So the hour long foretold has come. Amazon’s Tolkien product is finally with us. I’m not sure what to call it – it isn’t really an adaptation. The appendices of the Lord of the Rings were clearly never intended as a standalone piece of work. I suppose an extension is the best description. The story of the making of the series is already a legend in its own right, probably worthy of a song. And this tale too, no doubt will be told. I haven’t followed the twists and turns of the production particularly closely. I was of the view that if it was any good, then we’d have some entertainment. If not, it wasn’t my billion dollars that had been spent and I wasn’t obliged to watch it. But I did get interested when the trailers finally came out. They looked dreadful. So when it came out I tuned in as responding to the unhealthy but irresistable urge to watch a car crash.
But more or less straight away I found myself being won over. I, like I imagine most people, had high expectations of what the show was going to look like visually. But even against those expecations it was impressive. I loved the epic scale of the dwarf mines. It really looked like the work of thousands of dwarf craftsmen rather than hundreds of human animators. The elve scenes felt very elvish. I’m not sure how they did it, but I guess that’s the art of animation and the exercise of creative imagination at work. The music helped too – creating just the right atmosphere.
The dialogue was equally impressive. This was what had put me off the trailers. In context, the script was very good. The acting was first rate. I was particularly impressed by how they made the elves actually sound like the wise centuries old beings that Tolkien had had in mind.
Given that they were basically working from some notes, they had to come up with a plot more or less out of nothing. It is early days, but there is already enough going on to keep me interested and make sure I tune in again.
Prior to the launch many commentators and picked up on the rather diverse cast. This was also a feature of some of the interviews during the promotional phase. I wasn’t too interested in all this, but I did think that much as I am in favour of diversity and equality at all that kind of stuff it isn’t really something that I want to intrude on a fantasy show. Fortunately, there was not a trace of this in the episodes themselves. Some of the roles had gone to non-white actors. But what of that? I didn’t find it particularly noticeable let alone obtrusive. Ifanything the racial mix was a bit too white and a few more genes from non-European sources would not go amiss. The maps show that this story is one that unfolds over the whole globe. And middle earth is supposed to be a historic phase in that of our own planet.
So to my surprise there was quite a lot to like.
However I’m not 100% convinced yet. I have a nagging doubt that the plot won’t resolve itself into a satisfying ending. This is only going to work if they can build up to an epic ending – and that will need more than good special effects. And I’ve got another gripe as well. I loved the elves, the dwarves, the men and the monsters. My problem is the hobbits. (I know they are called Harfoots, but we all know they are hobbits.). I hated the hobbits. I can’t put my finger on why – though I think it is something to do with them just being out of sync with the other cultures. They get too much screen time to be a bit of comic relief. And they aren’t funny enough to play that role anyway. I know one of the themes of Lord of the Rings is little folk stepping up to make up for the shortcomings of the wise and powerful. But that really only works when the disaster has already been created. But we are hearing about how the awesome power of the ring came to be in the first place. And that we know that this is going to remain in existance at the end of the series. What are the outwardly weak characters who reveal inner strength when put to the test going to do in this scenario?
But for me it is a bit deeper than just being redundant to the unfolding of the plot. I also found them really annoying. The weird hybrid Irish/Welsh/West Country accents got on my nerves. Their technology was remarkably advanced for a nomadic tribe who seem to travel to exploit blackberries as a food source. And if they can manage wheels and pulleys, they should be able to work out counter-measures to wolves and hunters. These are half sized humans. They aren’t the Borrowers.
So I think this series might turn out okay – with a few provisos. They need to keep the standard of the acting and the writing up. The plot needs to be paced to bring the series to a satisfactory ending. And Sauron needs to wipe out the hobbits as soon as possible.