Editor’s note: The following contains spoilers for the season finale “The Lord of the Rings: The Rings of Power.”
“The Lord of the Rings: The Rings of Power” has wrapped up its first season, with plans for several more to come. Still, the real battle for Amazon might be convincing everyone that its hugely expensive — and mostly disappointing — bet on JRR Tolkien’s Middle-earth saga has been a resounding success.
Amazon acted as if it was thrilled with the show’s runtime and performance, with Amazon Studios chief Jennifer Salke touting its viewership numbers in an interview with Varietywhile noting that the first season did “the hard work of defining who all of these characters are”.
After initial critics admired the scope and visual grandeur, however, more critical voices drifted into the naysayers column, pointing out – like Duncan Lay of The Daily Telegraph Put the — that the series “managed to be both pretentious and boring.”
Forbes’ Erik Kain sounded a similar notewriting that after the first few chapters, “The Rings of Power” demonstrated “how quickly a poorly written TV series can wear down its welcome once the shimmer wears off”.
Expect some backlash from critics, and an earlier controversy surrounding the series and HBO’s “House of the Dragon” – involving greater inclusion of people of color, breaking up the monochromatic nature of these mythical worlds – may have helped distract from, or delay, more fundamental observations about the show and its flaws.
The eighth episode/season finale underscored this point, offering belated revelations about Sauron and his identity, while also showcasing the real forging of the rings, lovingly filmed before disappearing into the threat to come.
At over 70 minutes, it reflected the season as a whole: pretty, with some visually arresting moments, but slow and bloated. Where “House of the Dragon” forged ahead by using multi-year time jumps, generating massive buzz and viewership, “Lord of the Rings” – unlike Peter Jackson’s trilogy – operated at something closer to a crawl. Heck, it took seven episodes just to see the name “Mordor” flash across the screen.
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Students of Tolkien’s canon can obviously revel in it, poring over the finer details. Still, it’s hard to escape the feeling that this slow-motion advance has less to do with serving the story than a calculation to stretch it, given the commitment – and perhaps the need to justify Amazon’s investment – to unravel it over multiple seasons. .
For Amazon, these expenses for “The Lord of the Rings” – totaling hundreds of millions of dollars – push to deliver more than an academic exercise, but a property that could significantly influence the company’s long-term commitment to streaming.
Like Apple, Amazon has invested heavily in content creation, even if it’s not its core business. These deep-pocketed tech companies therefore have different priorities than studios like Disney and Warner Bros. Discovery (the parent company of CNN), as film and TV production is a peripheral business for Amazon, not core to its corporate mission.
Amazon launched major hits, including the boundary-pushing superhero satire “The Boys” and Emmy-winning “The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel.” In a short time, the company established itself as a major player in entertainment.
Amazon founder Jeff Bezos was personally involved in acquiring the rights to Tolkien’s estate in 2017, reflecting the company’s high-stakes gamble. But Hollywood history is littered with outsiders who sought to carve out a place for themselves in the business, only to have their noses bleed and ultimately engineer strategic retreats.
It’s become popular to refer to certain big companies as “too big to fail,” and in TV terms, “Rings of Power” is about as big as it sounds. Once you get past the hype machine, however, the series has yet to earn its place at the top of the TV fantasy charts, let alone any claim to rule them all.