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Cataclysm in Middle-earth

Actualizado: 22 sept 2022

The Rings of Power begins in a time long before the Sun and the Moon. We are transported to Valinor, the undying lands. There, young Galadriel makes a little paper boat. Shortly after she puts the boat on the water, some mean elf boys destroy it, while laughing maniacally.

Her brother, Finrod, comforts her with this words: “whose gaze is not downward but up, fixed upon the light that guides her, whispering of grander things than darkness ever knew”. He also says "I'm not always gonna be around", which is a weird thing to say for an immortal being.

We are just a few minutes in into the show and there is already so much cheese that you can open up a store in Switzerland.

But let’s give this thing a chance.

Then, the entirety of the Quenta Silmarillion is condensed in a 2 minute montage. The writers manage to get both the big picture AND the details wrong up to the point that they forgot to mention the Curse of Feanor and the slaughter of the Teleri (the ONLY thing that should have been explained in a prologue like this). At least they manage to get to the beginning of the Second Age, that it’s where our new story begins (I use the word “story” in a very loose way here).

Galadriel grows into a badass lady warrior, straight out from a 90s videogame. She is a very skilled commander. She is also resentful, rude, whiny, snotty, and, generally speaking, a very unlikeable person (Morfydd Clark acting didn’t help much).

Everyone is sure that the forces of evil have been banished forever, but Galadriel thinks otherwise. I can’t say she has a very solid plan, though. She just wanders around and scream at people’s faces. From time to time she finds “the mark of Sauron” that seems to be evidence of… something? Don’t look at me like that: I know the LOTR appendices by heart and I’m as baffled as you are. If the people behind the show wanted to create a whole new set of rules for Middle-earth, it would have been cool for them to share with us first.

Anyway, Sauron is now Red John from The mentalist. In her quest to find him, Galadriel is ambushed by a big, ugly, snow troll. But worry not! In a moment of glorious ridicule, she leaps on the edge of a sword and kills the creature with one single blow.

But let’s give this thing a chance.

Galadriel embarks on a great ship back to Valinor. I get it: the other elves are sick of her attitude and they're willing to pay whatever is necessary to get rid of her. But, at the last minute, she changes her mind. She decides that she has to keep tracking Red John, I mean, Sauron. So she jumps into the sea. Her idea is to cross the ocean swimming back to Middle-earth. The entire ocean. I hope her plot armor is not too heavy or she will sink faster than the credibility of the Tolkien state.

Conveniently enough, she finds a lost raft in the middle of the water. That’s how we meet a man named Halbrand, a Calvin Klein underwear model running away from a dark, violent past. It’s pretty obvious that Halbrand is, actually, Sauron in disguise, which is kind of hilarious in and on itself. The show teases some romantic tension between him and Galadriel, ramping up the possibilities of a heartbroken villain that pays homage to the early seasons of Buffy. Together, they face a sea monster in a very expensive action scene that looks terribly rushed, with some bits of unfinished CGI. Galadriel demonstrates how much she values human life when she lets the monster to eat a bunch of unknown people.

Finally, the couple reaches the island of Númenor, the biggest and richest kingdom of the Second Age. The episode ends before they have time to talk with anyone.

Until now I have only wrote about the adventures of Galadriel, because it seemed the easiest thing to summarize.

One of the parallel storylines takes places in the south. There we meet Arondir, an absurdly handsome elf, and Bronwyn, human farmer and hot single mom. They seem to be falling in love. But things won’t go easy. One day, a lonely orc comes to the village. Bronwyn and her teenage son, Theo, kill him. The kid, by the way, has an obviously evil sword hidden in the basement because, why not?

Before this happens, Bronwyn and Arondir face a sinister dark passage.

“I must follow the passage”, says Arondir.

“You don't know what's down there!” cries Bronwyn, imbued with the spirit of Captain Obvious.

“That is the reason I must go” answers the elf.

Immediately after this exchange, he is captured.

We also have hobbits inspired by Spielberg’s Hook (everyone knows how much Tolkien enjoyed Spielberg’s Hook despite being dead at the time). They are wandering around when an asteroid falls to Earth. Gandalf is inside. This last line is not a joke, but the main cliffhanger of the very first episode. Anyway, the halflings like to dance, play and move logs around. This bunch of little people are moving west but conflict ensures when poor Mr Brandyfoot slips and snaps his leg, with a loud cracking sound (the tonal difference between this scene and the previous whimsy is staggering).

