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Oct 19, 2022

'The Lord of the Rings: The Rings of Power': A Priest's (and Tolkien Fan's) View

USC film-school grad and FTP producer-at-large Father Vince Kuna, C.S.C., is also a huge fan of the work of Catholic author J.R.R. Tolkien. After he had a chance to view all the episodes of Amazon Studios' The Lord of the Rings: The Rings of Power, I asked him some questions. Below, find his (non-spoilery) answers ... Editor

How Tolkien is it (or not)?

The producers poured money into the look of Tolkien’s world. The panoramic photography looks amazing for a streaming show. It truly transports you to another Earth, in this case, Middle-earth.

In the series' tacking on of some overt references to a higher power, though, that would be very un-Tolkien-like. (See other answer, below.)

Taken just as Tolkien-adjacent fanfic, does it stand on its own as a TV drama?

Without the connective tissue the series makes to the two film trilogies (The Lord of the Rings & The Hobbit), I’m not sure I would have looked at the series or stayed with it until the end.

I ascribe this to the slow pace of the series -- if I were not already a fan, I don’t think I would have the patience for it.

It felt more like an exceptionally long movie than a TV show – what were its dramatic flaws and strengths?

I think it was an eight-hour movie and meant to be binged watched on one’s day off. Amazon happened to release it on a weekly schedule, irritating those expecting more of a traditional television show.

You make a good observation that no episode really stands alone, with a distinctive theme and subset of recurring and guest characters. So, there is not an emotional payoff at the end of each episode, but a bigger one at the end of the season as that marks the end of the “film.”

(I made that point in this post at my own blog ... Editor)

Which were the strongest, and weakest, characters?

Arondir (Ismael Cruz Cordova), the elf who stands sentinel for a community of humans, stood out.

In the main trilogy, there was always a hesitation for the elves to stick their necks out for anyone not themselves. Not so with Arondir. He comes from a race of immortal elves, yet he’s willing to risk a violent death in protecting those to which he’s been assigned.

Another elf, Elrond (Robert Aramayo), did not impress very much. The complaint from viewers is the slow-paced nature of the story. By far, the most molasses-like subplot is Elrond trying to convince his dwarf-prince friend to help the elves.

Tolkien created a world (especially as portrayed in the movies) in which there is no overt worship of God or gods. But, in The Rings of Power, there are multiple references to “gods” and to “higher powers,” that direct actions. What did you think of that?

Yes, I think the books, especially, are set in an atheistic world. The appendices record a fictional world stuck in the Middle Ages for thousands of years running.

It may be a blog for a rainy day, but I would argue our real-world Earth advanced much quicker through our medieval period (only hundreds of years), in large part through believing in the Biblical God of revelation.

That said, the many references to higher powers in this new series was a pleasant surprise. The producers know their audience. They were the same fans who warned the producers not to make the show the next Game of Thrones, as that’s not what Tolkien intended.

The elf Galadriel, depicted as a ruthless warrior, is a polarizing character. Now that you’ve seen her first-season arc, what do you think of her?

The character was originally played by an actress I consider the greatest of her generation, Cate Blanchett. She possessed an ethereal quality for the role of Galadriel that I think is one of the most iconic parts of The Lord of the Rings film trilogy.

This long-ago prequel series finds the character more earthy, sword-fighting and played by a relative unknown, Morfydd Clark. I would give the character a chance. Perhaps, her arc will make the journey from earthy to ethereal.

What characters do you want to see more of in season two, and which do you wish would vanish forever?

It is another series with orcs as the chief enemy. We gain a little sympathy for them, as we learn, in some cases, they were fallen elves. But I always found them to be one-dimensional. It would be far more interesting to have some more well-thought-out villains.

I think Bronwyn (Nazanin Boniadi) should play a bigger part in season two. The British-Iranian actress plays a human mother in the series and reminded me of many of the school moms at our parish here in Santa Monica, California. So, for that reason of familiarity, I would hope to see more of her.

Did you detect an overall theme to the season, and if so, what?

Galadriel is the reason for the story. The series finds Middle-earth at peace. Galadriel senses evil lurking around the corner and so enlists an army to stamp it out before it takes root.

The overall theme of the show reminded me of Advent and staying ever-vigilant for the coming of the Lord and His birth, beginning the defeat of evil.

So, in the end, a fan of the show … or no?

Yes. Although, I would not have said so after the first few episodes. New episodes would drop here on the West Coast at 9 p.m.

So, I would joke that I would use the show to fall asleep after watching the more-riveting Thursday-night NFL game that also streams on Amazon. Well, the last two football Thursday games have been snore fests … in one game, my beloved Chicago Bears snatched defeat from the jaws of victory.

Fortunately, they were the same two days The Rings of Power series started getting good. I suppose, then, the two modes of entertainment reveal who the devoted fans are. We’re watching, win or lose. Fast or slow-paced. Until seasons’ end.

If you haven't seen the finale yet, here's a peek:

 

Image: Courtesy of Prime Video/Copyright: Amazon Studios

Click here to visit USC film school graduate Father Vince Kuna’s IMDB page.

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