Rings of Power: will Jeff Bezos’s $1bn ‘bet’ on Tolkien pay off?

Highly anticipated Amazon TV blockbuster is ‘the most expensive series ever created’

The Rings of Power
Morfydd Clark stars as Galadriel in The Rings of Power
(Image credit: Matt Grace/Prime Video/Amazon Studios)

More than 20 years after J.R.R Tolkien’s fantasy epic The Lord of The Rings was turned into one of the most successful film trilogies of all time, Amazon is welcoming fans back to Middle-earth with its prequel series, The Rings of Power.

The new series, which will be released on Amazon Prime tomorrow, is “the most expensive series ever created”, said Claire Gregory on Sky News. Gregory said the eight-episode series is reported to have “cost more than £350 million” to make. The Wall Street Journal put the figure at $715m (£618m) while the BBC estimated that "expenditure for marketing and subsequent seasons will likely push the entire project past $1bn [£860m]”.

Amazon, Gregory said, will be hoping that its multimillion-pound “bet on Tolkien” will be enough to “lure audiences away from traditional channels”. Material from the English fantasy writer certainly has “precedent” for hitting the jackpot, with director Peter Jackson’s film trilogy grossing “more than £2.5bn” at the box office.

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Set in the “second age” of Middle-earth, thousands of years before the events of Tolkien’s The Lord of the Rings trilogy, The Rings of Power is “largely adapted from the immense backstory found in the appendices” of the epic, explained the BBC.

This prequel follows the “sprawling story” of how the sorcerer Sauron, a once-devoted servant of supremely evil Morgoth, first rose to power through the forging of the 19 rings, which he secretly controlled through the One Ring – the ring Gollum would call his “precious” centuries later.

‘Likely to prove divisive’

The new series is “likely to prove divisive”, said Rebecca Nicholson in The Guardian, “not least depending on whether you watch it on a big TV or squint at its splendour on a phone or laptop”. A big TV is definitely the way to go: this show is “so rich and gorgeous” that you might find yourself “simply gawping at the landscapes” in the first episode as it “swoops and swooshes between the lands of elves and dwarves, humans and harfoot”.

In fact, Nicholson added, The Rings of Power is so “cinematic and grand” that it is in danger of making rival fantasy series House of the Dragon “look as if it has been cobbled together on Minecraft”.

The first episode “struggles slightly under the weight of establishing the world and setting up all of its threads”, said Stephen Kelly for the BBC, but by the second episode the series has set itself up as “quite a different prospect” to either The Hobbit or The Lord of The Rings. “Rather than a hero’s journey, this is a slower, more granular tale”, although at times it can “suffer from the prequel urge to fill in backstory – much like an appendix”.

‘Yet to find its feet’

The first two episodes were released to the media reviewers and after watching them, The Times’ Hugo Rifkind was still waiting for the plot to “click into groove”. But another issue is how “safe it all feels”, he added. Indeed, “the whole thing has the vibe of terrified executives carrying an exceedingly expensive vase across a slippery floor”.

The epic can “quickly become monotonous”, agreed John Bleasdale in the Financial Times. It could do with “a few less crescendos and teary-eyed speeches��, he wrote after watching two episodes, “especially so early on in the saga when we don’t quite yet know who anyone is or what the stakes actually are.

“No doubt a quest will arise over the full eight episodes,” he added, but so far, The Rings of Power has “yet to find its large, furry feet”.

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 Sorcha Bradley is a writer at The Week and a regular on “The Week Unwrapped” podcast. She worked at The Week magazine for a year and a half before taking up her current role with the digital team, where she mostly covers UK current affairs and politics. Before joining The Week, Sorcha worked at slow-news start-up Tortoise Media. She has also written for Sky News, The Sunday Times, the London Evening Standard and Grazia magazine, among other publications. She has a master’s in newspaper journalism from City, University of London, where she specialised in political journalism.