I’ve watched this in fits and spurts over the last while, the last 2 episodes back to back. I will continue to look back at the Peter Jackson trilogy being a near masterpiece, in both the art of filmmaking but in making the material accessible. It’s not possible to read Lord of the Rings once and understand what’s going on, it’s just too dense. The supplementary material to expand the lore is borderline the foundation to all fantasy that has come since.
LotR works because it’s a complex story that starts as a unified adventure, splits in the middle, and ties loose ends back together at the end, with both A and B plots being of near equal weight. This is my main gripe with Stranger Things as compared to The Boys, and ironically, the main issue with the Hobbit trilogy – the storylines are extremely weak and generally circular/meaningless. While not every story needs to have character growth, the A plot certain needs it.
Rings of Power has some big pacing issues, and most stem from a fundamental issue with the fact that elves are immortal. Now immortal is a word that we cannot comprehend in itself, it needs to be compared. In the lore, most of the elves are 10,000 years+ old. Dwarves live around 250 years. Humans rarely exceed 70, unless they are Numenorean (and then it’s weird). A year for us is the equivalent of 1 day for someone that’s 10,000 years old. Now, how many of us have undergone tremendous transformation in a day? It’s like comparing a human to a fruit fly.
Rings of Power focuses almost exclusively on the creation of the 3 rings of elvish power (A), with some setup of Numenor (B) and the first steps of Mordor (C). There’s a D storyline, but if you skipped the entirety of it, you wouldn’t even notice (and may be saner for it). The concept of time is difficult to manage in this storyline. GoT had more than enough example of people zooming across vast distances in hours, where for practical purposes it would be weeks if not months. For those timeframes to make sense, each of the A/B/C storylines has substantially different timeframes. A seemingly takes place over years, B over months, and C over perhaps a week. A never intersects with C, and B is used to bridge the other two.
The challenge here is that A is mostly a meaningless storyline, aside from exposition. The line is pitched as a Moby Dick approach to hunting Sauron, and the final 15 minutes are about that reveal and then completely ignoring it. Wow.
The B storyline also has no real progress or exploration as to why Numenor is the way it is. The books treat it as an Atlantis, where greed of the gods came with punishment. In this story, it’s about xenophobia, without any justification. And then a character turn which makes little sense.
The C storyline is the most interesting, in the elvish oversight of a human settlement in the southlands. There’s a weird love story here that doesn’t really work, but the human resistance and origins of the orcs is relatively well done. This is also the only storyline that has any true character development, where the decisions don’t appear driven by plot. Further than the smaller events that occur at the start are related to the final outcome.
Overall, if you’re a LotR fan, then you’re likely to get something out of the series, if only in the various call outs and interpretations. For the rest of people, I don’t see how this will work long term without some better writing and editing. Which is truly a shame, because this setting is an absolutely fascinating one.