Sam Brooks shares his world-exclusive review of Amazon’s much-anticipated Lord of the Rings series – a full 10 months before anybody has seen it.
Let’s get this out of the way right at the start: Amazon Prime Video’s Lord of the Rings prequel is an eight episode series, with each episode being anywhere between 40 and 60 minutes long. There, I said it.
The news of this series first broke in 2017, when it was announced that Amazon, which once exclusively sold books, had bought the rights to the series for $250 million, a sum slightly less than the $281 million that Peter Jackson’s trilogy cost at the dawn of the millennium. Jeff Bezos, record holder for the world’s most expensive divorce, wanted the company to develop a series that could rival Game of Thrones. I can say with 100% certainty that this new version of Lord of the Rings exists in the same reality as Game of Thrones, which has dropped almost entirely from the cultural consciousness since ending in 2019, well after Bezos paid a huge amount of money to develop his own rival.
The Lord of the Rings, for those of you who aren’t in the know, is a popular fantasy series by JRR Tolkien. It features elves, hobbits, humans, and an uncomfortable amount of racism that was reflective of a lot of fantasy writing of its era. Peter Jackson memorably adapted it for a film trilogy that would later go on to win a record amount of Oscars – for the film that is arguably the worst, and inarguably the longest, of that trilogy. The image of New Zealand would be tied to Lord of the Rings forevermore, so much so that anybody wishing to fly in or out of Wellington has to submit to the risk of potentially being crushed by a replica of a giant eagle that shows up for like, 30 seconds in the original trilogy, and significantly more seconds in Jackson’s succeeding trilogy The Hobbit.
While the Amazon series is called The Lord of the Rings, it is not actually an adaption of the books of that name at all. Instead it is based on material from The Silmarillion (a history of Middle-Earth, a place that does not exist) and other Tolkien doodlings. This series is set during the Second Age, thousands of years before either Bilbo or Frodo Baggins would encounter any type of cursed, invisibility-bequeathing and insanity-damning jewellery. One of the characters is Galadriel, memorably played by Cate Blanchett and a blonde wig in the films, but played here by Morfydd Clark. Another character is Trevyn, played by Simon Merrells, who was also a cast member in Spartacus, a less expensive series that was, by some coincidence, also filmed in New Zealand.
Other actors in the show include, but presumably are not limited to, Robert Aramayo, Owain Arthur, Nazanin Boniadi, Ismael Cruz Córdova, Ema Horvath, Markella Kavenaghm Joseph Mawle, Tyroe Muhafidin, Sophia Nomvete, Megan Richards, Dylan Smith, Charlie Vickers, Daniel Weyman, Cynthia Addai-Robinson, Maxim Baldry, Ian Blackburn, Kip Chapman, Anthony Crum, Maxine Cunliffe, Trystan Gravelle, Lenny Henry, Thusitha Jayasundera, Fabian McCallum, Geoff Morrell, Peter Mullan, Lloyd Owen, Augustus Prew, Peter Tait, Alex Tarrant, Leon Wadham, Benjamin Walker, Sara Zwangobani, Charles Edwards, Will Fletcher, Amelie Child-Villiers and Beau Cassidy. In an exciting and welcome shift from Tolkien’s novel and Peter Jackson’s adaptation, Middle-Earth is now resident to at least several people of colour, and many of them have lines that they successfully speak.
The vistas of the series, which look somewhat reminiscent of places to the west and north of New Zealand’s Tāmaki Makaurau, but not so reminiscent that they could not be replicated in a country with slightly more beneficial tax laws or slightly fewer border controls, are nice. It is a fine addition to a streaming platform that includes such titles as Fleabag, The Wheel of Time, and random episodes of The Carol Burnett Show.
Although Jackson is not involved with this series, it features many hallmarks of his trilogy, like special effects, costumes, and props. Patrick McKay and JD Payne, whose only previous credits are as uncredited writers on Star Trek: Beyond, bring that trademark voice and personality to Middle-Earth. Wayne Che Yip, noted for directing many episodes of Doctor Who, brings his talent for directing franchises that nobody was begging to continue existing, but which nobody is especially mad at. Other episodes are directed by J.A. Bayona and Charlotte Brandstrom, who have both directed things in the past.
Ultimately, the excessive secrecy that surrounded the production, an adaptation of several book sources that are currently freely available and have been so for several decades, has been rewarded. I can say with no reservations that The Lord of the Rings is a fantasy series that exists on Amazon Prime Video.
You can watch The Lord of the Rings on Amazon Prime Video from September 2, 2022. This review is obviously satire, please don’t sue me, Jeff Bezos.
We’re talking about elves, dwarves, cave trolls and sneaky little hobbitses for an entire week. Read the rest of our dedicated Lord of the Rings 20th anniversary coverage here.