So we have three main plotlines that go nowhere. The pacing is all wrong (the whole thing it’s a slog), mysteries are not properly set up, characters feel lifeless and the lush production design is extremely unimaginative.

The dialogue is absolutely terrible, riddled with lines like "It is said that the wine of victory is sweetest for those in whose bitter trials it is fermented". People use nowadays too much the term “cringe-worthy”, but I think it’s kind of perfect on this instance.

Also, some of the casting choices are just baffling.

Celebrimbor is younger that Galadriel, but someone has decided that he should look like his grandpa. Daniel Weyman, a man with an extensive background on classic theatre, is cast as a mute character.

Sir Lenny Henry is an amazing comedic actor that should have been the next Dr. Who but he's terribly wasted here, having the role of Papa Smurf. His people, the halflings, are supposed to be a small clan of primitive hunter-gatherers… and yet, they are very diverse, like part of a modern cosmopolite society. This, of course, have ugly implications if we try to tie the show into Peter Jackson movies (I’m not sure if I want to hear the story of The Great Hobbit Genocide) but it also feels quite insincere.

The show uses the word “harfoots” when talking about these characters. That’s, of course, one of the three breeds of hobbits Tolkien mention at the beginning of The Fellowship of the Ring. Let’s see what his words are exactly:

The Hartfoots were browner of skin, smaller, and shorter, and they were beardless and bootless; their hands and feet were neat and nimble; and they preferred highlands and hillsides.

OK, fine. Maybe ALL of them should be black, right? But let’s not fool ourselves. The progressiveness of the Amazon executives only goes so far. Because they are a bunch of vain, wealthy white guys with nothing to say about the real world.

I’m not even sure if all the money they’ve spent is on screen. Some of the costumes are good, but others look straight out from a Xena Holiday special. The orcs are great, I can give them that. But I think you need a very special kind of talent to make orcs look uncool.

Maybe you have other standards. Maybe you did like the visuals or the action or even some of the acting. But, even being extremely positive, I don’t think you can give this two episodes more than 3 stars out of 5.

And that’s “mediocre”, like Inmortan Joe would say.

I have seen the Peter Jackson movies one million times but, to be honest, they are not perfect adaptations. They made some unnecessary changes, especially on Return of the King and its extended edition. I don’t consider myself a purist. I understand the need to improve the pacing and I get why stuff like Tom Bombadil, the Drúedain and the Scouring of the Shire was cut. I didn’t like what they did with Faramir and Denethor, though, or how they sidelined Eowyn in favor of Arwen. Also, I was never a big fan of the CGI shots during battles, and I can’t say the passing of time has been very kind to them.

I think there was room for improvement. But the fact is that the team behind those movies DID RESPECT the basics of the story, its themes and its central characters. They did respect Middle-earth and it history. You could recognize Lord of the Rings. I’m well aware of the problems of the Ralph Bakshi movie, but we have to admit that Peter S. Beagle script was magnificent. I also find Rankin/Bass The Hobbit quite charming (despite the weird look of the elves). Every single one of those adaptations have their own personality.

The thing Amazon is doing, however, can't be qualified as an adaptation.

I was truly excited at first, but I started to feel skeptical since the very first trailer.

They decided to show NOTHING from the stuff one would expect from the Second Age. Nothing but a single shot of Númenor. Why they didn't show Celebrimbor and Narvi building the gates of Moria? Why they didn't show Annatar? What? Are you telling me that they are changing the timeline? That several centuries will be condensed into 5 years? Why? And why do Galadriel looks like Joan of Arc? Why does Joan of Arc climb a mountain in full plate armor with a butter knife? Who the hell are Adar, Bronwyn, Halbard and Arondir? Isildur has a sister now? And are you telling me there is a MAGIC TALISMAN and a METEOR MAN???

After the first two episodes, it’s obvious that most of the rumors (if not all of them) have been confirmed.

People told me to give the show a chance because I couldn’t have an opinion otherwise. So if I see something I’m sure I won’t like, I’m “hate-watching” but if I don’t, I’m not “giving it a chance”. This is a “damn if you do, damn if you don’t” kind of situation in which the people in power always wins.

I need fiction like food but if someone serves me a dead racoon at a restaurant my first reaction is not eat it. Of course, art is very subjective. Things are not as easy as pointing out the dead raccoon on the table.

So I gave this thing a chance. And I must say that I’m surprised. I expected the show to be bad, but I wasn’t prepared for it to be THIS bad.

They just don't care. We have to admit it: Amazon just don’t care. They have bought a LOGO and that's it.

