contest were an exquisite pair of Thruandil’s, a Thorin so perfect you would’ve sworn that it was Richard Armitage himself in full costume and a perfect pairing of Bilbo and Smaug.
After the festivities of the costume contest wore down and many a photograph was taken of the splendor surrounding the work of these fabulous artisans, a panel took place in which Jed Brophy, Mark Hadlow, Dean O’Gorman, Adam Brown and Stephen Hunter had the crowd in stitches of laughter the entire time. The fans were asking questions that led to stories being told in pure hilarity. One fan asked to hear the story of each of their worst professional working experiences, and all of their answers were hilarious, although Adam’s story takes the cake. It would seem that he worked on a play early on in his career in which he had to “swim” in a speedo. (Censored by MrCere, thinking that story was meant for the room only! You are welcome Adam!) It was gut-wrenchingly funny. Another funny moment was when a fan asked which house in Harry Potter they would each belong to causing the actors to question the loyalty of the fan and resulting in a complete butchering of the HP house names. But this did lead to the discovery that Adam Brown had a small roll in the Harry Potter films which was quite ironic considering when this question was asked the audience booed, yet when they found out Adam was in the franchise they cheered. Ah, fans are so loyal…
The final panel of the evening was done by our very own MrCere and was aptly named “The Hobbit: A Front Row View”. The audience, as usual, had dedicated Ringers along with people who were just now being exposed to TORn. It is always great to see both familiar faces and to meet new people at these events. That for me has always been one of the greatest draws of conventions: a lot of these people you only see at events like this, except for following each other on Facebook or Twitter, but the friends you make at these cons really do become friends for life. Who else fully understands that aspect of you as a human being?
Sunday evening filled the Maritim Hotel with yet another party all throughout the halls and rooms of the ground floor. The music was loud, the party hopping and the socializing was going on all night long. The fact that you can be ripping up the dance floor with Royd Tolkien or chatting over a drink with Stephen Hunter or Dean O’Gorman is something that really makes this event super magical. Everyone is on the same level, no segregation of celebrity vs. commoner. Everyone hangs out with everyone, everyone dances with everyone, everyone has a drink with everyone, and everyone talks with everyone. It was a fabulous experience and I know that everyone who attended has memories that will last a lifetime.
MONTAG 21 April, 2014
The final day of the con, of any con really, is always filled with much love and sadness. No one ever wants to leave but is always filled with joy from the memories made but most importantly the new friends that were made. The morning brought another panel from the wonderful Mark Atkin, a panel from the amazing duo of Ken Stott and Graham McTavish, another panel from the fabulous Royd Tolkien and a final panel from the incomparable Sir Richard Taylor.
Sir Richard Taylor began his talk explaining the history of WETA and all of the amazing projects they have worked on and what a powerhouse they have been in the film industry. Seeing the visuals attached to the history was both fascinating and moving at the same time. He is so passionate about what he does and I have always believed that if you aren’t passionate about what you do that you should be doing something else. After his introduction, the visuals kept playing in the background as he answered questions. It is astounding that at the heart of this juggernaut of a company is such a humble man who is probably the most gracious individual I have ever encountered. He took the time to fully answer every fan question and would almost always find a story that was relevant to tell to coincide with his answer, and then he would sincerely thank the fan for their question. He meant it too. It is easy to tell when someone is genuine and when they are not, he is genuine and sincere and we as a fandom are incredibly lucky to have him.
I am a filmmaker and have been making movies since I was a kid (thanks to a film production company started by myself, my little sister and my mom called M.A.R.S. Productions). Much of our early work was LOTR related: including a three and a half hour parody of ROTK and a series named Middle Earth Idols. To simply say that Tolkien, Peter Jackson and Richard Taylor have been an inspiration and have been very influential in my life is probably the greatest understatement I could ever make. I have never not been a filmmaker, I don’t know how to be anything else, it’s just not who I am. During his talk, Richard said something that really stuck with me and pretty much sums everything up: “If you don’t wake up every morning and dedicate 100% of who you are to what you love, you will never be the version of yourself you are supposed to be. Artists or anyone creative need to be creating in order to be fulfilled as individuals. If we are not creating, we are not being who we are. That is why I live and breathe what I do. I would not be me if I did anything else.”. His words are eye opening and inspirational and if you have the opportunity to, please go see a talk or lecture given by him.
I had never had the pleasure of meeting Richard Taylor until I was 7,000 miles away from home in Bonn Germany, but I did get the honor of meeting him. I ran into him in the lobby and was initially hesitant to walk up to him; he is someone I really look up to. The line from the movie “We Bought a Zoo” popped in my head where Matt Damon says “All it takes is ten seconds of insane courage to accomplish something amazing.” so I walked up to him and introduced myself. I was shaking the entire time, but I told him a little bit about me and how much I respected him and what an influence he has had on me in my career. We chatted for about fifteen minutes and it was the most delightful conversation I’ve ever had. He was asking me questions about my career and just genuinely engaging in the conversation which I thought was amazing. At the end of the conversation he gave me his card and shook my hand saying that he hopes we can maybe work together one day. Basically made my life complete by saying that. Never in a million years did I think that conversation would happen, but it did, and I am eternally grateful to HobbitCon for having him there and giving me that opportunity.
The closing ceremonies took place in the early evening and allowed all of the fans to see the stars and lecturers one last time before departing. Everyone was met with immense cheers, Richard Taylor received a much deserved standing ovation and then the featured guests left the stage and thus HobbitCon had ended…. Almost. The actors who play our beloved dwarves emerged on to the stage one final time and lined up with microphones in front of them. They began to sing the Misty Mountains song. It gave everyone chills. It was the most incredibly awesome thing to witness and was the most perfect way to end such a wonderful event. What could possibly be better?!
So many wonderful and amazing things happened at HobbitCon and I simply can not wait until next year and am praying that I am able to attend because there is nothing that quite compares to totally geeking out, partying with dwarves and meeting so many people you admire all while being in Germany. ~ ImladrisRose