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'The Lord of the Rings: The Rings of Power'

Gorgeous, sprawling and magical epic make its Prime Video debut

Morfydd Clark as Galadriel, a white-haired, royal-born elf is a fierce and smart warrior. Photo credit: Prime Video

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The residents of Current Earth known as Entertainment Journalists tell us the Prime Video fantasy adventure saga The Lord of the Rings: The Rings of Power is the most expensive television series of all time, with Amazon spending some $250 million just to acquire the rights from the estate of J.R.R. Tolkien and investing somewhere in the neighborhood of $1 billion in a projected five-season run. I mean, geez, that's like 0.5% of Jeff Bezos' reported net worth! 

Having borne witness to the first two episodes, I can confirm this is one of the most expansive, lush and well-photographed projects you'll ever see - a gorgeous, sprawling and magical albeit somewhat overstuffed epic filled with fascinating characters populating a world that feels like a colorful waking dream (with a potential nightmare lurking around the corner). Created by J.D. Payne and Patrick McKay and set during the Second Age of Middle-earth, thousands of years before the events of the Lord of the Rings trilogy, Rings of Power begins with a voice-over saying, "Nothing is evil in the beginning," which pretty much tells us we shouldn't get used to the idyllic tableau we're seeing right now, because something wicked will be coming. 

"We had no word for death, for we thought our joys would be unending," says the narrator, who will become one of the key figures in the stories to come. "We thought our light would never end." 

With stunning visuals setting the tone, we learn of a great war that lasted centuries and left Middle-earth in ruin. Over the course of the next two episodes, we get foundational setups in a number of locales, with the camera swooping over maps identifying realms such as "Rhovanion," "Lindon, Capital of the High Elves," "The Southlands, Land of Men," "Eregion: Realm of the Elven-Smiths" and "Kahzad-Dum, Realm of the Dwarves." If you're a Tolkien aficionado, the mere mention of these places might well be making the hairs on the back of your neck stand up. If you're not, hang tough; thanks to solid exposition, crisp editing and those handy map graphics, it's actually not TOO much of a chore to keep track of all the locales, not to mention the well-defined and intriguing characters, including:

  - Galadriel (Morfydd Clark), a white-haired, royal-born elf who is a fierce and smart warrior, and quickly emerges as potentially the most important character in the adventures to come. (Cate Blanchett played Galadriel in the movies. Hey, these elves have staying power.)

  - Arondir (Ismael Cruz Cordova), a Silver Elf who has been stationed in the Southlands for the last 79 years as a protector of the humans. Now that the threat of war seems to be over, Arondir has been released from his post - but he's torn about this, as he has become involved in a forbidden romance with ... a person! We'll say no more about that.

  - Nori Brandyfoot (Markella Kavenagh), an adventurous harfoot who yearns to discover worlds beyond the boundaries of her safe and tightly knit community. (Harfoots are predecessors to hobbits, who don't yet exist in this world.) "Haven't you ever wondered what else is out there?" Nori says to her bestie. "I can't help but feel there's wonders in this world ..." Oh, Nori. You're not wrong.

  - Elrond (Robert Aramayo, who was young Ned Stark in Game of Thrones), an eager and ambitious half-elven who dreams of accomplishing something profound and lasting. (Hugo Weaving played Elrond in the movies.)

  - Durin IV (Owain Arthur), the prince of an incredibly vibrant and secret kingdom of dwarves. A dedicated family man, Durin was once best friends with Elrond. Might they team up again?

  - Bronwyn (Nazanin Boniadi), a village healer and socially conscious and controversial activist who lives with her young son, Theo (Tyroe Muhafidin), in the Southlands.

  - Halbrand (Charlie Vickers), a mysterious and seemingly brave and resourceful human from the Southlands whose initial meeting with Galadriel on the Sundering Seas plays like an old-timey version of The African Queen.

These talented and good-looking actors (and many more) deliver strong and earnest performances, even when the dialogue is, let's face it, a little corny and reminiscent of a children's storybook. (Not that Rings of Power doesn't have its moments of violence and terror, but it's much, much milder than the carnage rendered in the Game of Thrones prequel House of the Dragon. As for the sex: nonexistent. A smoldering look or a lingering touch of the hand is about as racy as it gets here.)

The first two episodes of Rings of Power are packed with exposition and character introduction, to the point where it's not the worst idea to pause the action for a moment and take a mental note, or say to a viewing companion, "OK, who is this again?" Many of the main players speak of destiny, for themselves and for their respective homelands and colleagues. The world as they know it is changing in ways they're just beginning to understand, and we're keen to see what great adventures, tragedies and triumphs await.

The Lord of the Rings: The Rings of Power

Three stars

STARS: Morfydd Clark, Ismael Cruz Cordova and Robert Aramayo

A series premiering with two episodes available on Prime Video. New episodes will stream Thursdays through Oct. 13.

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