Tolkien created his world using as inspiration the Prose Edda, the Kalevala and the medieval songs about elves and faery folk. There’s absolutely nothing in the show that reminds us of its mythological roots. It’s all landscape shots and Hollywood clichés.

You can’t tell the stories of the Silmarillion with a gloss all over it. They're closer to the Trojan war cycle than to the 80s action/adventure movies everyone seem to ape nowadays. Tolkien’s Legendarium is a canvas painted with blood, tragedy and undying passion. A painting populated by magnificently weird, flawed characters, always in struggle with each other and with Morgoth, the greatest bastard that ever was. The fantastic and the impossible await at every corner and, still, everything feels painfully real. A cinematic adaptation of it should be a mix of the realistic grittiness of The Northman and the operatic qualities of Bram Stoker’s Dracula. It should not remind us, on any way or form, to the Star Wars sequel trilogy. If we have to compare it to a live-action Disney movie it would be Dragonslayer.

Of course, the writings set on Second Age are not as detailed as the ones set on the First Age. But that’s not a bug: it’s a feature. I would kill for having access to such a marvelous well of imagination. To fill the blanks, so to say, would be so much fun. And part of the fun relies on it being a difficult endeavor. It’s not about making stuff up, it’s about being able to create drama working around the confines of an extremely detailed chronology, to give voice to archetypal characters and to tie it all together with a nice bow.

A good show set on the Second age could have been, for example, like this: the first and second season would be about the forging of the Rings of Power, with occasional flashbacks to the events that molded the world. You can have an entire subplot just about the Witch-king of Angmar. Season three would be the War of the elves and Sauron. Season four would tell the sinking of Númenor. The fifth and last season would be the War of the Last Alliance and the fall of Sauron.

Thousands of years pass between one story and the next, but that’s the whole point: elves are immortal. Human beings are not.

That’s what could have been. But we’re living dark times, in which humongous corporations have taken over art.

It’s possible to argue that the rights situation is quite tricky and that Amazon has no access to all the material set on the Second Age (such as the Unfinished Tales or the Silmarillion itself). But that’s no excuse: they should have done a show based on the material they have access to.

Some would say that you don’t need to be faithful to the source material to be good. Let’s forget that classic movies like Passage to India, A Streetcar Named Desire or to Kill a Mockingbird are SLAVISHLY faithful to its source material. Let’s forget that Agatha Christie adaptations work better when they stick to the written letter. Let’s forget that the good seasons of Game of Thrones were the ones closer to the books. Let’s pretend that Dragonball Evolution was a masterpiece and that, ten years later, everyone is looking at it as a cornerstone of Hollywood moviemaking.

But, for much as we pretend, it’s not the same to make some changes to a story than to make EVERYTHING up and add some familiar names later. It’s just not the same.

Gone with the Wind, the movie, is very different from Gone with the Wind, the book… but, as far as I remember, in neither version are laser-equipped dinosaurs fighting the civil war.

Imagine a movie version of Moby dick in which a couple of grizzly bears want to kidnap President Roosevelt. Imagine a Broadway production of Oliver Twist in which the protagonist is a one armed Chinese woman that wants to be the best dancer in the world.

I have no interest in a version of Wuthering Heights that matches the tone and visual imagery of a Tom Clancy spy novel. I have no interest in a version of Jack Ryan that matches the tone and visual imagery of a Emily Brontë poem.

In a SNL sketch? Sure, of course! In a high-profile adaptation? Hell, no!

And that brings me to the next question: at what point does it stop being an adaptation?

After two full episodes, Rings of Power adapts almost nothing of Tolkien’s appendices, and the things it does translate on screen are morphed, changed and transformed into something unrecognizable.

And make no mistake, we aren’t talking about something like The Shinning, in which a genius director takes a literary work and makes it its own. This is a case of untalented, uncreative people trying to make as much money as possible for their corporate overlords, using an established “brand” as a vehicle.

Is this show as respectful to its source material as Denis Villeneuve is to Frank Herbert’s Dune?

Is this show as respectful to its source material as House of the Dragon is to George R.R. Martin saga?

Is this show as respectful to its source material as the Harry potter movies are to Rowling’s writings?

Is this show as respectful to its source material as the Netflix Sandman show is to Neil Gaiman comic books?

No, of course not.

This thing it’s closer to what’s what done with the Terramar stories by Ursula K. Le Guin, just on a bigger budget.

It’s closer to King Arthur: Legend of the Sword than to John Boorman’s Excalibur.

It’s closer to Paul W. S. Anderson’s The Three Muskeeters than to Randall Wallace’s The Man in the Iron Mask.

It’s closer to The Watch show from 2021 than The Hogfather miniseries from 2006.

It’s closer to the embarrassment of The legend of Hercules than to Kirk Douglas’ Ulysses.

You can say that “the books will always be there”, but that's not entirely true.

Works of fiction, books and dead authors have a reputation, just like us, breathing, living human beings. That reputation can easily be ruined by high profile bad adaptations. And some novels and some fictional worlds CAN'T recover from that kind of blow. It has happened in the past and it can happen again. When was the last time you saw a Charlie Chan movie on theatres?

I can give you another example: in Spain, the Captain Alatriste was a healthy series of historical novels that enjoyed both kids and adults. There was board games, comic books and a pretty good RPG. After a lackluster movie and a disastrous TV show, the brand has been destroyed. There is no board games, no comic books and no RPG available. The author is still publishing books, and they’re selling quite well, but miles away from the success they had eleven years ago.

Also, when an adaption becomes very popular, some elements of it can become attached to the original in an indissoluble way, even if they are obviously and entirely made up. That’s how pop culture and the collective imagination works. Everyone knows that Dracula wears a black cape, everyone knows that Sherlock Holmes says “elementary, dear Watson” and that Conan is a big dumb barbarian whose village was destroyed when he was a kid.

As I see it, the only way to save Middle-earth from oblivion is if this abomination it’s a catastrophic failure for Amazon. I know that sounds like a thoughtless and overly emotional statement, but if we live in a world in which the value of everything is measured on monetary terms (and it seems pretty hard to escape to that), then let’s make the value of bad adaptations zero dollars.

But, Enrique! If this show fails, it’s very possible that we won’t have more high budgeted fantasy on TV for a while! The trend could die!

Yes, please. I want the trend to die.

You know what I don’t want? I don’t want a version of Elric played by Dave Bautista. I don’t want a show of Fafhrd and the Grey Mouser directed by Michael bay. I don’t want The Last Unicorn transformed into an action/adventure borefest aimed to tik-tokers.

Having this fantasy worlds bastardize and changed beyond any possible recognition defies the purpose of bringing them to the screen. As simple as that.

Some people say that, if the show is successful, it doesn’t matter if it follows the original or not, because it will convince some people to reach for the books. I don’t agree. If someone sees the show and didn’t like it, that person is not going to touch the book it’s based on, even if you try to convince him that there are two entirely different things. If someone sees the show and like it, may reach for the books but, probably, would find them disappointing and kind of weird. Also, let’s be honest, how many people has seen Disney’s Hunchback of Notre-Dame and has read Victor Hugo afterwards?

The discourse around this show has been surrounded by the idea of the “toxic” fandom. So, OK, let’s talk a little about toxicity.

What I’ve seen is people criticizing an adaptation. In response, those same people are criticized by others in extremely personal ways. In other words, I’m speaking ill of a work of fiction and, because of that, you’re insulting and trying to humiliate me. Now, tell me please, who is being toxic here?

Why is people some keen to defend this faceless megacorporations and their subpar products?

What have done Amazon for you? Do you have any idea how much they pay their workers? How racist and sexist their policies are? How many little businesses have they destroyed? How deadly their business model is for the environment?

I’ve heard lots of arguments to defend Rings of Power. Some of them, I won’t lie, have infuriated me to no end.

The first one is that the LOTR appendices where pretty boring and that the Silmarillion isn’t the fun prequel it should be. Yes, of course, because the work of a lifetime of one of the most influential writers of the 20th century is worth next to nothing. It’s boring, you know? Those books should be young adult novellas with awesome action scenes and love triangles. Everything else doesn’t matter. We should be glad a soulless billionaire has produced a CGI-driven spectacle out of that material.

The Silmarillion is a very difficult book to read, and that’s a fact. The LOTR appendices is also the part that most people skips over (in some countries they haven’t even been published). Maybe you don’t care as much as me. Maybe you don’t like Middle-earth at all. It’s fine. Really, it’s fine! But I think you should understand the disgust of fans and scholars. I only ask for that: understanding.

The second argument I heard is even worse. I heard people saying that, because Tolkien already sold the rights when he was alive, none of us have the right to criticize anything. What kind of repugnant corporate hypercapitalist way of thinking is that? So because of someone has given you money, then, that person OWNS you? That’s so shockingly obscene I can’t even believe anyone can say it with a straight face.

Tolkien sold the rights to make movies because he was the original creator of the work and he could do whatever he wanted with it. He was scared of the UK tax policy and wanted SOMETHING to leave to his children. The deal he made was so bad that today would be consider illegal. And he expected his work to be transformed into movies, not to be merchantilise to the point of showing up on freaking Kit Kat tablets.

I have mentioned Ursula K. Le Guin some lines ago. She was openly upset about the adaptation of her books. Maybe she should have shut her women’s mouth and accept that someone has paid her, right? Sorry but, if you think this way, I can’t respect you anymore.

And, again, I’m not a purist. But we have to respect the authors that came before us, especially when they have been as imaginative and significant as the Oxford professor.

This show is trying very hard to be hip and modern and the results are sad, pathetic and desperate. But, you know what? I think the show is not modern enough. Everyone should be covered in tattoos, wear Air Jordans and heard music from a guy called Bard Bunny. Also, the Kardashians should have a surprise appearance somehow.

Jokes aside, this phenomenon isn’t new. It’s just gotten worse.

Back in the early 2000s, Guillermo del Toro was working on an adaption of The Wind in the Willows. Someone said to him that it would be better if Mr. Toad was riding a skateboard (instead of driving a car), and that he should say things like “Radical, dude!”. The collaboration ended there.

This reminds me of that episode of The Simpsons in which the whole family go to the movies. There, we see El Zorro killing The Three Musketeers and The Man in the Iron Mask and, later on, getting the Crown of England from the hands of King Arthur himself. “It’s a history lesson come to life!” says Bart.

Now, because of the weird political climate we live in, overpaid executives think they are entitled to change whatever they want from the original work because they are “doing the right thing”.

I’m saying this as a leftist. I’m kind of radical in some of my political views. But I do respect art and I don’t think that’s contradictory at all.

There have always been "people in power" who had no idea how stories work. BUT, traditionally, those people were too busy taking cocaine to be involved in production. Today, the RICH TALENTLESS SONS of THAT VERY PEOPLE are the ones writing shows and movies. Because being a writer is "cool". Make no mistake, most of them are not leftists at all. They're just using the zeitgeist to stay on top. They used to say "the kids have to like it!", but today they say "if you don't like what I do, you're evil". That's, of course, way more effective to avoid criticism. So, in short: those elitist capitalist bastards aren't leaving ANYTHING to the rest of us.

I know it sounds mean, but I’m not inclined to respect writers that don’t respect my intelligence, more so when they are earning, at least, a five figure salary.

Also, no one cares about the shady businesses Amazon have been involved since this production was announced? They have waited until Christopher Tolkien death (leading him to believe that they were going to do a new adaptation of the books), they substituted the entire writing team shortly before shooting started, they fired the scholar Tom Shippey for unknown reasons but they keep bringing him up on interviews and, finally, they have tricked the entire New Zealand film industry. That one last bit is both funny and sad. They told the government that the whole show would be shot in the island and received a lot of help because of that. Then, as soon as the first season wrapped up, they moved to the UK in a heroic, thrilling quest for better tax breaks.

Some of the most amazing fictional universes ever imagined are now controlled by people that use terms like “Intellectual property” or even worse, “franchise”. But let me say something: McDonalds is a franchise. Wendy’s is a franchise. Kentucky Fried Chicken is a franchise.

Tolkien’s mythology, my friend, it’s not.

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Paula Dvorakova
Paula Dvorakova
Sep 05, 2022

Well, you nailed it, I'd give you a standing ovation if I could. I especially enjoyed your description of the two episodes, since it's been pretty much word-for-word what I've been saying for the last three days. My expectations were pretty low, but this show somehow still managed to disappoint me. First, I'm not a Tolkien purist. Since the trailers, it's been clear to me that this isn't really going to be an adaptation, but I'd have been kind of OK with that if it was at least somewhat watchable, with an engaging fan-fiction-level story and enjoyable visuals that only Amazon's penis-rocket-level money can get you. I could have lived with that. But oh boy, was I wrong.

In general,…

Sep 05, 2022
Replying to

Thank you very much for your kind words. Obviously, I do agree with you, but I fear we are not in the majority here. I feel like if someone dug up my grandfather and made a musical instrument out of his remains. And when I dare to complain, people say stuff like "don't be a hater, the music is actually pretty good". I know it sounds a bit over the top, but you can't decide for yourself how you feel inside!

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